Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Portland: No Diversity!

Disclaimer: This article is in no way meant to defame, malign, or otherwise "throw shade" on Portland, Oregon. So far, I'm having a great time. 

Sunday was my first full day in Portland, Oregon. I'm not exactly looking for a new city to settle down in, but every time I take a domestic vacay, I try to take note of potential. What do I like? What do I dislike? Could this be my future home? 

imagine me in the middle of this crowd...
So yesterday, I'm sitting down by myself, indulging in a little people-watching. June has abandoned me in search of tea and snacks, so I really had a chance to look around and soak in my surroundings. Suddenly,  I began to feel very out-of-place. It was an extremely strange feeling. I liked the vibe of the city with its natural beauty everywhere, the quirky fashion sense of the citizens, and a true foodie culture.  Yet, there was something that I could quite put my finger on...and then it hit me: "where are the black people?!" Perhaps a little  research was in order prior to this trip, so I would not be shocked by the Portland demography. However, I kid you not, I saw more black people in Rome, Italy. So right there, from my perch, I start smartphoning it: "black people in Portland." The results were, to say the least, not ideal. I started to give in to a sinking feeling when, wait! There, in the distance I spotted the one person I didn't think existed here: a black woman! And her daughter! They exist!

Then I immediately started to feel bad. And then sad. For two reasons:
  1.  The "Why of it All" - Why is the realization that there are few to no black people the origin of a "sinking feeling"? In 2014, shouldn't I be beyond the pressures and the tensions evoked by race? What's wrong with me?
  2. The "Where of it All" - This is bigger than #1. My first point is naive foolishness. Anyone who reads a paper or watches the news has to admit that there are still race-centric issues in the United States of America. But me, yesterday, I was having this disconnected, "I-don't-belong-here", make for the hills church
I have a group of friends and, on an almost annual basis, we visit West Virginia to hang out in cabins. I go there with an expectation of Confederate flags, and lawn gnomes that really aren't gnomes...just little black men surrounded by grass and tin water cans. I expect to see racist vintage art hung up on the walls of random establishments and I don't waste time looking around for a ton of black people, because I know they're not there. I have an expectation of homogeneity. 

the "ideal" church--per carnal thinking
So Portland merely took me by surprise. And believe me, there are no confederate flags, or "little Sambo" lawn ornaments, or vintage blackface posters, there's simply: no diversity. No big deal. No one has treated me strangely (though someone did try to sell me weed--Normal? Not normal?) or made me feel unwelcome.

But as it came to the church, I started to wonder: am I looking for diversity in the wrong place? Should I expect homogeneity in the church? And I don't mean this in the "Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in Christian America" (a la MLK) way. I mean shouldn't I look for homogeneity in a way that transcends all of that?

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. - Galatians 3:26-28

There are many who would teach that this is only a theological point, expressing a sort of spiritual/divine equality and unity through the spirit of Christ. It's theological, but not...practical. I find that to be the saddest interpretation of scripture I've ever encountered. We are either all one in Christ Jesus--and are in Christ Jesus all the time; or we can step in and out of Christ Jesus at will, for practical purposes, effectively making racial ("Jew or Greek"), socioeconomic ("slave or free"), and sexual ("male or female") issues both a practical and theological part of corporate worship.

So on Sunday, I was sitting in my folding chair in that huge garage/auditor church thinking these thoughts, and  thinking of that verse. The preacher was preaching, and it was an excellent message (you can check it out here) on the greatest of all the commandments: 

and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
 - Mark 12:30-31

You might think that's completely unrelated to my previous train of thought, but that sermon had me jumping from notion to notion, and scripture to scripture (like the one in Galatians scripture above). But then I started trying to let myself off the hook, telling myself: "I love God, I love people...I'm all good." But is that 100% true? If that were the case, then when I looked around the church, should I have seen (only) a room full of white hipsters? And it brought me to this scripture: 

If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.
- 1 John 4:20

Clearly, I wasn't in there thinking: "I hate these people." I'm not looking to this scripture to determine whether or not I hated them, but I'm looking to it wondering: have I actually seen them. In the Greek, the word for "seen" here is from a root that means "to stare at properly" and it can mean more than seeing with the eyes, but also perceiving with the mind.

So, I started looking around thinking, who am I really looking at? Who really has their hands up in the air? Who's really singing these praises? Who are they...really?
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
 - 1 John 4:12
Should I see God? 

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. - 1 Corinthians 12:12-13

Or should I see myself? Someone that I am intricately connected to through Christ? No one looks in a mirror and sees disparate parts. They see themselves. One body. Christ is looking at us, but is seeing Himself.

Isn't that what I should see as well? 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Ugh! Why did I say that?

Saturday night I went to a concert in DC. Priscilla Ahn. As you know, I'm a huge Ingrid Michaelson groupie, but I have to say that Priscilla has the purest, most beautiful/organic sound I've ever heard live. Her voice has a sort of ethereal quality that transcends what you hear on the CD. But enough about that, this blog is not about her. The blog is about what happened after Priscilla and I parted ways.

So, it's late night. I'm in the metro. Alone. I have a twenty minute wait for the next train. I see a security guard waiting as well, so I sit by him. Will he protect me if things get rough at Metro Center? Probs not, but women are comforted by fantasies. Anyway, I'm sitting there in imaginary safety when two young men who may or may not be of the thug variety sit next to me. One on each side. I am sandwiched between potential thugs. And then my security guard suddenly catches a blue line train (I'm waiting for orange), and I'm left alone with them. My initial thought: I will now be robbed or harassed. Or both. Le sigh.

Like one minute after security guard leaves one of the guys says: "I like your hair." I say "thank you" politely and resume staring off into space (I dare not pretend to play on my phone as that increases the odds of it being my mind). He doesn't say anything for another 2-3 minutes, then this happens:

Potential Thug 1: I was gonna ask you for your number, but I think maybe you think I'm too young for you.
Me: I'm definitely too old for you. I'm pretty sure your mom would slap me if I dated you.
Potential Thug 1: How old are you?
Me: (never so happy to admit this) 31
Thug 1 and 2: (gasp) What? I would have never guessed that.
Thug 2: Yeah, I would say like 27 at most.

Usually, it's about this time--once the old hag reality sinks in--that youngsters go away. But instead of hitting on me, they have now turned to me for life advice.

Thug 1: So, what kind of advice would you have for someone my age? You know life advice.

 I was shocked. For two reasons,
  1. Did he really just ask me that? Clearly, this is not your garden variety thug. Most likely not a thug at all. I profiled him based on the way he was dressed.
  2. My answers. My answers made me feel like the oldest person on this planet. I said all the cliched things I heard when I was younger: "Stay in school" "Be safe" (in regards to sexual practices). Ahhh! I'm 50! Very practical, yet, in hindsight I felt like I told him all the wrong things. 
♫See you at the you won't be lonely.♫
First off, he'd already given up on school in his pursuit of a rap career. Which I can't hate on completely b/c what if Jay-Z, Nas, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and so many others had given up? So, we talked a little about back-up plans and what not. Practical.

Second, I don't know about safety, but he was already on his way to meet a girl for drinks who, as he put it, was "pressed" and that he had her mind messed up... He said he often gives a girl a compliment, like "I like your hair" and then he's silent. He says the silence messes up their minds. Whaaa? I was confused by that, so I just talked about being nice to girls and more about safety and responsibility. Practical.

But...where was my come-to-Jesus speech? Honestly, it never even crossed my mind. Is that normal? Abnormal? Do we only talk as the Lord leads us, or should our first inclination be to hit them with scriptures?

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
- Colossians 4:5,6

I spent 15 minutes in the train station and then 30 minutes on the train (they were going where I was going), having a lively discussion with these two young men. Yet, I doubt that from the viewpoint of Christ I made the "best use of the time." Why? I don't know. I have to think more about the cause-and-effect of the entire situation. Nothing bad happened. We didn't have a bad talk. I would say, we had a good talk...but at no point was it a god talk either. I'm not like wretchedly convicted or crying my eyes out over here, but next time, I want to be prepared to make better use of the time. At the very least, it'd make for a crazier story. 

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. - 2 Timothy 4:2

If I could do it all over again, and someone said: "what kind of advice would you have for someone my age?" I could tell them that the best thing they could ever do is to develop a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And then just be silent. 

The messes with their minds.