beware of false peaks: we are not yet to the mountaintop

Finding a new church here in Denver was a process I worried about and prayed over. We loved our church in Little Rock, and I didn’t think we’d find a place I loved so much here. Theologically, we line up most with progressive, mainline churches, but we’re not anchored to one denomination. In the past we have attended Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Methodist churches. We visited two Methodist churches here where we were warmly welcomed, but knew neither felt “right.” We visited a gorgeous Episcopal cathedral, where Etta loudly exclaimed that the communion host “tastes like cotton balls,” and we realized our four year olds are just not ready for high church.

And then we visited Montview Presbyterian. Walking in felt like walking into our beloved Little Rock church. Even the architecture was similar. And the music! That first day, there was brass, timpani, organ, and choir, and the music gave us goosebumps. We noted that the church is led by a man and woman co-pastor team. We were soothed and challenged by the prayers and preaching. We were excited to see the classes, events, and mission opportunities they listed in the bulletin. And to top it off, they were having an ice cream social after church that day, and the girls were totally sold. Plus, when Claire ate too much ice cream too fast in the hot sun outside and barfed, several members helped us deal.

We knew our hunt was over. And then, months later, we learned that in our new church, we actually already had some deep roots. Jon’s dad said, “You know, I think Montview is where my grandfather and grandmother met,” and it turned out to be true.

While we are excited to talk to the church historian and see if we can find any members who were around when Jon’s great grandparents were there, our family history is not the biggest historical event that has happened at Montview.

Today being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, yesterday our pastor Ian preached about the civil rights movement and the struggle for social and racial justice which continues today. He started by saying he was always honored and humbled to preach from a place Martin Luther King Jr. once stood. In 1964, MLK visited Denver, and he actually spoke at Montview. In fact, the story goes that he got stuck in a room of the church (I have heard cloakroom, bathroom, and pastor’s study all mentioned) and had to be rescued with a ladder at a window in order to get out and walk around to the front of the church to go in and speak. To the overflow crowd gathered out front, he was just kind enough to come say hello before his talk, but the truth was, that great man had just climbed out a window and down a ladder!

Martin Luther King Jr. at Montview Presbyterian Church.

Martin Luther King Jr. at Montview Presbyterian Church.

It turns out his choice of Montview was significant. Montview is in a neighborhood near ours called Park Hill. In the 60s, as in much of the country, white flight was happening from the city to the suburbs, as many white people opposed the integration of their neighborhood. In Park Hill, there were many residents and many churches who bucked this trend and decided to stay and fight for a unified, integrated neighborhood. Montview was one of those churches.

I am sure that this longstanding legacy of activism and unity is why I can look in my church bulletin and see, just listed this week, that there was a Peace And Justice Forum with leaders from the Denver Justice Project and Together Colorado “to learn more about important issues in Colorado’s criminal justice system, including prison overcrowding, use of force issues, and current reform efforts.” On Tuesday, at least 100 members of our congregation plan to attend a meeting at a nearby AME church to also learn about these issues. In a couple of weeks, people from the Colorado Faith Communities United to end Gun Violence will come help members learn about the legislative process and how to lobby for reforms that will reduce gun violence. And next month, we are invited to a Presbytery-wide conversation about race and the Denver Presbytery.

I also think this legacy is what enabled Ian to stand where MLK once stood, and preach to a largely white congregation about things like privilege, police accountability, and mass incarceration. Like MLK, Ian chose a metaphor very familiar to a Colorado congregation: mountaintops. He reminded us that climbing a mountain is hard work, and that there are many false peaks. A false peak is when you can look and see a ridge up ahead. You are tired, and yet so excited, and yet you get there only to realize you still have a long way to go to reach the top. This is a point where you have to decide if you want to keep pushing on toward the top, or if you will turn back, or stay where you are.

I think for a lot of our nation, we experienced a false peak with the election of Barack Obama. While the election of our first black president was indeed a milestone and a huge piece of history, it was not the mountain top. We are not “there” yet. We are not past racism or “post-racial” as a society, by any stretch of the imagination. The last year has brought a lot of un-dealt-with injustices into the light– things that black Americans have always known were issues are finally being brought to the attention of a white America that has for too long been too insulated by privilege to see– how many young black men have to be shot down in the street by police, how many hateful comments do we have to hear from our own president-elect and his supporters, before we realize that the civil rights movement was not just then but is now, and we have to keep going, keep pressing on toward the mountaintop?

Ian wrapped up his sermon by reminding us of the words of Jesus to some of John the Baptist’s followers: “Come and see.” We are called to come and see the injustices faced by our neighbors. We are called to show up for tough conversations, and to get uncomfortable with our own privilege. Because to come and see is to follow Jesus into the way of love. When we see, then we realize we have to act.

So, this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I am planning to do more showing up. To the meetings about racial issues and gun violence, to the marches, and the protests. What are you planning to do?

Of course, after his wonderful sermon, Ian got completely upstaged by the choir. They performed “Up to the Mountain” by Patty Griffin, with actual recordings of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking interspersed with the singing. I was moved to tears, as were many in the congregation. I will leave you with a video of Patty performing the song (click through if you can’t see the embedded video):

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trying to live la pura vida

I’m back from an amazing week in Costa Rica. Did you miss me?

I want to write all about the trip, and kept a journal while we were there in order to do so, but our camera broke while we were there, and my husband’s iPhone, which became our backup camera, was left in San Jose. Through a strange and amazing series of circumstances which I will surely tell you about later, the phone is on its way back, but I’m not going to write about the bulk of the trip until I have some pictures of beautiful Costa Rica to share as well. I really fell in love with the country and the people we met there.

One thing people in Costa Rica say a lot is “pura vida.” It literally translates to “pure life” but can also be used to sort of mean “full of life.” It’s definitely true of Costa Rica, it was true of our trip, and it’s something I’m trying to make true of my life as well. As the comments on the “No Clothes” post keep rolling in and people affirm the challenge, I’ve been pondering my motivations for the challenge and for my desire to begin to live a simpler life in general. Part of it is that I know that for me, the cycle of wanting and buying and wanting and buying is not actually leading to a happier, more joyful life, but rather a vicious cycle of materialism. And another part of it is, I don’t want the things that give me happiness, like a pretty new dress, to be tainted by the fact that they’re bad for the environment and made by very poor people in very poor working conditions. A life of “pura vida” would be about life and happiness for all, not life and happiness that is dependent on others’ suffering and oppression.

When we were in San Jose, we stayed in an amazing house-turned-bed-and-breakfast that we found through AirBnB. Our host, when we asked what brought him to Costa Rica, told us about the day he was liberated from a life of comfort and material things the day a wildfire destroyed his nice house and everything he owned in Southern California. And that’s the way he describes that experience: liberating. Now he lives in a lovely condo in San Jose and shares the gifts of hospitality and good conversation with everyone blessed to stay with him. And I do mean blessed– hospitality, shared meals, and good conversation are practically the sacraments of my faith.

Over the course of the week, I just kept ruminating on what it would be like to feel liberated from materialism. I don’t mean liberated from actually having things, or appreciating beauty, or even from buying things, but I do mean liberated from the never-ending desire of my current shopping habits. For example– I like to browse lots of style blogs, largely for inspiration on how to wear things I already have, or things to DIY for myself or my home– they inspire my creativity, and that’s always a good thing. However, they also often inspire my desire to shop and spend. For example, while perusing my backlog accumulated in Google Reader during a week without my computer, I saw, and immediately wanted this dress from Ruche: Why? Because it’s a very good knockoff of a Marc Jacobs dress I’ve been coveting ever since Michelle Obama wore it (source): The Marc Jacobs version was $685. The Ruche version, which is sold out, was $43. Why? Well, the knockoff is 100% polyester (read: made from petroleum, not very breathable) and “imported” (read: probably not manufactured under the best of conditions). I could (were it not sold out, and had I not taken a no shopping for clothes vow) buy that $43 dress and simply enjoy its beauty and the feeling that I had scored a great look that I had long admired at an insane price. But I’d be bothered by the fact that it’s a blatant ripoff of something someone else created, and I’d be more bothered by the fact that it was made of oil and most likely sewn under not great working conditions. And the sad fact is, the person I am right now, that person can easily say to herself, “BUT IT’S CUUUUTE. AND SO CHEAP!” I don’t want to be that person. That person who says she cares about living “la pura vida” and advocates for the environment and social justice, but is willing to throw all that away for a cute dress. Maybe one day I’ll actually live up to my own values, but it’s hard. Anyone else out there on the same sort of journey?

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. To me, Martin Luther King Jr. lived out the teachings of Jesus in a very public and real way that few others have accomplished. I thought I’d share some quotes of his that I find particularly interesting, inspirational, and challenging.

 

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. giving his “I Have A Dream” speech during March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (aka the Freedom March). By Francis Miller, via the Google LIFE photo archive.

 

One of my favorite quotes of all time:

“Through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder.
Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth.
Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate.
Darkness cannot put out darkness.
Only light can do that.”

These next two remind me of a metaphor I heard once: helping people out of poverty one at a time is like pulling people out of a river. But at some point you have to look upstream and see what is pushing them in, and make it stop.  Social justice work must be combined with political activism, or it will always be a losing battle:

“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary. “

“On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

This next one reminds me of another line I hear a lot from people involved in justice and equality work: My liberation is bound up in the liberation of others:

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

“Life’s persistent and most urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”

 

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that in my fair state, our official holiday today is Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee Day:

So, I wrote to my state senator and representative:

Dear [Senator or Representative],

was very disappointed today to learn that in the State of Arkansas, today’s official holiday is Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee Day. I immediately set about to learn who my representatives are, so that I might ask them to address this disappointing combination of holidays.

It tarnishes the great, nonviolent, positive work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to insist that the State of Arkansas must celebrate him in the same breath as Robert E. Lee. It is a concession to ignorance and bigotry to combine these two holidays. Anyone who attempts to celebrate Robert E. Lee without acknowledging that he fought primarily to defend the cause of slavery is ignorant of history. The confederate states wrote articles of secession making clear exactly why they chose to secede and fight, and in each document, slavery comes up as the #1 issue. Celebrating Robert E. Lee is synonymous with celebrating slavery, and any disagreement on this point is ignorant of history.  It is also un-American to celebrate someone who tried to tear asunder the great United States.

I ask that you and the other representatives work to change the name of this holiday, so that we might truly celebrate the legacy of Dr. King without also celebrating the legacy of the slavery and injustice and hatred that he opposed.

Sincerely,

[erniebufflo]

If you’re an Arkansan and would like to see this holiday be devoted to Martin Luther King Jr. and he alone, you can find your state representatives using this map. Let them know.