Saturday, January 20, 2018

Sak Pasé

Living in Miami, you get to know people from a lot of different places. Or maybe it would be more correct to say that you have the opportunity to get to know people from a lot of different places, as well as the opportunity to stick to your own kind. Either way, in my neighborhood, I can go a few blocks north to the Chinese grocery store, around the corner to the Haitian restaurant, and a quarter mile south to an Indian/Caribbean roti shop. There's an African goods store up the street from our church, that sells mostly clothing and some other items. I could throw a brick from my front yard, in any direction, and I'd probably hit a Cuban restaurant, bakery, or at least a food truck going by with pastelitos de guayaba on board. We used to have the best Jamaican restaurant in the world just a couple of miles away, but the owner closed it down and retired, so now we have to go to one of the other three that are closer, but just don't make the curry chicken patties the same.

Down here, ethnically mixed families are pretty common, and they come in all kinds of different combinations. It's not unusual to have households where two are three languages are spoken, especially during an argument. I often wonder how my family, with African-American, Jamaican, Jewish, and European roots, would fit in to other cities and towns around the country. Overall, I feel lucky to still live here.

We know people whose families have been in this country as far back as they can remember, or who are second or third generations of their kinfolk who immigrated here. Some of them are still trying to work out something with Uncle Sam before it's too late, and some are already too late, and don't know what to do about it, or who to trust enough to ask for help. Some of our neighbors have taken that oath proudly and become citizens Others are content to be legal residents, saving as much money as they can, with dreams of returning to their home countries and enjoying retirement in a place they love, where the American dollars they've worked hard for will let them live well for the rest of their lives.

So when we hear our president say the racist and degrading things that he says about immigrants, about foreigners, about people in color in general, we get riled up. We get angry. When we think about the kinds of policies that he might enact in the next three years of his term, we get concerned. We get scared for the people we love. Already, he's closing down avenues to residency and citizenship that many of my neighbors were counting on to fulfill their American goals of freedom and prosperity. We look around and wonder how many of our neighbors and friends wouldn't be here if he gets his way, how many of our wives and husbands. 

But when we hear otherwise normal people, especially people who claim to be Christians, defending those racist and oppressive ideas, or minimizing them in an effort to prop up some vague and dubious political agenda, we get hurt. When we hear some church leaders endorsing this president, again and again, regardless of how vile he behaves, we wonder if the American church has any real sense of justice or compassion, or if it has completely sold out to politics for the sake of one or two hot-button issues.

We start to wonder if it's even about those issues anymore, or whether these Christians and church leaders actually agree with what this president says.

In the first part of Thomas Paine's "Crisis" pamphlets, he says that one good this about panics and crises is that "they are touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever  undiscovered." Maybe this is the crisis that will allow us to really know the people around us. The hard part is to continue to extend love and grace even as we confront these issues.

So I have a challenge to everyone who still supports Trump, still thinks he is a "baby Christian" like Dobson said, or a "good candidate with flaws" as Grudem called him, before backpedalling and asking Christians to vote for him despite the fact that he was not a good candidate or even a decent person. My challenge is to look around and determine how many of your friends and families would be affected by his racist policies. If you don't see any, then make some new friends and try to get to know some people that are outside of your current circle, people who don't look like you, people who may come from some of the countries that the president is disparaging. Tell them how you think that Trump's positives outweigh his negatives, or how he didn't really mean what he so emphatically said. Listen to them when they tell you about the major issues that motivate their politics. Try to get a different perspective that the one you're used to. Don't do this on Facebook or social media either. Look them in the eye and have an honest discussion about it.

And to those brothers and sisters from Haiti, Nigeria, Zambia, Swaziland, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, and Trinidad, who left a nation that they love to follow a dream, there are a lot of us behind you, wishing you the best, and willing to use our hands, ballots, and voices to support you. When you feel the heat, we're in the fire with you. N'ap boule.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Faith of a Child

This year when Christmas morning came, our five-year-and-one-day-old Christmas Eve baby climbed up into our bed at about five thirty, like she always does. This time, instead of dragging herself into the room looking slow and sleepy, she had the biggest smile on her face, just overflowing with excitement. She’s always loved Christmas time. It comes so close to her birthday that she sometimes thinks it’s just one long party for her, with twice the presents. But this year, it was more excitement than ever. She practically danced into the room and into our bed.

“I wanna go outside!” she yelled, throwing us completely off center.

We told her that under no circumstances were we getting dressed and going outside so early in the morning, with a pile of presents under the tree.

“I want to go outside and play!” she said.

“You want to go where and do what?” I asked, wondering if I was still sleeping. “Don’t you want to open presents?”

“I wanna go play in the snow first!”

Both of us stared at her for about a minute before we could respond. “We live in Miami, baby. It’s seventy degrees outside," I said, forgetting for a moment that they hadn't covered that in kindergarten.

No amount of scientific explanation or experiential evidence could get her to understand that it wasn't snowing outside. She grabbed my wife's hand and dragged her to the sliding glass doors to prove to her that there was a winter wonderland out there waiting for her to come frolic. Even after she threw the shutters open and saw nothing but the same old pool and a yard full of very green and not too recently mowed grass, she still had to take a long look to the left and right to convince herself of what she was seeing.

Sometimes, I wish I had faith like that. Sometimes, I wish Christianity was that simple and that solid to me. We just spent this last month of December thinking and talking about Advent, focused on the idea of waiting and watching for Christ's return, just like Mary and the rest of the world was waiting for His birth. I believe in this. I believe in Christ, His love and sacrifice for me, and God's plan for this world. I believe, but help my unbelief.

I'm so skeptical about everything, and that's not a bad thing. It keeps me from believing everything I see on the Internet, and everything that I hear about other people. On the other hand, I have to have some kind of proof for everything I believe, like Thomas demanding to see the wounds himself.

But that's one of the best things about all of this starting over and having this little girl later in life than I expected. Disney World is magical again, instead of just an expensive place to wait in line for an hour. Children's books are clever and funny again. I have a more socially acceptable reason to go see kids movies again. And I have the opportunity to see what real faith looks like again.

There's a reason why Jesus told us that we should have the kind of faith that children have, and it's not because it's a childish or ignorant faith. My daughter's belief that it would snow Christmas morning was not stupid or uninformed. Every reliable source in her life, from Sophia to Spiderman, has been telling her, showing her even, that Christmas Day and show are inextricably linked. She believed them, so unwaveringly that even her own parents couldn't shake her faith. She had to see it with her own eyes before she would doubt, just like I have to see it before I believe.

What's more, she wasn't really crushed by the reality that there wasn't going to be snow outside our house on Christmas, not this year or any other. She was disappointed, but when we told her that it doesn't snow in Miami because it's too hot here, and that it does snow in Minneapolis where her auntie lives, or in New Jersey where her other auntie lives, or even in Virginia where her cousin is, she reset her thinking just that quickly and everything was once again right in the world. Christmas snow does exist, just not here, and one day, as God is her witness, she will revel in all of its frozen glory. We showed her some of the Facebook pictures from the family who live in the realms of snow and ice, and promised her that one of these years, soon, we would make sure she got up there to see it. That, plus a reminder that there were still Christmas/Birthday presents to unwrap, set her mood right back to excitement again.

I've had that same experience, when some of the things that I'd been told by the church turned out to be false and unsubstantiated, either by science or just by my own experience. My faith has been challenged, and even changed over the years. I've had to give up on some traditions and beliefs that were never a part of the Gospel anyway, and I've decided that I can still believe everything God tells me, without having to believe everything that people tell me. But my faith is intact, and stronger than ever. And seeing my little girl's faith in something as simple as snow makes me aspire to ask for more faith from the One who makes it snow.

I just need to work up the faith that I can save up enough for plane tickets to the frozen North by this time next year.