Sunday, November 20, 2016

Therefore Give Thanks

Last night I found a present on my pillow: the December edition of Vogue magazine.

That’s definitely a first. I’ve never had my own copy of Vogue.

The only newsstand magazines we buy are the ones we put in each others’ Christmas stockings.

And Vogue? If you know me at all, you know I’m not a Vogue sort of person.

But my husband had seen press about the cover story,  Michelle Obama: the first lady the world fell in love with.  He’d gone out once before to buy it, tried several stores, but no one had it.

So yesterday he went on a secret mission to try again.

He and I have had some great conversations this election cycle.

About what it’s like to be a woman in a world eager to shut women down, happy to see them fail.

About the double standards of behavior, performance, appearance, voice that too often hem women in.

About that feeling of smashing one’s head, once again, on the impervious, invisible glass ceiling.

He’s heard my grief that the best prepared candidate – a woman – lost to the least prepared ever – a man.

And he’s come to share my admiration for Michelle Obama and her mature, measured contributions to the discourse of the day.

I voted for Barack Obama in part because of his relationship with his wife.

I respect men who dare to show they love and respect their wives. And I admire men who aren’t threatened by their wives' accomplishments, who aren’t afflicted by our culture’s narrow view of beauty or femininity.

Michelle Obama is her own person: smart, wise, determined, lovely in a way all her own.

Despite horrible insults hurled toward her and her daughters, despite dehumanizing comments, ugly malicious memes, vile and vicious critiques of every female feature, she has danced her way through eight difficult years and made it look almost easy.
The Vogue cover story is a tribute to her courage, grace and beauty.

I’ll be savoring it, sharing it, keeping it – a reminder of her witness.

We lost another important witness this week: Gwen Ifill.

She came of age, as I did, during the passage of legislation opening doors to both women and people of color.

She learned, as I did, that laws and reality don’t always coincide.

She spent her life sliding her toe into invisible cracks in the structures of privilege, prying the door wider for those who came behind her.

Her advice is instructive to many of us now:
You can't spend a lot of time assuming the worst about why people do things. It almost always has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with them. It has to do with their biases, with their constraints, with their inability to imagine anything more and so rather than — and I tell this to young people all the time — rather than going around saying, 'Aha, they didn't give this to me because I was black or I was a woman,' you stop and think — they didn't give it to me because they couldn't imagine me in this role and it's my job then — it's a tougher job than my white counterparts have, but it's just what it is — my job is to force them to see me in a different role and then you act on that
I been considering that challenge: to help others see something they haven’t yet seen. To help them imagine things they can’t quite imagine.

In a narrative of scarcity, to imagine and live abundance.

In a binary world of us vs. them, to imagine and live a broader “we.”

In a culture divided by anger and fear, to imagine and live compassion.

I’ve been spending time this week in the book of Hebrews.

Written to Jewish Christian facing opposition and growing persecution, the book urges its audience to pay attention, to listen more closely for God’s voice.

It calls its listeners to perseverance:
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (10:23)
Chapters 11 and 12 are familiar anchors when times feel troubled or my heart starts to sink.
I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak,Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
Here are the words I keep resting in, when I hear of another act of racism or hate, when thoughtful observers describe disaster gathering:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
The book of Hebrews reminds me: We are not the first to encounter a time of political disruption.

We are not the first asked to live as agents of light in a world wrapping itself in darkness.

We are not the first called to listen more closely, speak more clearly, stand more firmly, love more courageously.

Remember the cloud of witnesses and don’t grow weary and lose heart.

I’m thankful for the witness and example of women like Gwen Ifill and Michelle Obama.

Thankful for my own grandmother, Elda Capra, who insisted on reading Scripture for herself, insisted on living her own gifts and calling when every authority told her she was wrong.

Thankful for voices from the past, for witnesses like Sojourner Truth, Corrie ten Boom, Watchman Nee, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King.

I’m thankful for a church family committed to making a place at the table for any who come through the doors.

Thankful for an online community gently probing conflicts and contradiction, sharing posts about standing up to bullies, creating spaces of welcome, envisioning ways forward.

I’m thankful to know this season of unrest is not the end of the story.

Thankful to remember every chapter is an invitation to grow in faith and wisdom and greater compassion.

We are called to engage – fully – in the world around us. 

Called to weep with those who weep, to care for those in need.

But we are also called to live in light of a reality greater, deeper, higher, more lasting.

As the writer of Hebrews say, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful.”

Therefore, dear friends, give thanks.

As I give thanks for you.