White Privilege and other awkward things.

This is the blog post that I’ve been avoiding. It’s a topic that’s been hard for me to figure out how to handle because I’m always afraid that people close to me are going to have a hard time hearing me, and that breaks my heart. Race conversations are essential in our current world, but that doesn’t make them easy. There are a lot of topics that I’d love to tackle, but I’m not ready yet. Luckily, our brothers and sisters at Chicago Theological Seminary have made starting this conversation a little bit easier. They recently posted a video called “White Privilege Glasses” that I would like you to take a look at before you continue reading this.

How are you feeling? Happy? Sad? Angry? Relieved? Riled up? Me too. You may be wondering why on earth I would ever post such a thing, you may be glad that I did, but either way it’s a start.

If you’ve never seen photos of me, I often have very colorful hair. I like to change the color by wrapping yarn around my locked hair. (I personally don’t like to use the term dreadlock, but that’s another discussion altogether.)  It’s a fun way to change my hairstyle without having to constantly dye it. Many people find my hair interesting and different. I like that, it often becomes a fun point of conversation when meeting new people. What I don’t like, is the fact that strangers often touch my hair without asking. This has happened to me several times a week since coming to Steamboat. It happens everywhere, at church, at work, on the bus, at the grocery store… People that I don’t know walk up to me, and pet my head like I’m a puppy. They run their fingers through it like I’m a living barbie doll, or an alien visiting from another planet.  It doesn’t matter whether the yarn that I wear is neutral or neon, people touch it and then ask awkward follow up questions like, “Do you wash that?”

Why is it that strangers, 99.9% of whom are white, and most of whom are also women, feel that it’s appropriate to touch me without my permission? Why do they feel that they’re entitled to touch me? Neither of my roommates are ever touched in this way. Is it because their hair is more, “normal?” Did you know that into the 20th century, non-white people were exhibited in zoos alongside apes and other animals? (This was a common occurrence in Europe, but also in major US cities like New York and Cincinnati.) Do we carry over this “freak show” mentality? Why do people insist on referring to me as “exotic?” My entire traceable lineage is American. My great-great grandmother was Cherokee, and my great-great grandfather was born a slave. So what makes me “less” American than anyone else living here?

My hairstyle isn’t exactly unique, either. A quick google search of the phrase “yarn braids” yields hundreds of results of women of color with beautiful hair in every shade. So why am I such a strange entity? Most people are pleasant enough, but I don’t like having smiling strangers touch my hair any more than I would like to have them touch my butt. People seem to honestly believe that their curiosity makes it okay to invade my personal space.  I am fairly certain that if I started walking around running my hands through people’s straight hair, I would get arrested.

Please don’t misinterpret this, I welcome curiosity, but not when it comes with entitlement. I see white privilege manifested in the fact that most of the white people I speak to about this have never had such an experience. They can’t relate to being touched by strangers in an unwanted way on a regular basis. They don’t worry about whether rejecting these unwanted advances will have a negative impact on their careers and social lives, and they’ve never googled, “How do I keep strangers from touching me?”

I would describe Steamboat as a “classically American” town. I love this place, I love the mountains, I love the people and I am really happy with my choice to live here. The fact that it is so American means that it has a lot of the social and political issues that most of America shares. This is what being a minority in America looks like. It means that in your home country, you are still “exotic” and “different.” Though those words are still often awkward and uncomfortable for me, I prefer them to some of the things that I’ve been called in the past…

If you’re still not really buying this whole “white privilege” thing, please allow me to share with you something that I wrote a few weeks ago about a bus ride on the way to work:

“Snowy mornings like this one can be a bit hectic here in Steamboat Springs. Weekend tourists and powder days mean that the first leg of my bus ride is packed with giddy people ready to make the most of their vacations. This was one such morning, but I managed to find myself a seat at the back of the bus near three older white people. I sat down and smiled. They grimaced. As I adjusted my bags, the man wrapped his arm around his wife, pulling her closer to him and further from me. They sat uncomfortably and discussed in southern drawls how the U Miami football team was full of “hoods” and “bad boys.” I tried to read my book, but couldn’t help but notice the sideways glances the man in the middle kept giving me. As soon as a seat opened up, the woman, seated closest to me, got up and moved away. The man turned so that his back was completely turned towards me. When they got off a few stops later, I saw him comforting her, as if she’d just endured something terrible. I didn’t even cry this time.”

-Georgi

(If you’d like to further engage race issues in recent American history, I invite you to watch the documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, which is available to stream for free here: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/videos/the-black-panthers-vanguard-of-the-revolution/ Regardless of your opinion of the subject, it’s an interesting and informative way to engage a difficult topic of our complicated shared history.)

I’m an Introvert (Like No One Knew)

When trying to determine the topic of my blog for Colorado ESC each month, inspiration is often hard to find; however, I knew that I’d talk about coming to terms with being an introvert a month before I actually had to produce anything. This inspiration actually came from a discussion with one of the members of the Colorado ESC Board, Darren Armstrong, when he mentioned that I am an “outgoing introvert.” He explained that while I have the habit of being more reserved, I don’t tend to come off as off putting when I’m around others. Recently I’ve decided to embrace this idea of being an “outgoing introvert” and actually can see how it’s quite fitting to my nature. I am certainly more reserved when I come into contact with new people, but still enjoy meeting new people and spending time with others. I also spend a lot of time in my own head thinking about things rather than discussing every idea that I have with others, although I do enjoy meaningful conversation. I enjoy letting loose and having fun like any other human being, but when I do depends on what the idea of fun is and the company that I’m with. Anyhow, my actually admitting that I’m more inclined to be introverted is quite the accomplishment, considering I wouldn’t accept that about myself whenever this program began.

Some people reading this may think to themselves “big whoop, who cares if you identify as being introverted or extroverted?” If this is you I congratulate you on being totally comfortable with yourself and hope to say that myself in the near future. However, for me being labeled as an introvert always came with a negative connotation in my mind. I’ve been called introverted as an insult multiple times in the past and have had that paired with “downer,” “loser,” “conceited,” and my all-time favorite “anti-social.” So ultimately the idea that developed with being introverted was a cat-hoarding loner with no friends that hates interaction with others.

Obviously I knew that this idea was completely ludicrous because I’ve been friends with introverts of all sorts over the years. Still, I have struggled with comparison to others for quite some time and couldn’t help but see all of the positives to being seen as an extrovert by others. In my experience, extroverts are often times congratulated more for their ideas and accomplishments, automatically volunteered by others to lead said ideas or projects, and usually viewed by others as spontaneous, fun, and loveable. Then, of course, there are the pitfalls to this which is generally the expectation for an extrovert to always be upbeat and spontaneous which would be incredibly exhausting for me to have to do.

Thankfully, I’m now seeing more of the positives to being an introvert and combining that with my developing skills of not comparing myself to others and ignoring and combating ignorance (a much more challenging skill for me). I now see my deep introspective nature as a very positive thing as it allows me to see my short-comings clearly and gives me the capacity to make positive changes I want to see in myself. As a less talkative, more observant person I also happen to catch many details others miss and it allows me to be empathetic towards others. I can also ignore the notion that somehow something is wrong with me because I choose self-care through reflective alone-time instead of forcing myself to spend time with others or do something I’m not in the mood for at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I will always push myself to do things that might naturally make me uncomfortable and in general I enjoy trying new things; but it’s only now that I realize why I never enjoyed things like going to a dive bar or trying to force myself to dance to a top-forty hit. I have always marched to the beat of my own drum and have never enjoyed trying to keep up with the latest trends. Also, I enjoy some songs on the radio, but will never force myself to pretend I’m enjoying a Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift song.

I suppose the biggest revelation in coming to terms with being an “outgoing introvert” has been that the majority of my experience falls on how I react to how others perceive or treat me. I could get frustrated with others not identifying my ideas, effort, and accomplishments or I could use it as a learning experience to be more humble and be satisfied with myself. I can get angry when others assume that I’m anti-social or no fun or I can choose to remember that this individual clearly doesn’t know me and our ideas of fun could be vastly different. Valentine’s Day weekend gave me a lot of insight, through our discussion on God’s love in Steamboat Springs and a sermon given at Bloom Church, that a lot of my frustration came from the fact that it’s been hard for me to believe that God loves me for being me and there’s no need to go above and beyond what I’m capable of to please God. This is an idea that I’ve fought for so long but one that I’m now choosing to accept as I continue to move forward. It doesn’t matter what others think because I know who I am, what I’ve done, and what I’m capable of doing; those who matter the most to me know this too and so does God, therefore I can be happy being me: an “outgoing introvert.”

“Love was made for me and you…”

Happy (late) Valentine’s Day, everyone! I hope you had a spectacular day with loved ones and with that, were able to see with new eyes the love that surrounds you.

It was a lovely weekend had here in Steamboat Springs spent with the Columbans/Denver folks. Lots of good conversation, fun, and adventuring was had. And with that, I couldn’t help but see that love and challenge saturated within the people and process of this year.

This weekend we welcomed our new member, George, who joined the Columban house! We spent friday in conversation around our enneagram numbers, experiencing nonstop hospitality from those in the St. Paul’s community, engaging two books discussing God’s love (‘Love Wins’ by Rob Bell and ‘To Love As God Loves’ by Roberta Bondi) and having some good ol’ fun in the snow – which you know I value my playtime a great deal.

A simple thing stuck with me in the madness and reflective moments of this weekend: love at all moments is meant to be engaged and enjoyed. I find myself sometimes stuck in places of cynicism and negligence of love – or fear of love if you will. The Sermon Fr. Scott gave on Sunday was around this interplay of temptation and desire. Our internal desires are often the problem and not the temptation. Still haven’t processed how ridiculously this speaks to my perspective these days. I don’t like the whole romantic love thing, and I find that to be because I don’t believe I am worthy of receiving love. This is in large part because I have chosen to believe my story around love rather than the story God has written in love. The Holy One entered into humanity to experience, know, and give us an immanent understanding of God. We have a God deeply within all our desires, temptations, and clutter. No need to shove it all into a closet and act like its not there.

Love comes with a great deal of challenge (so I am beginning to see). It’s not a stagnant thing, love asks us to grow and move into the shadows and sunlight places of ourselves knowing we are entering the deeper territory.

We have been steeping in questions for the last couple of weeks: how do you love someone that’s no so easy to love? Maybe for you this is yourself and I am right with you. What do we do with a love that asks for us to simply be and enter the muck of another? But, we must lead where we have been first. And how in the world do we believe in a love that is beyond our comprehension or what our personal history has shown? I’m not sure yet, but I think this lenten season this is where I find myself choosing to reside. Wanting to go a bit deeper into this whole love thing God has going on – and come out with new eyes able to see and know the love that surrounds me.

I’ll keep you posted on how this whole thing goes.

With love,
Brittany

God’s Beautiful Dust

remember you are dustAsh Wednesday 2016

Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. When I was at the cathedral I did a lot of funerals. We buried an average sized congregation every year, about 60 people, so in the time that I was at the cathedral, I probably did more funerals than most clergy do in their lifetime. I loved them. There is something about walking the final journey with someone and their surviving loved ones that is sacred and holy and humbling. The Episcopal funeral liturgy is full of rich prayers that have been prayed for over a thousand years by faithful Christians. The prayers help make a container around our grief and remind us that even while we may not know it in the moment, we send our loved ones back to God with the promise and the hope that their life is changed, not ended.

There is a lot about funerals that I love, but one of the most moving parts for me, is when I am actually putting someone’s ashes in the ground, or their final resting place, and making the sign of the cross with sand while saying the words: “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our beloved, and commend their remains to their final resting place; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,. The Lord bless them and keep them, the Lord make his face to shine upon them and be gracious to them, the Lord lift up his countenance upon them and give them peace. Amen.” (BCP p. 502)

Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. Ash Wednesday is not about us reminding ourselves of our total depravity, but about reminding us that we are from the earth, and that God breathed life into that earth. We are earth mingled with the breath of God. God so loved the creation that God gathered up dust and created human beings by breathing life into them.

Ash Wednesday is about connecting us back to that moment. Nadia Bolz Weber gives us a beautiful image for Ash Wednesday in her book Accidental Saints. She gives us the image of our lives being a long piece of fabric. And however long that fabric is, one end is our baptism and on the other our death. Ash Wednesday is the day that the cloth is folded and the two ends come together, our baptism and our death. We put a sign of the cross in ashes where we have received a sign of the cross in oil at our baptism, sealing our baptism and marking us as Christ’s own forever. So, on Ash Wednesday we make a cross out of ashes to hearken us back to this moment, and to remind us to whom we belong.

I have always struggled with the reading from the Gospel of Matthew that we have for today. “Beware of practicing your piety before others” being part of what we read and pray about on the day that we put ashes on our foreheads and go out into the world. But it struck me this year that this is not about putting ashes on so that everyone else will WHO we are and to whom we belong. We are dust mingled with the breath of God.

If we were somewhere where we had gotten our ashes first thing in the morning, and had them on all day, there would be times periodically when we would be reminded that we had ashes on our foreheads.

I know there have been times when I have forgotten the ashes on my forehead and I will itch and when a\ I scratch the itch, my hand is smudged. Other times I will be startled to see the image of myself in the mirror with ashes on my forehead. Those startling moments are an opportunity for remembering, we are dust and to dust we shall return. God’s beloved dust.

When I had this insight, it made me feel some reconciliation with this passage. When I was first ordained, I wore more collar a lot more than I wear it now, and I wore it to remind myself of my ordination vows, not to set myself apart, but to remind myself of who I was now. Whenever it rubs, or when I see myself in the mirror with it on, I remember.

Ash Wednesday is when we are reminded that we are beloved dust creatures and that we will be returned to the dust, but that dust belongs to God. We are God’s beloved dust, so in our broken, fragile lives, we remember that is with us, even in the ashes.

The Reverend Canon Rebecca Crummey, Executive Director

August 7th, 2016

This will be my last blog posted from “inside the house”…cue bizarre unharmonious music. But yes, this will be my last time blogging as a live in member of St. Columba. As Rebecca (our director) has mentioned, I will still be a member of the ColoESC team. But my membership looks a little different. Let me give you some background information.
During the course of my experience here, I have had the beautiful opportunity to fall in love. As someone who felt like this would never come, its been a big freaking deal. Like big cup of delicious coffee and an the perfect donut on a Saturday morning, kind of big freaking deal. Much to the chagrin of Rebecca, I fell in love with one of my fellow St. Columbans, Andrew Watson. We couldn’t be more different: he loves rap, I love anything but; he loves scary movies, I couldn’t bare to sit through one; he watches animated “grown-up” TV shows, I have never seen a full episode of the Simpsons. Despite those seemingly INSURMOUNTABLE differences, we laugh with one another more than I think we have with many others. Things we have in common: love of food, love of comedians, love of trying new things, love of politics and political discourse and love of hours spent in front of the TV.
It’s been a little more than bizarre falling in love. I watched many of my friends fall in love and always felt like the “bridesmaid never the bride”. They would all tell me, it is so sweet but so hard. I couldn’t agree more. I love talking with Andrew through the parts of our experience with ESC that we love and hate. But I really struggle to learn how to leave room for the parts of him that I don’t always love. More than just loving him, I’ve decided I think he’ll be a great person to spend the rest of my life. I decided this while we swang in the cool fall evenings on our yard swing. We spend many nights talk about life, our friends and family and the things we hope to do in this life. It was really quite beautiful.
Let me be clear, there are still MANY things we have to learn about one another, still MANY fights to have and MANY moments that will be essential to our success. We have already had hard moments and I appreciate that we keep having them. To me, it means that we are, in fact, different people and bring different things to this relationship. We are learning how to argue well and disagree with respect, two things will that will be extremely helpful during our next season.
Ok, there’s the back story. Here’s the current news: I’m moving back to Greenville, SC permanently so I can start on the greatest adventure of life, motherhood. Andrew and I are expecting a little nugget this summer and yes, we are just as surprised as you are. The great thing, among the many very scary things, is that we really like each other and always intended to be together. What makes this somewhat easy for me is the strength I have found while being a part of this program and falling in love. I came to Denver thinking I had to find “what I have to offer the world”. I found it, I already had it. It’s strength and belief in the perfect timing of God’s great plan. These last 6 weeks have been so trying, but I know more than ever that I am capable of this big task. God has given me a spirit of strength, not of timidity. It’s weird to hear myself say things that I didn’t know if I could believe just 6 months ago. But here I am, pregnant and ready for a whole mess of seemingly impossible obstacles. It can be done and it will be. Thanks for journeying with me, I have loved every moment.
-Courtney

Gandalf and Colorado ESC

This post is by David, a resident of St. Columba House in Denver

Working directly with people who have trauma, as we do in the Colorado Episcopal Service Corps, is hard work! One difficulty I find is that I feel responsible for how the people I work with are doing – and this outlook always leads to frustration, because I cannot stop bad things happening to these people. So if a homeless youth I work with at Urban Peak (my site placement) is struggling, I sometimes feel like I’ve failed them.

I recently found a snippet of wisdom that speaks directly to this attitude. The director of programs of Urban Peak bought all of us staff members a book called Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky.

It’s a good book, and my favorite part is a quote the author dug up from, of all places, The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien.

This quote is uttered by Gandalf, the good wizard, as he tries to help the imperiled Kingdom of Gondor defend itself from the mighty armies of Sauron the ultravillain.

If I were Gandalf in this situation, I think I might start thinking of myself as personally responsible for Gondor’s safety, and worry incessantly. But Gandalf has a different point of view:

“The rule of no realm is mine, neither Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?”

The more I read this passage the more amazing it sounds. It is so freeing.  Everything that is good is in Gandalf’s care, but he is not in complete control – so he is free to tend to the world around him, trusting that at least some of the good things he tends to will retain the ability to further bloom and grow after his time with them ends.

So in other words, Gandalf is not the master but a steward. He is a gardener, not the controller of the destinies of the all the plants in the garden.

This is a wonderful image for us who are working with folks dealing with trauma – we are not responsible for how their lives turn out, but as people who are God’s creation, they are in our care and we are free to work with them, with the knowledge that they can bear fruit and flower again in days to come whether we’re there or not.