I picked up this book by St. John Chrysostom because I love a quote of his about prayer that I found in another book, and I thought a book focused more inwardly after reading autobiographies about revolutionaries would be a good shift for my mind and spirit. While there were some bits and pieces that provided me with helpful reflections and thoughts, I would not recommend this book to very many people. This collection of homilies and sermons is wrought with problematic views of gender that are likely telling of the time and/or the reality that a single man is writing about marriage. I wish I could find a work from St. John Chrysostom focused directly on prayer, but I have been unable to find such a thing.
You might wonder why I label this mid-year reflection as we ring in the New Year. For those of you are new to my blog or who have only popped in for some of my social activism and advocacy updates, during 2018, God told me to resign from my job and take a year of sabbath rest. At the time, I thought I knew the reasons, but so many other reasons arose to the surface after my obedience that I did not know would occur at the time. Working at a school, resigning in spring for summer transition is always best for kids and the organization, and that’s what I did. As a result, my sabbath year of rest began on July 1, 2018 and will end on June 30, 2019.
Obedience to the voice of God is so very important. I am a person who struggles with faith, but two things I know: firstly, sometimes God speaks to me and that carries me through the times of doubt and struggle, and secondly, when I hear God’s voice, I must obey. The fact that God spoke to me directly and told me to resign and rest means so much to me. It lets me know I am loved and that my well-being matters to God. It reminds me that I am not here to get things done, be productive, and make an impact as my American culture would have me to believe. It reminds me of the old catechism that I had to learn as a child: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
I am enjoying God these days. I enjoy that He exists. I enjoy that His grace and mercy are new every morning. I enjoy that He is constant when I am not.
I am enjoying family these days. Don’t get me wrong, the fam drives me nuts for portions of most days, but I love all the time we have together. I love that there is time to do chores, watch tv, and play video games. I love that, when I begin to think I should be “doing something,” God’s voice echos in my mind, “I told you to rest. This is your Sabbath year,” and I settle back into whatever activity or lack there of I am enjoying.
A sabbath year works like a reset, much like fasting from something does. It reminds me of balance. It brings me perspective. When I completed my first sabbath year (this is a fairly new practice for me), I committed to a more strict weekly sabbath routine. I kept it up for a few years, and little by little, things began to creep in. During this sabbath year, I’ve not needed a strict commitment to resting a specific day per week because I am doing well at resting regularly. However, it hit me this Sunday that I did nothing and didn’t even have to work at it. This is a big deal for me!
Rest is usually work for me, but it is becoming natural, and that is a huge mental shift that I never achieved during my first sabbath year.
Much of the first half of this year was a journey of parting from the work that I loved and that served great purpose. There was a lot of pain, even bitterness and anger, as a result of some of my experiences in public education. I thought I was done with education in Muncie for good when I walked out of my office in June, but I have come to realize a few important things during this journey: one, that I am passionate about public education and that will not go away wherever I am, two, that we are going to be in Muncie for the foreseeable future, and three, as long as I live in Muncie, Inspire will be on my mind and in my heart.
After several trips this summer and fall, I finally felt ready to stay home for awhile. However, I never really found my peace as Director of Development at Inspire and being at home was hard. It didn’t feel like the right fit for me or for the organization, so when I was notified that I was being requested to serve in a new leadership role, Executive Director, I was excited but knew I needed to keep my sabbath commitment. I agreed to begin the new role part-time in November, and I have been loving it. I feel like I am able to contribute my gifts and abilities to an organization that I love and still maintain my commitment that I will not work more than part-time during this season.
In many ways, I am living the dream right now. I have a part-time job that is challenging, meaningful, and enjoyable in an organization that feels like home. I am pouring my experience with youth and education into my own kids’ growth, education, and development and getting to enjoy the middle school years with them, one of my favorite developmental phases to work with kids. I have been able to support my husband through a very challenging season, both personally and professionally. I have found some success with natural treatments for my fibromyalgia that are working, and I am hopeful to avoid adverse medication side effects over the coming years.
Is life still hard? Absolutely. Do I still love to travel to warmer and/or more beautiful places and wish to transplant my friends and family there permanently with me? Absolutely. Do I still lose my temper and yell at my kids sometimes? Absolutely. Are there days I don’t feel like anything is right in the world? Absolutely. Are there days that I doubt and fear that this life is all there is? Absolutely. And in those moments, God says (and I picture Him shaking His head at me and sighing), “I told you to rest. Has this journey not clearly been orchestrated as you’ve watched the events of 2018 unfold? I am here, and I care enough about you to speak guidance for your steps.”
Can we speak truth to power when power butters our bread? This is the burning question that I left with at the end of this book. Reading about revolutionaries always pushes me to take inventory of how I am investing my time and energy.
As someone who grew up on the east coast of the United States, and then living my adult years in Indiana, I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of west coast issues. I only know what I learn from reading and listening to those who live much further west and south than Indiana. Unfortunately, the portrayal of American history in our textbooks has always been the perspective of the conquerors, never the conquered. Reading Chavez brought me along in my understanding of Latino issues the way reading Dr. John Perkins in my twenties brought to life African-American issues. Both helped me to realize the contemporary nature of what felt like stale history growing up as a white kid.
The format of the book is a compilation of excerpts from conversations with Chavez and those close to him throughout his life. It makes for an enjoyable, real-life reading of his experiences and work. It also highlights that he either didn’t have the time or writing skills to write the book himself…or both. For me, this is a reminder and an affirmation that, while formal education is helpful and important, the fact that our society is writing off future difference-makers based on test scores is an inaccurate way to predict the contributions people will make in society.
I recommend this book to anyone who is willing to hear and learn from the perspective of our Latino brothers and sisters.
“Our family farm was started three years before Arizona became a state. Yet, sometimes I get crank letters these days telling me to “go back” to Mexico!'” – Chavez (Levy, p. 8)
“But the teacher thought nothing of changing our names the moment we were in class. She wouldn’t pronounce his real name – which is Cesario – she cut it to Cesar right away.” – Chavez’s sister, Rita Chavez Medina (Levy, p. 21)
“While most people drawn toward liberalism or radicalism leave the church, I went the other way. I drew closer to the church the more I learned and understood.” – Chavez (Levy, p. 27)
“…you must have people who are of a certain temperament, who just cannot live with themselves and see injustice in front of them. They must go after it whenever they see it, no matter ho much time it takes and no matter how many sleepless nights of worry.” – Chavez’s fellow organizer, Fred Ross (Levy, p. 97)
“We never heard anything from whites unless it was the police, or some sociologist … They’d ask us all kinds of silly questions like how did we eat our beans and tortillas. We felt it wasn’t any of their business how we lived.” – Chavez (Levy, p. 97)
“The agents started asking me a lot of questions about Communism. I said, ‘You know damn well I’m not a Communist!’ … Then the Republicans started to red-bait me, which made the papers again. That red-baiting was the first time for me, but this was the peak of the Senator Joseph McCarthy era when many people were being accused falsely. When the charges against me hit the press, there were repercussions.” – Chavez (Levy, p. 106)
I re-titled this blog entry a few times because words just cannot express my disappointment in our country and the urgency for Americans to act and for white Christians to examine the intersection of faith and politics in new ways. I wrote two blog entries on the experience of visiting the migrant caravan, the other of which can be accessed by clicking here. This piece is an informative call to action; the other is more of a spiritual reflection.
If you read the news, you know about the caravan of people, fleeing their home countries in search of safety in a foreign land. And you probably read news stories about US military deployment to the area…before the caravan arrived…and before the election cycle. You’ve probably read news stories that dramatize interactions between a small number of migrants and US authorities. Of course, these stories are presented in ways that build fear, even though there have been minimal confrontations, met with disproportionate show of force by authorities.
Well, on Wednesday, December 5th, 2018, almost exactly 18 years after going into Tijuana for a day trip during my honeymoon, I crossed into Tijuana again, and it was incredibly calm and uneventful compared to what our current leadership and the news cycle would have us believe. This is how it went. I walked through customs along with others in our group. When I got down to street level, I hopped on my Uber app and typed in the address where the migrant caravan was staying. A car arrived. We hopped in, and we were dropped off near our destination. There, we found a guarded area with a few thousand people camping out in a holding pattern. We were allowed to enter, talk and pray with people, and express our support and solidarity. After a few hours, we got an Uber back to the border, stopped in a coffee shop to regroup, and then went home.
That’s it. It was less intense than visiting as a tourist years ago, thanks to Uber and some Spanish-speaking group leaders who knew the area well. There was nothing I would label as unrest, chaos, or tensions. But I did learn a few very concerning things about our own nation that I’d like to share with you, and I’d like to ask you to do something about.
Did you know that the United States deports veterans who have served in the US military? I’m cynical and disillusioned with our nation right now, shocked by little, but this one shocked me. There are people who are in Tijuana right now who served in the US military and cannot live in the US, but if they die today, they could be buried in US soil. I don’t need to tell you that this isn’t right. All it takes is one bad day, one bad choice, one symptomatic moment of PTSD…a condition that is a direct result of someone’s service to our country…and that veteran is eligible for deportation.
Did you know that there are hunger strikers in Tijuana right now, and that all they are asking is that the United States follow its own laws? According to its own policy and protocol, the US is supposed to process 300 asylum applications per day and is equipped to do so. The current administration has implemented a “metering” system, reducing the number of applications processed per day to around 50. This is an obstruction of justice. Seeking asylum in the US is a long-standing, historic process that the US has always valued and upheld.
What can we do? As citizens of a democratic society that upholds the ideals of liberty and justice for all, it is our responsibility to speak up and let our voices be heard when authorities are compromising those ideals…and that means more than spreading angst on social media. Our representatives make decisions based on pressure and input from constituents. That’s how the system of representative democracy is designed to work.
- Matthew 25 of Southern California will be circulating a letter asking for the US government to process the usual 300 asylum seekers per day instead of the 50 or so they are currently processing daily. We can sign the letter and create a version for our own states. More than just California officials impact these decisions.
- I will be joining the hunger strikers in a modified way, and I urge you to join me. Once a week, I will be fasting, and during the day of fasting, I will use the hunger as a reminder to do two things:
- Pray to the King of presidents and Lord of senators about justice issues in our nation, including closure to immigrants and mass incarceration.
- Contact at least one elected official each day of fasting to ask them to do whatever is in their power to push the authorities to process the required 300 asylum applications per day and stop the fear-based and dismissive rhetoric that is pervasive in our leaders right now.
In closing, I know there will be some of you who read this and disallow yourself from engaging the conversation, based on safety concerns and economic concerns. My response to the safety concern is this: Are there people who commit crimes in the migrant camp? Very likely. In any group of thousands of people, especially those who have been through severe trauma, there will be people who do bad things. This does not mean the vast majority of people seeking asylum deserve to be ignored and dehumanized. My response to the economic concern is this: Firstly, our economy can absorb a few thousand people right now…certainly more easily than more impoverished nations. Secondly, the Bible is very clear that one cannot serve both God and money. The Holy Family fled political unrest and pursued safety in the more affluent Egypt (an economy also built on the backs of slaves at one point in history). I, for one, am thankful that Egypt absorbed Jesus and his family into their economic and societal structures when they sought asylum. And I’m thankful they didn’t have to wait 1-3 years for their application to get processed because of “metering.”
I wrote two blog entries on the experience of visiting the migrant caravan, the other of which can be accessed by clicking here. This piece is more of a spiritual reflection; the other is an informative call to action.
After a long journey, I met with a group of concerned citizens (primarily people of faith, led my Matthew 25 of Southern California) to cross the border to experience the conditions faced by the migrant caravan and received a t-shirt that said, “Jesus was an immigrant.” I was told I would come face to face with trauma in Tijuana’s migrant shelter, but I suspected I would be well-acquainted with the pain and harsh conditions and be able to process everything without too much shock. You see, secondhand trauma is a real and routine part of my life. I’ve learned to cope with it, on most days. I’ve learned to do all I can to alleviate the suffering of those around me and then check out and turn the situation over to God. I do this to keep my own savior complex in check and for the health and well-being of my family and I.
I really didn’t feel shocked by too much of what I experienced amongst the community of migrants this week. I was told to expect chaos, but what I experienced was anything but chaos. The migrant community was well-organized, and, well, a community. There was an atmosphere of mutual trust in the camp, without a lot of tensions that I could feel. There was an indoor shelter for women and families with children, but it was still just a huge room filled with tents (for those fortunate enough to get one). The rest just had foam mats as their personal space on which to sleep with their belongings. As a woman, I can’t imagine actually sleeping enough to stay healthy. I’d feel like anyone could take advantage of me at anytime. I’d feel the need to stay half awake and on the alert at all times to protect myself and my children. I’d only sleep when my body could no longer keep going, and even then, only for a few hours at a time. As someone who needs plenty of alone time, I’d also lose significant psychological stamina. I found myself praying for the introverts in the room. As a matter of fact, one of the most disturbing pieces to me was the vulnerability of everyone in the camp, but especially the women and children. I played with a little, seven year-old girl for over an hour and never saw her parents. Such trust (or exhaustion) results in extreme vulnerability.
The pain and suffering of the people was intense because conditions were awful, and yet, thousands of people felt enough fear and desperation to choose the conditions of a refugee camp over their homes, their families, and the cultures in which they were most comfortable. Quarters are tight, and this results in the spread of infectious disease quickly. And yet, in spite of all of this, people are banding together, organizing, and supporting each other as family. I guess I’m just not understanding why we as a nation are scared of these people. They are hurting, vulnerable people seeking safety. That’s all.
As I reflect twenty-four hours later, I find myself especially emotional because of my long-standing, deep relationship with Jesus. I began this blog entry by saying that I am well-equipped to turn off the pain of others’ trauma for the sake of my own emotional survival, but that is not the case when someone who is extremely close to me faces something awful. Yesterday, I saw a pregnant woman in the camp and thought, “Dear God, conditions at home must be awful to take on this journey pregnant. Where will she have the baby? When? Does she know she will have medical care and a sanitary place to give birth?” Today, after truly reflecting on Jesus as immigrant, I see Mary, the mother of Jesus, in this pregnant woman, and I want to weep. Yesterday, I saw a little baby laying on a mat beside his mother and marveled that someone with a new baby was making this journey, taking such risk with a new life, and I knew that meant the risk of staying felt greater to the mother than the risk of leaving her homeland. Today, I see the baby as Jesus, on a mat, in a refugee shelter, his mother and father fleeing for his safety, and I don’t know if I can stomach my pretty manger decoration when I get home. (Yes, there will be a manger scene in my house this year, but there will be conversations with my kids, and I will see Jesus in the migrant shelter in Tijuana.) I feel the pain of the people fleeing for safety as His family’s pain, and it brings it all to life in a way that rattles me just a little bit more. I learned more about God yesterday. I learned the story of Jesus and immersed myself in the Christmas story without even realizing it until later. The Holy Family fled political unrest and pursued safety in the more affluent Egypt (an economy, like the US, also built on the backs of slaves at one point in history). I, for one, am thankful that Egypt absorbed Jesus and his family into their economic and societal structures when they sought asylum. I hope we will think of this when we consider those seeking safety in our own country.
Whelp – I guess since they used my quote, I need to post something on here.
There are many reasons I oppose the current jail proposal, three of which I outlined at this morning’s public hearing: expanding capacity for mass incarceration…by someone with a history of ethically questionable financial dealings…in a school!
I was disappointed by the blame-shifting evident in King’s closing comments and the attempt to shame the public for holding the commissioners accountable. We work with the city regularly; they help facilitate and fund many initiatives. This decision, however, is on the county. I was thrilled to see Riggins listen to the public, motion to table the decision, and have the strength to vote “no” knowing her fellow commissioners would oppose her. It is too bad her fellow commissioners are not listening…yet.
We are not done. We will continue conversations. We will continue working to negotiate for a solution to the current, substandard jail conditions that do not include expansion of mass incarceration, that do not include a school, but that do include addiction treatment and mental health care.
Some people say that the number seven is the number of completion. Today I am enjoying the feeling of being done. It’s been a busy few weeks of preparations for Inspire Academy’s Giving Gala and our float in the BSU homecoming parade. When I got home mid-day today after the parade, I realized that I was done my work and that there was nothing else that needed to be done right away. What a great way to rest!
As a school leader, the work was never done. There was always a to-do list longer than the time needed to get it done, and with every tasked ticked off, three more were added. There were always people waiting to hear from me, people who needed something from me. In education, we’re focused on continuous improvement. After all, that is what the educational process is all about – constantly growing, changing, and developing new skills and insights.
I am keenly aware today that one of the gifts of this sabbath year is being able to enjoy the feeling of being finished. I haven’t felt that in years, and it brings great satisfaction and relaxation. Even though there are busy weeks, I get to the end, and they are done. I’m not staring down the next busy week that’s about to take the wind out of me.
So, here’s to completion! Whether it be marking the end of a season (school envisioned, opened, and in its second charter term – check!), the end of a few important events (giving gala, homecoming parade – check!), a benchmark in my kids’ education (met our academic goals by fall break – check!), it feels good to be done!