Why i #RubyWoo.

Betty SmithYesterday I visited my dear friend, Miss Betty, in the hospital. Doctors found two large masses, one in her brain and another in her lung. Stage 4 Cancer, they say.  We don’t yet know what lies ahead.  Waiting, for now, is the only option.

When I first walked in to her hospital room, Miss Betty did not recognize me. Her daughters had to remind her, “It’s Pastor Mayra, mom, from your church. You know her.” Miss Betty spent the next 10 minutes teetering between looks of bewilderment to apologizing for not recognizing me. She kept saying to me, “Let’s go talk outside.” These little talks I have grown too familiar with.  She often pulls me aside at church so she can tell me about my life. Some of y’all know what that means. She’s really good at it.  During my visit, it seemed she was concerned that she wasn’t made up enough for me.  If you know Miss Betty, she is always made up.  She is an usher at our church and comes from the school of Sunday Best Attire. I rarely see her in flats.  If you know me, you know that is something I am impressed by – the woman is 74! (Don’t she look good?)

Miss Betty calls me her adopted daughter, which is quite an honor for me.  You see Miss Betty is a fighter.  She is a woman who loves Jesus and has no time for mess.  She knows that to love Jesus is to follow him – and she takes that with utmost seriousness. The first time I laid eyes on her she was loving and serving people who others may not feel comfortable sitting with. Miss Betty has made it a point to focus her outreach and love of neighbor on women and men who are often marginalized in our day. And she has been doing this most of her life.

She is a lover of justice.  She marched during the Civil Rights Era. She has helped start various programs to extend hospitality to people struggling with hunger and homelessness. She has created bridges for people who have been hurt by the church or have not been interested in faith and has connected them to the local church and to ways in which they can use their gifts to serve others. She embodies a life of outreach in the most profound ways.

I believe one reason she loves me is because we have a similar foundational understanding of what it means to follow Jesus, and the unshakeable certainty that doing so is intricately tied to pursuing justice. You see, we agree that God’s care for our eternal future and current reality go hand in hand. We are created, after all, as humans with real bodies and real needs. We both believe that God is Jehovah Jireh and that our needs, our joy, our pain, do not go unseen. These things move God. And God acts.

I have learned so much from Miss Betty. But what strikes me most in this moment is who she is.

This fierce, feisty, no-nonsense, courageous, faithful, determined, loving woman. What she does flows from this being and it paints a beautiful picture of what it means to be a woman in her hey-day – which I don’t doubt has been every moment of her life – serving God with her whole life. I want to be like her.

This morning l left my house and family, headed to Seneca Falls for the start of the #RubyWooPilgrimage, where a group of us will journey together, tracing the path to freedom of our foremothers – the starting place of the women’s suffrage movement. 

We will learn of their struggle, their challenges, what kept them going, and the glorious things they accomplished. I anticipate a meaningful time of learning with and from my sisters on the journey with me.

This journey of pushing and walking and fighting for the protection and flourishing of women is one Miss Betty has also taken.

As a single mother, she had to navigate systems and overcome or dismantle barriers to make it. I imagine she has had her share of Ruth, Esther, and Deborah moments.  She is a survivor and she took this journey of loving God and neighbor, and pursuing justice not only for herself, but for her biological daughters. For her granddaughters and great-granddaughters. And she took it for me. I only hope I can honor her sacrifice.

As I prepare my heart and mind for what I will learn in the next several days, the same spaces in my being are filled with thoughts of Miss Betty. She is me and I am she.  I dedicate this pilgrimage to Miss Betty, who has encouraged me, loved me, and walked the talk so that I, and other women will know what is possible if we will walk boldly in our calling to follow Jesus, love our neighbors, and pursue God’s justice in the world we inhabit. This one’s for you, Miss Betty.


Stay a while…

My catholic upbringing and the normalcy of the Liturgical Calendar has made it easy for me, as an Evangelical Christian (I prefer follower of Jesus), to enter into a Lenten Journey each year, starting with the observance of Ash Wednesday. I have rediscovered the rich and deep meanings in these practices and liturgies that are often taken for granted by many of my Catholic friends, and written off as meaningless, overlooked, or otherwise misunderstood by many Protestant Christians.  

Ash Wednesday marks the start of my favorite time of year. I know, many may think this is a bit morbid…to look toward the passion and subsequent death of Jesus and call it a “favorite time”. But Ash Wednesday reminds me of my mortality, and Lent illuminates the places in my life and heart, and places in this world that need further transformation, and launches me into the journey of the pain Jesus experienced on my behalf. On our behalf. 

For many Evangelical Christians, these are pretty dark places to linger for 40ish days. We prefer to start looking now towards the Resurrection of Christ….maybe being a bit silent on Maundy Thursday (often awkwardly silent for many) and considering the pain of Christ for a day (or a service) on Good Friday. Yet always hurriedly looking forward to celebrating on Easter – He is Risen! (Amen to the “Risen” part, for sure). The point is this: We don’t like pain and lament. But we MUST spend time here…because dwelling in this place helps us to fully grasp the breadth of God’s love for us…for our whole world.  

And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” – Luke 22:41-42 (ESV)

Jesus, submitting to the will of the Father, had to die. He had to die because of our individual sinfulness and the sins of this world past, present and future. He HAD to die. And Lent is a reminder for us of what we must die to…and that which must die in our world.

This year, let us not be quick to only set our sights towards the Resurrection. Let us be willing to linger for a time in the pain of Jesus for the sake of each one of us. Here we will newly discover the significance of Life on the other side of the Cross.

It’s not all about you.

I am amazed at the comment section87583866_xss of friends online posts around the recent and ever-growing list of (mostly prominent, white) leaders denouncing Donald Trump and defecting from his support camp.

Some of my Latinx friends are expressing disappointment that these defections didn’t come when Mr. Trump spewed hateful comments towards immigrants. A friend with impaired hearing told me how hurt she was that people brushed off when DT mocked reporter Serge Kovaleski.  Likewise friends who identify with other groups, like African-Americans, the LGBTQI community, and the Muslim community (there are more!) and have also been victims of Donald Trump’s  views and speech, are disappointed that these leaders did nothing, and even defended his hateful rhetoric, until they (or their wives and daughters) were personally affected by it in a recent video where,  among other disgusting things, he is heard bragging about sexual violence towards women.

In my opinion, the sentiments my friends hold are legitimate and their disappointment is deserving of expression.  Yet as a Woman of Color working in a predominantly white-male-led ministry context, I constantly receive messages that when I see someone finally come around and acknowledge an injustice (even one that has negatively affected me all of my life), I am to just be grateful, extend grace, and provide that ever-so-deserved pat on the back.  As a pastor, I disagree with this expectation. It is incomplete love – and where I come from that is synonymous with love that is not genuine. Calling out indifference, blindness, or inaction toward an injustice is a form of loving people. A necessary way to pastor, even at the time of a change-of-heart. Pointing it out doesn’t negate my appreciation and even celebration for where my brother or sister has arrived. It doesn’t mean that I will not support nor be united with her against such hate or injustice. It just means that I steward my pastoral role to ensure that we are all observing and learning how these things happen, how we are blind to them, how we participate, and how They. Have. Always. Happened. The goal is to grow and learn and be better.

So to read the comment sections of FB posts and blog posts with lots of my white brothers and sisters upset over our surprise and wonder (read “what took you so long?”) only exposes the deep fragility that exists in the hearts of so many. We are learning that some we thought were woke…nope…they ‘sleep.

My first emotion is sadness over an inability to see or the denial of this fragility. Korean Airlines lied…it is NOT all about you. My second emotion is disgust in the expectation that we walk on eggshells and care for their feelings in the midst of our own turmoil, and when the white masses have long abandoned us through alignment with or silence in regards to such hate.

I’ve experienced this personally.  I have asked friends to help. And some have, indeed, seen the injustice and used their voice and influence, some at great personal cost, to speak against the wrongs. I have been deeply grateful. And have experienced joy in their journey towards pursuing God’s justice.  I have friends who have thanked me for being patient with them and for being willing to share my pain and teach in the midst of it.  Our friendship has deepened in this process of learning and moving forward together. I have also seen those who have not helped. I have seen those who have paid lip-service to caring but have refused (even when asked directly) to use their platform to influence others.  And it has hurt deeply. This happens frequently.

Expecting a disclaimer or a list of credits with your name in bold is unrealistic and self-centered.  If you find yourself offended by a friend’s post because of this, you may want to take a moment before commenting. And think. And maybe pray.

Friends, let be grown-ups. Let’s acknowledge that we are not the first to be hurt. And that perhaps we weren’t paying attention because we didn’t have to. And if we have paid attention, and even acted, instead of saying “I’ve been speaking out all along and I’m offended that you are not thanking me or telling everyone that I am the exception,” let’s say things like, “you’re right, more of us should have been with you in this and we need to continue to shed light on and fight injustice together…I am now, and have been with you, sister.”

That’s love right there. The good and honest kind.

#politicaldisgust #letsbebetterpeople #fighthate #becauseJesus