What’s old is new again on Juneteenth

Juneteenth 2021 Spokane

It was Juneteenth 2021, but it might as well have been 1981 again as I visited a special place in my life journey this weekend.

Four decades ago, I found my voice as the Editor of a small monthly newspaper in East Spokane while working as an intern for the neighborhood community center. That experience sparked a career in journalism, but it formed me in so many more profound ways.

I had grown up in ignorance of racial disparities in our country. Our family mostly lived in white-majority bedroom communities and my hometown always hovered around a Black population of 2 percent or less. A significant part of that community called East Spokane home.

Yet, instinctively, I felt at home every day I entered the doors of the East Central Community Center. I would chat with staff, check into my office to see if there were any stories to pursue, and headed out to sell advertising. I loved my diverse, welcoming adopted community.

I wandered away from East Central over the years, only occasionally seeing mentors such as Ivan Bush at the annual MLK march that he founded in our city. I returned to East Central in full spirit for Juneteenth 2021, its first year as a national holiday but one long-celebrated here.

Michael Bethley, left, and Alan Jones

Michael Betheley, a former Eastern Washington University student of mine, and Alan Jones are co-founders of the current iteration of Spokane’s Juneteenth. It was the 10th annual gathering for this format, which is sponsored by the nonprofit INW Juneteenth Coalition.

The parking lots of the East Central and Martin Luther King Jr. community centers were filled with vendors and families. Post-COVID hugs were exchanged, longtime families and friends posed for pictures, and talented DJs and artists kept the music coming. I was home again.

I was most uplifted by the sense of revival at work in the neighborhood. There is clear momentum underway to invigorate the Fifth Avenue business corridor. As I headed home, a bald eagle flew overhead with its eaglet in tow, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sung about freedom and justice. It is my prayer that Shalom will rise in our city from East Central.

Lament, Hope and Reconciliation

The news of our times can be highly depressing: too much division and constant examples of dehumanization. Yet is an ages-old narrative.

As I find myself being more aware of its scope, I continue searching for answers. I most often find them not in myself – but in the hearts, souls and wisdom of friends who have lived these realities their whole lives.

I am a work in progress: a white male with all sorts of privilege, but one who has not lost a sense of empathy which is part of my core DNA. My heart hurts for humanity when I see what we are doing to each other. It can seem be hopeless. It can seem irreconcilable. Yet, as my wise brothers and sisters profess: our collective pain can reside in places of greater understanding, if we’re willing to learn and grow.

My latest set of lessons from some of my greatest teachers have come in a weekly “Doctrine of Discovery Learning Lab,” facilitated by Lenore Three Stars and offered by Immanuel Church in Spokane, Washington.

It is painful to learn more fully about the myriad facets of how we have systemically mistreated – and brutally attempted to assimilate –indigenous people (and other marginalized populations) through our history. It’s by asking the question, “What I can do with this lament?” that has caused me to dig deeper and seek wise counsel from some of our greatest teachers, both locally and nationally.

There is no more powerful voice who speaks to me on this subject than the Rev. Canon Dr. Esau Macaulley, theologian, priest, and author of Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope (InterVarsity Press). It was while recently reading another IVP publication that a piece by Dr. Macaulley, adapted from a Christianity Today article in 2018, articulated what I hold to be true:

“Too often when we think of reconciliation it is others joining the majority culture on the political, cultural, and social terms set by the majority. But Christ did not come so that we might all be assimilated, but so that we might be reconciled. Reconciliation demands that the majority culture listen to their brothers and sisters of color and act on the concerns that they raise.”

“The Palms, the Temple, and the Nations,” (Christianity Today, 2018)

Our job is to listen. To each other. Trying to put aside our biases, conscious and unconscious. Much of what we have learned needs to be unlearned, taught to us by systems that programmed us with a false narrative. As we look to the future, we need to look to each other, and to whatever higher power guides our lives. That is my prayer for us.

– Peace

Signs of hope Spring up

New York City skyline from Queens.
New York City skyline from Queens, NY.

As we said goodnight, last night, on the first day of Spring 2021 – my kids and I said prayers of gratitude: for health, happiness, and light.

We had a Norman Rockwell day outside yesterday. There was some bike riding, chalk art, foursquare, tennis, football, sun and fresh air. We all needed it. Yes, our bodies needed it, but also our souls after 2020.

My kids, and all the young adults in virtual school over the past year, inspire me. Yes, they show moments of boredom and sometimes despair with endless Zoom calls and screen time that isn’t healthy for anyone. But I’m ever-impressed by their resiliency and determination to hang on.

As a new season sprung in the Pacific Northwest, so did hope. Shots in arms. Covid relief. Businesses ramping up. Outside family recreation. All of it, along with with the crocuses, are harbingers of better days.

I’m especially grateful to have recently visited my daughter and son-in-law in New York City. My stay in Queens convinced me not only that grandchildren are one of the greatest blessings and sources of joy, but also that people have a natural goodness. Yes, there are horrible, unjust events happening in our world, but I saw much kindness in NYC.

I think of the thoughtful AirBnB hosts who looked after me like family; the restaurant and bakery staff who served me with a smile. I also appreciate the hard-working gig drivers who navigated me through the streets. One in particular worked hard to return a lost item.

The cities – the one where I live and NYC – convince me that a movement of hope is undeniable. We need to remember the multitudes who lost lives and livelihoods over the past year. We must support those who continue to suffer from injustice. Yet we can all do our part to be catalysts of a revival. It’s what we choose to see and hear – and what we do with it.

A year testing our humanity

It’s one year today since our nation first became officially under the wrath of the COVID-19 virus. More than a half-million dead; businesses lost forever; children and adults missing school, weddings… life.

Meanwhile the virus rages in countries around the world while we eagerly await our next round of stimulus checks. We are rapidly moving toward vaccination for everyone; yet others on our planet keep dying silently.

To cope, we all try to put on a good face. We march forth, working remotely, remaining productive, moving toward milestones such as virtual graduation. We desperately try to hold on to life until “normal” returns.

Yet what have we lost that was possibly designed to be taken from us? How much do we value things more than people? Even the most good-hearted of us should be convicted. We’re all flawed, in need of redemption.

Ten years ago this week, a tsunami wiped out a chunk of the Japanese coast and left it a wasteland. On the day of that event, I pondered how my troubled life might be reclaimed. I found the answer in the silence.

On an early-morning walk around Austin, Texas, I pondered the wounds that were so often self-inflicted. Yet I knew I was a “good person” – just imperfect. I needed to be torn down to the foundation to be rebuilt again.

Now, as we celebrate the Lenten season, many of us are mindful of how our life cycles are often marked by life, death, and resurrection. For me, that truth is a reminder that we are made imperfect to remain dependent.

If we’ve learned nothing else from the past year, that should be clear. None of us are the masters of our destiny. None of us are immortal. We are all in need of a fresh start, every minute, every hour of every day.

Still the questions begs: What can we do for others? We can’t bring loved ones back from the dead. Yet we can comfort, console, empathize, and send heartfelt prayers of consolation. Can’t we all agree on those simple things?

In a time of daily distraction and division, it is my hope. I believe a higher power is covering us with a spirt that wants compassion and unity. I challenge each of us, including myself, to do our part toward that goal.


A calling with purpose

By W.carter - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55384589

Why do you do what you do? Hopefully, we’re all asking ourselves that question (or one similar) about every aspect of our lives – especially after 2020, the “unprecedented” year of COVID-19.

I spent the last 12 months on an unforeseen and interesting journey of professional achievement (in my most recent role) and discernment (about a new, upcoming role). Yet, I was blessed either way…

I had the choice of remaining part of an amazing higher education marketing and communications team at Gonzaga University (home of the the No. 1 men’s basketball team in the nation – #GoZags!)…

Or was there something else – an opportunity that more fully reflected my passions and better utilized the depth and breadth of my experience? I didn’t know, so I put it out to God one year ago. …

He delivered in a big way: an opportunity (my future one) came to me multiple times from people whom I value and trust. At the end of the day, it was a good fit for me and my future employer.

I reflect on this for several reasons. First, this didn’t happen because I asked for it. Second, I was fortunate to have choices during a pandemic. Third, I hope this serves as inspiration to others.

So, as I continue on my 40-day Lenten journey, I am grateful. I hope you who are reading this also see signs of hope in your lives. As Pastor Rick Warren asked, “Are you going to live in fear or in faith?”

Blessings and keep the faith,