Trayvon Martin’s Mom: ‘If They Refuse to Hear Us, We Will Make Them Feel Us’

TIME

Sybrina Fulton is the mother of Trayvon Martin and the founder of the Trayvon Martin Foundation. In a letter to the family of Ferguson teen Michael Brown written exclusively for TIME, Fulton reflects on what the families now share.

To The Brown Family,

I wish I had a word of automatic comfort but I don’t. I wish I could say that it will be alright on a certain or specific day but I can’t. I wish that all of the pain that I have endured could possibly ease some of yours but it won’t. What I can do for you is what has been done for me: pray for you then share my continuing journey as you begin yours.

I hate that you and your family must join this exclusive yet growing group of parents and relatives who have lost loved ones to senseless gun violence. Of particular concern is…

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Another moon

Supermoon over VancityIt happened again.

A couple of good dates. Friendly laughter, trading stories, deep conversations, common values, rising hope.

Then…silence.

Failed attempts at connection, just to end with: oh, there wasn’t enough chemistry.

Say what?

Many moons ago, I started blogging because I was struggling to find a voice as a single Christian woman in her 20’s. Now I’m blogging because I’m a frustrated single Christian woman ever getting closer to her 40’s. And I know I’m not alone. There seems to be a dearth of single men (in their 30’s and 40’s) who are capable of being vulnerable and faithful. Those who are, were smart enough to find a good woman some time ago.

I’m frustrated because I can’t seem to figure out a good theology of dating. How is God working here? How do I pray? Is God wanting to reduce me to begging for crumbs from the table while watching others enjoy a plentiful feast? Are we just leftovers here?? At least pass some salt, or a drop of wine.

There’s a supermoon tonight, rising over the city and reflecting bright light on the ocean shore. A perfect warm summer evening at the beach for happy couples and fuzzy bunnies. On the other side of the world, war is being waged on women’s bodies and helpless children. Cities and villages bombed. Minorities being exterminated. My heart cannot handle the grief and my mind cannot comprehend the divergence of human experiences. It can all seem unbelievably absurd.

But life is gift. What we are given is not ours to own or dominate. Enjoy, yes. Celebrate, yes. Cherish, yes.

I can practice forgiveness and exercise faith. And I have the privilege of doing such things without the comfort of a companion. I hope these virtuous muscles are stronger than I realize because they’re going to have to sustain me for the journey ahead. I fear fatigue and apathy. Acedia awaits to catch me in his alluring arms, offering security in exchange for perilous love.

And so I wrestle into the night, and into the next, and the next. I say with the Church:

Jesus, how long? This doesn’t make sense. Have mercy on us, and bless those bunnies.

A title that’s not automatically generated.

It’s been awhile. I have these long gaps in my blogging that are more consistent than my blogging. Sometimes they’re intentional. Sometimes they’re for lack of energy. Sometimes they’re simply symptoms of my not wanting to deal with my soul. Call it laziness, apathy, or fear. Writing always takes something from me and at times […]

Faith and the Single Pastor

I’ve had several friends remark to me, “I’m glad I don’t have your job.” I take it as a backhanded compliment from people who have experienced enough of church life to know the demands and expectations placed on pastors. But having worked in secular industry and having friends in all sorts of jobs, I know that stress comes in all shapes and sizes.

However, there’s a particular kind of burden placed on pastors when they’re called to shepherd God’s flock. We are called to care for people’s souls. Before being a pastor, I’ve never had to consider the deep implications of spiritual formation in the life of a community. I didn’t have to address questions like: What kind of people are we shaping with the weekly practices of prayer, fellowship, and worship? What do we say when only men serve as elders or that the communion table is fenced off from seekers? What does it mean if a child never sees a woman preaching from the pulpit or only married persons as pastors?

Prior to being a pastor, I didn’t have to consider the impact of my words or the weight of my own spiritual health. It was much easier to separate the private from the public when I was in secular work. When your main work is to embody theology, however, there’s no hiding from who you really are. My identity, or the formation of my identity, becomes the pivot point in how I do theology and in how I care for others. In order to see the belovedness of people, and to invite them into relationship with God, I need to see my own belovedness to God.

So there’s no escaping from dealing with personal issues like my sexuality and relational history. I am a heterosexual, single woman. These adjectives can mean something. To some it means I am deficient and should be barred from leadership. To others it means that I am a threat to their marriage. To me, it means a mode of life that I had little control over but one that I’m slowly learning to navigate with.

It also means that I have a rare opportunity to effect change just by being who I am. For the children in my congregation, they will grow up seeing a single woman preach, pray, and lead a community. They will become teenagers who will think nothing of gender and marital status as qualifiers for ministry. They will become adults who will value men and women working together in partnership, rather than in competition.

Yet I still struggle with the loneliness and isolation that comes from being a pastor and being single. Whether it is to hold people’s stories in confidence, or to make unpopular decisions, or to live faithfully in a sexually-saturated society, I am learning that this calling has a price. God, in His grace, didn’t fully reveal that price to me at the start of my journey. I think I might have laughed like Sarah and found a wife, er… husband. Or maybe I might have taken to the high seas like Jonah and go on the run.

Do I still choose this road? Even when it becomes harder? Even when God never answers my prayers for a partner? Do I settle in for the long haul?

The answer lies not in making one vow, but making small choices day by day. In the words of Eugene Peterson, it’s to obey in the same direction while knowing that each day we are being preserved by God. There are days when I question my abilities as a pastor, and there are days when I can’t imagine doing anything else.  The truth is, every day that I am sustained is a grace and a gift. Especially when I can say in response, “I’m glad I don’t have your job either.”

This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.

Silence, Conflict, and seeing Red

Well, I’ve decided to come out of my blogging blackout to make a few comments on a situation that was started, stirred, and shaken on the internet. I recognize that this is only of interest to a very small group of people: evangelicals…. and even then, perhaps only of interest to non-white evangelicals.*

If you’re still with me and don’t know about the Rick Warren – Red Guard thing, start here and read this.

First, I would say that as a Chinese Canadian, I was a bit wary of entering into the fray. Warren is American… though he seems to have an international fan club going (which I assume includes a lot of Canadians).  I knew there would plenty of Asian American voices that would rally and protest. And, I really hate engaging in public conflicts because undoubtedly there will be ignorant, mean, and stupid comments. I allowed myself one snarky comment on a wall post of an Asian American theologian… but the snarkiness just wouldn’t be appreciated by those who don’t know me. Where’s the fun in that?

Second, I don’t know if I need an apology from Warren. I have no relationship with him. I don’t identify with him… at all. Except, he is part of the Church. Why I don’t need an apology from Warren is that among my friends, he’s either unknown or he’s not that important. That being said, Warren does have popularity. And with popularity comes power. People are drawn to popular figures because they want to see a bit of themselves in that figure. If that figure is liked (or is right) then we are liked (or are right). The danger of his carelessness was that it was teaching his fans, or giving permission to them, to be careless and culturally-ignorant. This hurts the Church. It hurts the Church for its witness. And it hurts the members within.

Which comes to my third comment. It makes sense to me that if I have offended a brother or sister (and I have done so), my first reaction is regret, ESPECIALLY if it was unintentional. Warren’s response has been curious. First denial, then after some pressure, an expression of gratitude (?) and back-pedaling, then after a great deal more pressure (like an RNS article) he finally issues a full-out apology… a little late and teetering on disingenuous.

But this whole conflict has been based on a number of assumptions. One being that everyone assumed that Warren was capable of dealing with open conflict, right now. I don’t know what’s going on in his life, how he normally engages in conflicts within his home or church, or what other stresses have been laid upon him. We expect him to respond as a person of influence and rightly so. But, what if he just sucks at open conflicts? It takes a lot of humility, self-awareness, self-confidence, and compassion. Any of us would be short of any of these at any given time. Fortunately, not every one of us have the responsibility of being a pastor and a public figure.

The other assumption that people (that is, Warren’s fans) are making, is that those who are offended by Christians, can’t be Christians. That says a lot about how they deal with diversity and with conflict. Frankly, it’s immature and delusional to think that just because someone disagrees with you that they have nothing in common with you. But we want to forget that though, it makes fighting easier. And if we all belong to the same team, who exactly are we protecting? Who gets to win?

It does irk me that the onus is placed on the offended party to reconcile. There has been so many comments made by people that went like: Why don’t you address him directly? Have you contacted him personally? How does this (public outcry) help build the body of Christ?

Um, why doesn’t Warren just apologize? Why don’t people take a few min to educate themselves? And why is voicing public hurt to a public offense NOT helpful to the body of Christ? I thought Jesus turned a few tables in his day…

My last random observation is that there is a cry from Asian Americans to be recognized and heard by the white majority, and particularly in the evangelical world. It seems that only way to operate in this system is to get angry enough to be seen and aggressive enough to be respected.

Which comes back to my earlier comment… I don’t know if I want to engage in this system. I don’t know whose acknowledgement I’m looking for. Maybe I’m spoiled by being part of a small church which quietly engages in grace, brokenness, and sin in our speck of the world. Maybe I’m fearful. Maybe I’m too Canadian (whatever that means).

Anyways… enough of this. There’s a sermon to tend to and a stomach to feed. More could be said later.

Later

*A friend has brought to my attention that I’m making an assumption that white evangelicals don’t or won’t care. Actually, I know that some of them do and some feel embarrassed by the whole mess. However, I intentionally wrote this to draw attention from white evangelicals who typically don’t pay attention to issues of cultural context but think they do. It was a passive-aggressive comment that wasn’t meant to exclude and perpetuate the same problem. I’m sorry if you took offense… if you did, you’re not the problem 😉

 

Let Me Be

There’s a passage in the gospel of John that has often been used to exemplify the compassion and righteousness of Christ towards his sinful followers. In John 7:53-8:11, we read the story of a woman caught in adultery. The religious authorities (a group of men) brought her to the temple courts where Jesus was teaching. By law, a woman such as her should have been stoned to death. Would Jesus condemn the woman or break God’s law? As usual, Jesus did nothing they expected. He said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b, NIV). One by one, they left, having been confronted by their own hypocrisy. They meant to trap him, but Jesus stumped them and the woman was saved from certain death.

I was taught that we all are like this woman. Caught in sin, deserving of condemnation, but alive in Christ. And when it comes to judging others, be warned! Who are we to cast a stone when our own hands are weighted with guilt?

Lesson taught and received, so I thought – until I began to realize that I had internalized this story and made it my own. I am that adulterous woman (though I’ve never committed any acts of adultery). This is how the Church sees me. And I’m saved only by the good graces of Jesus when really I should be condemned for my seductive, feminine ways.

As I grew older, I learned that the stories of women in the Bible were far more diverse and interesting than what I was first taught; that “biblical women” weren’t just competitive mothers and unsavory singles (except Mary the virgin, but she was avoided because it was too Catholic to call her the Mother of God). There were women teaching men, women giving prophecy, women believing the Son of God well before any man did.

I’m realizing that I had fallen into the trap that happens to most marginalized people: you believe the press. You believe the labels given by the powerful because those labels seem to make sense of your own powerlessness: Asians are the model minority? But of course we are, we’re successful and have perfect families. All of us! Asians are the foreigners? Yes, and we’re taking over your country! Asian women are lotus blossoms or tigers? Um sure, as soon as I fit into my size 2 dress that I’ve never owned and beat my non-existent husband and children into submission.

Labels also keep me, and others, from walking forward in the Church.  I shouldn’t be a pastor because I’m a woman and Jesus was a white male (actually a Jew but let’s not think about that). I shouldn’t be in ministry because Asians should be successful doctors, engineers, or lawyers. I shouldn’t be happy because I’m single and my supposed purpose and calling in life is to be a wife and mother.

Jesus knows better. Jesus, as our source of life, knows how incredibly capable, gifted, talented, and diverse we are. Jesus knows how incredibly akin we are as well.  He didn’t fall into the trap that would have kept him in his place. Instead he pointed out the common humanity between the accusers and the accused. By doing so he resisted the condemnation and labels we place on one another. He refused the labels placed on the woman.

He told the woman that she too could move on and that it was within her ability to live a life of fullness and love. She could live. She could be.

In the end, it’s still true. We are all like this woman… and we are all like those religious authorities. Labels, stereotypes, condemnation abound, but they don’t have to. They will end when we choose to resist and see each other for who we are.

We can all have life. We can be who we are in Christ. Let no one tell you otherwise, least of all yourself.

This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.

[Edit: I messed up with the reblogging attempt.. so I did end up cutting and pasting anyways!]