Lessons from My Daughter: Remembering a Year of Unexpected Fatherhood

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I just finished a year of unexpected fatherhood.

As those closest to us know, my wife Kat and I have long wanted to be parents. Its something we’ve talked about, prayed about, and found so far is not in the cards for us. After years of trying the closest we had got until this past year was the heartache of miscarriage.

Last year around this time Kat and I had been praying about it and about given up. I had at least decided to be happy and content with the life I have, knowing the time may not be right, and had not expected any of the joys or trials of parenthood. I think for Kat it was more painful and difficult than for me.

Then in the middle of my Clinical Pastoral Education internship in a hospital in Raleigh, right as we had decided to just hand it over to God, we got a call from a good friend. Her mother served on staff with an international exchange agency and they were having difficulty placing a student from Kenya in a home in the US. She asked us — would you mind being parents for a year?

Both of us were shocked. My wife has dreamed of being a mother for years but had been told she could not, due to complications related to her spina bifida. She did get pregnant — right after we got married about 10 years ago, only to have that first child be lost in a miscarriage.

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I didn’t know what to think. I remember saying “it isn’t a good time”, and listing off all the reasons it was difficult — being back in graduate school, finances being tight, our schedules with our ministry. I believed I was being cool and rational, but looking back I realize something: in my heart I had given up. My heart was hurting from the pain of not believing I ever could be a father, could ever measure up to being the sort of man who could really be what was needed. On some level unconsciously I had come to connect our inability to have children with my own failure to live up to my image of a man as provider, care-taker.  All those roles that a man must be had been taught and had modeled to me  growing up. I didn’t feel I lived up. In many ways in my mind I had moved beyond that traditional southern image of man as bread-winner, provider, head of home.  Yet looking back I realize in my heart I was still being held captive.  So though I tried to make it sound like a long list of reasons that were rational, actually I was stuck. And when I answered the call “take up your cross and follow him I heard the master say”, for me at many points that has meant choosing to serve in ways where I went without and was not the comfortable person I had been taught hard work would make my family and myself. Looking back I realized that deep down I didn’t believe I could be a father, and the thought of failing at fatherhood terrified me.

So Kat struggled with giving up hope and I told myself it simply was not being a good time, but really had given up on myself without admitting it.

A wake-up call for me was when while considering the situation I got a call from the friend who had contacted us about the opportunity. Beyond being a good friend, she is also a progressive Christian from the LDS background. (Yes progressive Mormons exist, and even here in the South). A part of the LDS tradition is an openness to God’s continuing revelation through moments of insight, dreams, and visions. My friend told me about her own dream of my wife, me, her, and a several other people. If I recall correctly, in her dream there was a child in my wife’s arms. Everyone called out for someone, a minister, to lay hands and bless the child because it appeared dead. In the dream I did so and nothing happened. Someone encouraged me to do so again and I said “no, the child is gone. We just have to make peace”. Then my friend knew that wasn’t right and stretched out, laying her hands on the child and prayed, and it woke up, alive.

Though I am not from an LDS background, I found Christ through a very charismatic youth program in high school. Because of that, I have always been open to the idea of hearing what God is saying to you through your own dreams and the dreams of others. In fact through church members from that and also Native American traditions in which dreams are a way of gaining insights of your life, I’ve learned an openness to dreams as ways of gaining insight about your lives. For me though my friend couldn’t figure out what the dream meant, it seemed to peel away the layers I had put over the place in my heart that hurt over not being able to be a father, helping me see that it was my own pain and fear not just common sense, that was standing in the way. I needed to let down the defenses I had built up and trust God to be able to make me ready to be a parent. I needed to realize that God doesn’t call the qualified, but qualified the called. And it struck me clear as day through her telling me that story that Kat and I being a parent might be a calling just as much as us preaching. If so, I needed to be able to take the leap of faith and answer God’s call.

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Shortly thereafter we found out both why this young lady was in real need of us, and also out of it some of why we were being called by God. We found out that this child was a teenage girl with spina bifida and the difficulty housing her was due to her disability. “Are you sure you could deal with that?” we were asked. “We are having a lot of folks who aren’t sure they can set up their house for wheelchair and who are afraid I remember Kat and me looking down at Kat’s wheelchair, up at each other and smiling.

“In a wheelchair, with spina bifida? Yes.” Kat says “I’ve been dealing with my spina bifida for over 30 years. If I can get around in my wheelchair at our house, I’m sure she can.”

Our student arriving was a time of excitement, busyness, and trepidation.

I remember worrying over her coming, and when I prayed hearing the Holy Spirit say to me, “I am going to speak to her through this experience, but I am also going to speak to you”.

Before I knew it there she was – smiling with a smile that could light up a night’s sky – the young lady we were called to parent, our gift from Kenya.

I have to admit this year being a parent, temporarily and filling in for her own parents while she was away, has been a whirlwind. It has been the best year of my life so far. I have loved every day waking up getting to know this awesome young person God had dropped into our lives, and working together with Kat to make sure the hurdles that stood in the way of her having a good experience were knocked down. To me the feelings I have had about parenthood, with some details being changed, fit very well this country song:

It also was one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever been through, too. The international exchange agency had no plan to deal with our host kid’s medical needs, and Kat had to (with my help) fight an uphill battle to educate them about what the medical needs of kids with spina bifida are, convincing them to pay for medical bills, all while we arranged access to adaptive sports, and – oh yeah – family time, while working our job as pastors. My friends with kids, especially kids with various special needs, essentially responded, “Welcome to the club. That is what parenthood is like. And it is worth every minute of it”.

And I can say it was worth every minute of it, and I would do it in again in a heartbeat. Saying “bye” to this young lady as she boarded the plane this week was one of the hardest moments I’ve had in a while. I didn’t want the year to end.

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The Holy Spirit is pictured in Celtic Christian tradition as both a wild goose and a mother goose.

What I heard the Spirit say has ended up being true, though. Being a parent this year taught me so much.

First, here is sort of a fun list of things I’ve learned:

Lessons I’ve Learned From Having a Daughter

1. What swag is, and how I don’t have it.

2. What the Harlem Shake is, and that, to my disappointment, it involves far less milk than I would have expected.

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3. The absolute sheer joy of seeing the kid you are being the parent for succeed. Seeing them do well at basketball, like when our kid flipped over an opponent blocking them in wheelchair basketball, when you are acting as a parent can actually feel better at times than seeing your own success.

4. More than I ever thought I would about braids, hair irons, extensions. Apparently being a girl is hard work. I’m thankful Kat gets that experience and not me!

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5.The joy and importance of just hanging out. Some of the best moments this year have been playing scrabble or Apples to Apples, or even losing at checkers to the kiddo.

6. How hearing your kid’s laughter or seeing them smile can make time stand still for a second.

7. The fear and trepidation at seeing a kid you’re caring for step out on their own in something, and the joy at seeing them succeed.

8. The importance of things like family prayer, and pancake breakfasts. When our kid first came this year we debated what role to have prayer and Bible study. After all, our own family didn’t. The first night she asked to pray together before bed. That tradition of praying together, reading Scripture together, and doing regular traditions like Saturday pancake breakfasts helped us grow closer together and learn about each other.

9. The importance of letting others help with keeping things going. Shortly after she arrived our kid said “can I have some chores?” She said in Kenya, having chores meant you were part of the family, and she wanted to feel a part of the family. Talking to my wife who has a disability I learned how so often we see someone with a disability and think “let me do that for them” and it causes them to feel we are treating them as less then. Standing out of people’s way to help out when they want to whether at home, at work, at school, or at church is telling them you are family and you can do it.

10. How great the beach and 3D movies are to someone to whom they are new.

11. How spoiled we Americans are. Even the poorest of us have so many luxuries we take for granted.

12. The importance of having a Dictionary at Scrabble. No, kiddo, jeepy is not a word.

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13. That there is always room for chocolate. And sometimes splurging on a milkshake is necessary if it brings you together as a family.

14. Losing at the video game or chess is worth it, for the laughter and smiles you share with your kid.

To be a little more serious and more detailed, here are three big things that I’ve learned this year which will change my life.

1. Parenthood is not just producing a child, it is a calling you have to love and sacrifice to see your children grow.

From what I can gather, our exchange student’s parents cared for her and worked to rear her. It took a lot of work to even get a person with a disability in Kenya to school. She told me some stories of parents who had children with disabilities and just abandoned them.

In the past several months I have come to see several kids in the US whose parents, unlike Kat and me, had no problem making a baby. Yet they have turned their back on their kids because of their life choices, because of who they are, or even just not bothered to raise them due to addiction or seeking their own pursuits. We found ourselves growing to love and be willing to sacrifice to have the young lady who stayed with us be healthy and happy this year. I think that sort of finding yourself loving a kid and valuing them is what parenthood is about. Sadly just being able to produce a child doesn’t mean a person will in fact love them and care for them like this.

Having this young lady with us and acting as parents came out of a calling, a sense that this is what God called us to do. And even though we didn’t give birth to her, for this year we poured our love, care, and all of our life we could into her. We grew to love her, care for her, and work hard to keep her healthy and safe, not out of obligation but out of that desire to see her happy and healthy. I read once that a man who was a runner and a believer was asked why he ran. He said that when he ran he felt fully alive and in that he felt God’s pleasure. This is how we felt during this year.

Coming out of this year, we continue to feel this call to be a parent, and have had God open the doors for us to continue to reach out and help young people who have been tossed out of their homes, who don’t have parents, or who are from a troubled family background. We are helping out some young people in that situation even as I write. We also feel sometime after some residencies I have to complete for my education are finished, we will begin looking into the foster and adopt process.

2. Your children aren’t yours. They come from God and return to God, and come to teach you just as much as to learn from you.

There are many important life lessons we had to teach our kid this year. She faced a new culture, with unspoken rules and expectations she couldn’t have known coming in. We were able to guide her through many of these. She also faced the same sort of questions of right and wrong any teenage girl in American high school does. We had many a long night talking with her about what is right and wrong, what is acceptable in our culture, and just helping encourage her to be all she can be.

However because this was only a year, what was clear the whole time was: this short period is a gift. God sent her here in answer to your prayers and hers. God is taking her somewhere else, when her time is done.

I think that, though this may seem different than what it will be like when we have a child of our own we raise from day one, really this is always true of children. Too often when I worked as a mental health aide with troubled kids and later as a pastor with hurting families I have seen parents act as if their children were their possession, or their job was to keep the children in the family. In reality that child is never yours, but instead a gift and blessing from God. You are to love them as one who brings God’s presence in your life, guide them and teach them the best you can, and prepare them to go, leave the nest, and be God’s presence elsewhere in this world.

And anyone or anything God sends along your path not only can you help but you can also help and be taught by.

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The spiritual principle behind this experience was explained to me by a friend’s commentary on Matthew 25. My friend Bob Mcleod, another progressive southern preacher who preaches in Methodist churches in the North Carolina Piedmont, writes:

“A Christian should always be trying to communicate with that bit of Christ that resides in every person. ‘Don’t just talk to that individual personality … don’t just look at that person as someone full of ambition and selfishness and personal strategy. If you try to negotiate with that, the job is far beyond you. Remember instead that in that other person’s heart Christ is trying to reach out to the Christ in you.’ .. Christ is everywhere and in everything, and if we wish to attach ourselves primarily to Christ, as opposed to a tradition or personal interest, Christ will unlock doors for us in some very surprising ways”

Our children come from Christ and in their eyes we should be able to see Christ looking back at us. They are sent to teach us lessons, just as much as they are there for us to teach them. I have learned to be open when I have my own children to the lessons their lives have to teach me. Through them I can learn more about God and learn how to better fashion my life after Jesus’ example.

This also means we need to be ready to see them go when their time to step out and be the presence of Christ elsewhere comes. For our kid from Kenya, she had ten months. In that time I do believe God spoke to her through this experience and I know through her God taught me a great deal. Now she must live into what she has learned in her homeland, and I in mine. Likewise when I have a child for their whole childhood, I must realize that my goal is not to keep them under my wing but to help prepare them to know their values, their faith, their spirituality, their mind for themselves so that they can go out and become a gift to others outside my home.

A song I heard this year that beautifully pictures this to me is by Rich Mullins and is the words of a child to the Son of God, talking about how he hopes to grow up to be like Him.

3. A final lesson I have learned is that being a parent is seeing the beauty, gift, and potential of the child in my life. Many times while our kid was with us, most especially when she seemed discouraged about barriers she faced or was put down for her accent or disability, but also the many times I saw her succeed at things like wheelchair basketball, high school honor roll, or singing in the church choir, I thought of the following Natalie Merchant song:

At times I could tell that because of her disability, our kid felt she was looked at as less by others. But looking at her I could not but see her as a beautiful, intelligent, sparking gift of God to the world.

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Every child is a masterpiece shaped by God. And each of us are someone’s child.

I thought often of the Psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 139

“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”

I kept wanting to tell her “Hon, listen. Don’t listen to them. You are not less than anyone, but you are a shining star the world needs to see. Don’t ever think you are a mistake. God made you just as you are, unique because only as you are can you be the gift God made you to be. Don’t think you will go far despite anything about you – your disability, your background, your anything. You will go far because of who you are, because who you are is a gift from God”.

This made me think about the words of St. Irenaeus of Lyons who wrote “”The glory of God is a human being fully alive”. God glories in seeing each of us become fully alive, and helping your kids do this is what parenthood is about.

One Christian author beautifully pictured what being fully alive is about this way:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other

people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

This truth reminds me of the beautiful words of Swedish House Mafia’s song “Don’t You Worry Child”

Thank you God for this gift that keeps giving!

And I’m not just whistling Dixie,

Your progressive Redneck Preacher,

Micah

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The Spiritual Experience of Arrest: Gay, Straight, Black, White, and Rainbow Stand for Moral Monday

Here is another blog, re-posted with permission, about another person’s experience at the moral Monday protests in North Carolina.   The peaceful protest movement is an important southern tradition — remember Dr. Martin Luther King leading such protests in Atlanta, Alabama, and throughout the southeast over issues of race and poverty.

The protests in my home state are important because they oppose policies that threaten not just the poor, but also the middle class.  If you can not physically join the movement, you might consider signing a petition such as this one letting it be known that you stand against policies aimed disenfranchising the poor, minorities, those with disabilities.  Two examples are NC canceling unemployment benefits on many unable to find work.  It is like hearing a person is sick and deciding the way to resolve the issue of illness is not taking them to a doctor but shooting them.  Another example is Raleigh’s over-turning of the Racial Justice Act, an act aimed at keeping people who have had racially biased trials from being executed.   I don’t think we should shoot the wounded.   I also don’t think being a person of color should be a crime.  I also don’t think these decisions by the governor and legislature truly reflect the hospitable and caring people of my state.  Let your voices be heard.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie here,

Your progressive Redneck Preacher,

Micah

 

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The Spiritual Experience of Arrest: Gay, Straight, Black, White, and Rainbow Stand for Moral Monday

 June 23, 2013
 

On June 3rd Moral Monday, I was arrested — alongside doctors, clergy, elected officials, educators, laborers, gay, straight, black, white, latino, veterans, peaceniks, differently abled, and on and on.

That day, 151 of us were arrested (immediately doubling the grand total arrested cumulatively over 4 prior weeks). And 1,600 people were there to support us as we split from the main group for our non-violent civil disobedience act of singing and chanting in the legislature.

I’d never been inside the General Assembly building where our state’s laws are made, and was shocked at the elaborate Golden doors guarding the chambers. But I was most moved in that formal setting by the diverse group’s unified singing of old spirituals and civil rights songs, and prayers of the clergy of many faith traditions advocating for the “least of these”.

After the warnings to disperse were given and those not planning to be arrested left, the police began handcuffing people – arms behind backs – and seeing the vulnerable posture made me feel sick to my stomach.

I was heartened by others beside me choosing the same path, and found comfort looking up to the balcony to a dear friend bearing silent witness.

catherine arrest 300x199 The Spiritual Experience of Arrest:  Gay, Straight, Black, White, and Rainbow Stand for Moral MondayI often turn to water as a source of spiritual cleansing and hope and healing. When it finally registered that I was standing next to an expansive low-lying fountain, I bent down and put my hands under the water and brought it up several times to run handfuls over my head. I felt a deep peace come, and voluntarily subjected myself to the loss of personal freedom.

There were multiple occasions that day and night that I had particularly intense feelings of solidarity and peace. One was after we’d spent about four hours handcuffed in the cafeteria downstairs and were getting loaded onto the last transport bus to the detention center.

There was a group of committed supporters standing out on the street waiting that whole time to cheer for every busload of the arrestees. They were standing out in the dark night singing, and at seeing us, shouted “THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU”.

The intensity of that feeling of support, unity, and solidarity, was so overwhelming it is hard to explain.

I could tell many more stories; there is one more I will leave you with. When I was released about 3:30am I was completely exhausted, emotionally and physically, and was completely famished. By the time I got out, even though all the police and guards I encountered were polite and respectful towards us, I was still feeling the shame so inherent in confinement.

As the door clanged shut behind me and I realized how unsteady I was on my feet, I heard cheers from supporters, and then immediately a petite older black woman in a sharp navy suit came over and grasped my pale white hand with such strength it surprised me, and fortunately helped keep me standing upright as I regained bearings for free movement.

I had to bring my eyes up from the floor to meet hers, but when I did she so warmly held my gaze and said, “Hi there, I am state Senator Earline Parmon and I am here tonight to thank you for taking this courageous stand for justice.” To come out of the jail at that hour in that shape and to be greeted with such gracious appreciation by someone who had overcome a long heritage of oppression, filled my heart to overflowing with wonder, unity, and hope.

Social Media, Moral Mondays, and Redeeming Hospitality: An Interview with Mark Sandlin

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One of our features on Progressive Redneck Preacher are Country Fried Chicken interviews.

“Country Fried Chickens” are individuals who, like me, are children of the south. They wore born to southern mamas, and grew up hearing the cry of the whip-poor-will. They grew up swimming and fishing in its rivers. Sweet tea runs through their veins and you can still see the shimmer of fried chicken grease sticking to their fingers. Yet like me they have seen the damage that approaches to the stranger, to the other, and to violence can produce and how ingrained they have become in our culture. These Country Fried Chickens are working to transform our culture to live out the best of our values, and truly be a place all are welcome at the family table as one.

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Our first Country Fried Chicken interview will be with Rev. Mark Sandlin of both the God Article and Vandalia Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC.

I understand you both serve as a pastor in a brick-and-mortar church and also do writing ministry through a number of blogs and social media sites. Can you tell us a little about your pastoral ministry?

I’ve been the minister at Vandalia Presbyterian Church for 8 years now. Over those 8 years, we’ve increasingly become a church focused on helping those in need in our community. It took a lot of change to get there and that can mean difficult time. We’ve certainly experienced that but every year we make more contact with those who are struggling and share with them God’s love through food, clothing and healthcare.

What are some of the online social media ministries you do?

I’m founder or co-founder of The God Article, The Christian Left, Christians for a Change, Until ALL Can Wed and Occupy Voting Booths, all of which can be found on Facebook. I also write for The Huffington Post and Sojourners online.

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What would you say is the focus of your ministry?

I’ve never really thought about it. I just try to share the message I get in reading the Bible and through my experience of God in the world. I guess that means my focus is love and equality.

How did you begin your ministry?

Ministry is something that I’ve basically always know I was supposed to do but tried to deny for a very long time. Increasingly, it became more and more difficult for me to deny. One day, as I was helping build a home for a homeless family in Mexico, the opportunity kind of flopped itself in my lap and I’ve never looked back.

How did you begin to be involved with online forms of ministry?

I began because of Terry Jones. Remember him? I called him the “Koran Burning Man.” I owe him a lot. He started my online ministry – or, at least, he jump started it. I’d been blogging a little but for the sake of not getting in trouble I didn’t say everything that I wanted to say. When Terry came on the scene and started talking about burning Korans… well, I sort of lost it. From what I could see, far too few Christian ministers were speaking out against him. I finally decided that I didn’t want to be a minister if I couldn’t speak out against that kind of hate. So, I took the Bible that had been with me since I was 7 years old. I hand wrote a note to Terry asking him to burn that Bible with the holy texts of my Abrahamic brothers and sisters. I took a picture of the Bible and note, wrote a blog post about it and it kind of took off. Others started doing the same thing. It was amazing. That’s really what started it all, deciding that being fearful to speak what I understood to be the truth was not the way I wanted to be minister.

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What lessons could you give churches or progressive organizations about the use of social media and other online resources to further their work?

I’m not sure I’m qualified to be giving lessons but I would say two things have worked for me. 1) Be passionate about what you are doing. If you aren’t deeply passionate about the thing you are doing on social media, it will eventually show. You’ll put less time into it. You’ll let the content slip. If you aren’t really truly passionate, if you wouldn’t keep doing it if you never had more than 100 people, don’t do it. 2) It’s called “social” media for a reason. Be social. Don’t use it as a way to broadcast a message (like a newsletter does). Don’t use it primary as a way to raise money. The primary thing to do with social media is be social. Go figure. Talk to people. Respond to the comments on posts. “Like” other pages, “follow” interesting people. Interact on their pages note just your own. Have fun.

How does your work promote progressive values?

Well, we get into the whole issue of defining “progressive values” here but I guess my short answer is that in the US we have a history of excluding people and as time has passed we’ve made moves to include more and more people (rights, voting, healthcare, etc). My work is about including everyone and in that way I think it continues to move us forward rather than back. For me, that’s progressive.

What are some key concerns progressives need to be aware of which your work has brought up?

The importance of marriage equality and the lack of biblical support for denying it. The strength of non-violent confrontation and civil disobedience. The importance of creatively responding to hate. Recognizing that the “Spiritual But Not Religious” have some very important messages for the “Institutionalized Church” and we need to start listening. Hate begets hate. Love begets love. I’d say that’s a pretty good starter list. While we work on getting those right, I’ll work on expanding the list.

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You have recently been involved with the Moral Monday movement in NC. Can you tell us a little about what this movement is?

Mass Moral Monday is a movement started by the NAACP in NC. They have been very active in civil rights issues for a long time. The current legislature in NC is heavy in Republicans who are heavy-handed in creating legislation that hurt those most in need. We legally rally on their front lawn (5000 this week) and hear speeches and demonstrate against their actions. The Monday events conclude with various individuals taking a stand by committing an act of civil disobedience by occupying the legislative building which is technically open to the public. As the group sings the police come and remove them from the building in zip-ties, placing them under arrest. More than 100 people were arrested this week.

Why did you get involved?

Well, because it matters. Conservative groups are already creating attack files on those who have been arrested. We shouldn’t need any further proof that this movement worries them than that.

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Were you jailed?

I was not jailed. This is a good time to emphasize to those who have considered coming out to support the cause that getting arrested is a choice. You can come and be a part of the rally with absolutely no fear of being arrested. At the same time, if you would like to help make a strong statement, you can choose to be arrested. If you would like to be a part of that group, please visit NC NAACP’s website for more information.

What makes something like Moral Monday necessary?

Moral Monday is necessary because the government is not listening to the people. More than anything they are listening to big business and the top 10% of society. If we are silent, if we are apathetic, about what they are doing it will only get worse. Many of the people they are hurting with their decisions are already just barely hanging on. So, this isn’t a matter of making it worse for a lot of people who are already struggling, this is a matter of life and death. The message we want them to get is that we will not sit silently by as they step on the backs of the least of these to improve the conditions for those whose condition is already quite well.

Is there anything you are hoping regular citizens in NC will become aware of through your efforts?

I hope that the increased news coverage will open the eyes of many North Carolinians to how badly the choices being made are hurting their neighbors. I’ve lived in North Carolina my whole life. The people of North Carolina really are good at heart – that part of “The Andy Griffith Show” is absolutely right. I refuse to believe that most of us want to see laws that hurt the people we know and love.

The Andy Griffith Show

For those who want to show up on Moral Mondays, how do we get involved?

The numbers matter. Every person really does count. We need as many NC people to show up as possible. Every Monday at 5. For more information, go to: http://www.naacpnc.org. If you are a minister come wearing some sign of your ordination (I wear a stole) and help us pray in those committing civil disobedience. I’d encourage everyone to bring signs about the topics that are important to you. Remember, though, to attack policies not people. Attacking the people making these policies is not what this is about.

Some cannot able be physically present on Moral Mondays.  How can they support the movement?

Get on social media and get the word out. Pray for those participating. Send them notes of thanks and encouragement.

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One of the things I focus on in Progressive Redneck Preacher is the relationship between southern culture and progressive values. Did you grow up in the south? If so, what are some of your most positive experiences of “the south”?

I did grow up in the south and I now live within walking distance of the place where the sit-in movement was sparked which is now the International Civil Rights Museum. More than anything, I think the hospitality of the south is a core value which lends itself to a progressive outlook. We can look all the way back to the emphasis the Old Testament places on the importance of hospitality to recognize that it isn’t a value unique to the South but it is one we pride ourselves on. I grew up in a conservative household but either one of my parents would drop what they were doing to help someone in need.

What are some of your negative experiences of southern culture?

For me, the negative experience is one that continues on. We see it in stories like the recent Paula Deen headlines. The south still has a racism problem. It’s as ugly as it has ever been. It may not be as obvious, as in-your-face, but it is ever-present. I cannot tell you how happy I am to see that my kids and their friends seem to see it as hateful and illogical. That give me a lot of hope.

One thing I discuss a lot on the Progressive Redneck Preacher is the influence of what I call “slave-holder Christianity”, methods of interpreting Scripture bound up in prejudice which aim to exclude people. What are ways your ministry confronts this?

Sure. I think of it as rich, old, white guy privilege. It’s kind of odd really. Just geographically speaking, there were probably not a lot of white guys in our Bible stories. Yet, the Bible has been used over and over again to keep rich, old, white guys in power. Biblically there’s nothing right about that. How the inclusive teachings of Jesus (and even Paul) have been used to create an exclusive club is kind of beyond me but it has.

I guess, as I mentioned earlier, the primary focus of what I do tends to be love and equality. Most of my work is done in educating people. I try to articulate the biblical bias for love, for equality, for the least of these, in a relatable and engaging way. There are also efforts like my response to Terry Jones or refusal to perform weddings until all can wed which are more concrete ways of confronting that particular mentality of exclusion but, in many ways, they are just the natural extension of my writings.

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In addition to the influence of “slave-holder Christianity”, in this blog we discuss how positive movements that grew out of the south, such as the civil rights movement, influence us today. Can you see ways this or another movement has shaped the work you do?

The answer to this is easy and it’s one person’s name, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He’s a hero of mine. Much of the work I do is inspired by him and his commitment to issues of civil rights.

Do you have any advice you’d give to young people sensing a call to do progressive work like yours?

I’m tempted to give the advice my minister gave me when I talked to him about doing ministry, “If you can do anything else and be happy, do it.” In some ways, it really is true. While there’s a lot of reward to the work, there’s a lot of pain too. I’ve been called things I hope my mom never hears about. I’ve been attacked by congregation members and even folks I thought were allies in progressive ministry. If you can’t get past the work being about you, that stuff will do you in. On the other hand, if you can recognize the work is bigger than you and is really about those who are mistreated and marginalized, you’ll find that the reward of the work distracts from the detractors.

Closer to Voter ID

Thank you Rev. Mark Sandlin for sharing this with me.   In our celebrations about the end of DOMA, let’s not forget the tragic decision by the Supreme Court ending a series of voting protections for racial minorities.   The link below talks about the implications of this for my own state, North Carolina.  The fact is that laws such as the one being considered in North Carolina to require “voter IDs” have historically been used in the south by proponents of slave-holder Christianity and other forms of bigotry to marginalize whole classes of people, by removing from them their ability to vote.  The talk some have had of racism having waned in the south is, in my opinion, naive and uninformed.  Here in Fayetteville we are still sorting through the “Driving While Black” findings, which have demonstrated there is racial bias in police work.   Though believing we are in a color blind society would be wonderful, it is not true yet especially here in the Dixie-Belt.

Closer to Voter ID.

Hope the link is informative.

Thank you North Carolina Council of Churches for your hard work on this and other issues!

And I’m not just whistling Dixie here!

Your progressive Redneck Preacher,

Micah

 

DOMA, LGBT, and conservative evangelical, right wing Christians: an appeal.

This is a powerful message from another progressive redneck preacher, calling us to consider how we respond to the end of DOMA as Christians. What is your response?
Not just whistling Dixie here,
your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah

thebeccranford

First of all let me say that I was an evangelical of evangelicals.

Prophesied over in the womb. dedicated to God on my eighth day. Raised in the southern Baptist and Assembly of God churches. My first concert was Carman. My Mother was a Women’s Ministry section leader, and taught Sunday school. My father a worship leader, who sang before leaders like Mark Rutland, and  supported Evangelist healers like Benny Hinn. He sang on TBN, and we supported Jim Bakker and Jim Swaggart. Big name preachers in the full gospel men’s fellowship, Church of God Clevand, and Word of Faith Movement had my father sing for them. I went to every vbs in a 15 mile radius from Douglas county Georgia Growing up. We were only allowed to listen to Christian music or the oldies channel growing up. All my t-shirts had bible verses on them. I went to Bible…

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Our New Feature — Country Fried Chickens and Kudzu

The Blue Ridge Parkway

I’m beginning two features on the Progressive Redneck Preacher blog which I call “Country Fried Chickens” and “Kudzu”. Both features are aimed at highlighting progressive voices working within the south to make our world and our communities places where the oppression, prejudice, abuse, violence, and small-mindedness of slave-holder Christianity is laid aside and where the values of hospitality, graciousness, celebrating diversity, and standing for justice are upheld. The women and men I will feature through these two features are working to transform the south into a place of healing, freedom, and equality for all.

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“Country Fried Chickens” are individuals who, like me,  are children of the south. They were born by southern mamas. They grew up swimming and fishing in its rivers, walking its hills, and hearing southern drawl. Sweet tea runs through their veins and you can see the shimmer of fried chicken grease still sticking to their fingers. Yet like me they have seen the damage that slave-holder Christianity’s approaches to the stranger, to the other, and to violence can produce and how ingrained they have become in our culture. These Country Fried Chickens are working to transform our culture to live out the best of our values, and truly be a place all are welcome at the family table as one.

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“Kudzu” is based on the image of the kudzu plant. If you ever get a chance to drive up and down the country roads all over the south you will see tree upon tree covered with the leafy greenness of this plant. Not only are trees covered with it but its winding vines have been known to be on fences, on walls, on roadsigns, and on streetlamps.

This plant has become such a fixture of the southern landscape many tend to think it is a plant original to the southeast of the United States. In actual fact this plant’s origins go back to Asia. It came to the United States through trade, but after being transplanted on southern soil became such a prominent and beautiful addition to our fields and hills that we adopted it as our own. The “Kudzu” feature will highlight someone who likewise has been transplanted into the south but have become a fixture in the landscape of southern life. Though not born here they have come to call the south their home, and by the way they bring new progressive ideas and perspectives into the south, they are adding to the beauty of our community like the kudzu plant beautifies our landscape.

Right now I am already in the process of contacting individuals for these two features, with my first interview with Rev. Mark Sandlin of Greensboro, NC, scheduled to be posted during this week.  If you know either a Country Fried Chicken or a Kudzu who are a voice for progressive values that you would like to see interviewed or highlighted on Progressive Redneck Preacher, please contact me and let me know.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie here!

Your progressive Redneck Preacher,

Micah

micah pic

Southerners To Know: Debbie Dobbins-Liebers and July Lowe

Southerners To Know: Debbie Dobbins-Liebers and July Lowe

As you know we try to highlight different southerners who are working to help create a more positive culture here, one where the rights of all are protected.  Such people try to help resist falling into the trap of what I call “slaveholder Christianity”, which turns faith into an excuse to oppress others.

Today I want highlight two ladies who live in Fayetteville, NC, the same town the church I pastor is.   These two ladies are a constant voice for justice, understanding, and compassion in our city.  I met them when my church joined the local GLBT Alliance in town in speaking up against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the days that led to its repeal.  They, like me, were straight allies busy speaking up for its repeal and, later, celebrating its repeal with us.   They have been involved in speaking up against policies in our state that promote racial discrimination.  They are key leaders in the fight for women’s rights in our city.  They are a part of an active peace movement, which is a courageous thing in the military town where we live.  They also are devoted to their families, and to their personal faith.

I’d like to thank both Debbie Dobbins-Liebers and July Lowe for their willingness to stand for justice at a time our state has become a place where it is a rarer commodity each day.  Thank  you for helping use your voice to yet again raise awareness about the injustices going on on in our community.  Thank you for working to make our community a better place for all God’s children.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie here,

your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Taken from Fayetteville Observer-Times (http://fayobserver.com/articles/2013/06/23/1264726?sac=fo.opinion)

Op-Ed: Liebers and Lowe – Why we chose arrest at ‘Moral Monday’

 

Debbie Dobbins Liebers and Judy Buchmiller Lowe participate in a Moral Monday protest.

By Debbie Dobbins Liebers and Judy Buchmiller Lowe

Why did we get arrested at the “Moral Monday” protest on Monday? Let us count (some of) the reasons:

Between us, we’ve put in almost a hundred years of living in North Carolina. Four generations of Lieberses and Lowes now reside here. It’s our home. And the legislature in Raleigh seems determined to wreck it.

Between us, we have four kids in public schools here in Fayetteville. And we’ve been shocked by the way our public school systems are being decimated – with more cuts on the way.

Our families have also made use of the public health system. The wholesale assaults on Medicaid and other health programs could affect us, along with hundreds of thousands of others.

And coming right down the pike at the end of this month is a cutoff in unemployment benefits. That’s outrageous, when the May unemployment rate in Cumberland County was over 9 percent, and in Robeson County almost 12. How many more families will lose their homes or end up on food stamps?

More than 100,000 unemployed Carolinians and their families will feel this heartless pinch. (But the rate in Wake County last month was only 6.6 percent, so maybe they’re not feeling any pain around the Capitol.)

Over the years, we’ve enjoyed vacation trips to the Carolina beaches and the Outer Banks. We’re worried about their vulnerability to climate change and rough weather. Now the legislature plans to open them up to destructive kinds of development that will hasten their decline.

There’s so much more: voter suppression, attacks on Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights, regressive tax plans that will hurt the poor, fracking, even talk of setting up an official state religion. Where will it end?

And one of the most upsetting things to us is that while all this is happening, too many folks aren’t paying attention. Evidently they think it’s just the political circus as usual.

But it’s not. The current legislature’s recklessness is a threat to our future, and that of our children and grandchildren.

Somebody has to raise the alarm. So when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People organized the Moral Mondays protests, we were happy to answer the call.

It wasn’t an easy decision. Neither of us had ever been arrested. We obey the law and teach our children to obey it, too.

But we’ve also been activists on behalf of what we think is right for our state and our country, going back as far as the civil rights movement. And we remember when Dr. Martin Luther King said that “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

This spring, the irresponsible North Carolina legislature has created one of those times. We had been in legal protests before. But they didn’t seem to make a dent.

So last Monday, we stepped up and took our stand.

We want to say thank you to the Capitol and Raleigh police officers who arrested us. They were courteous and professional throughout.

But even so, the plastic handcuffs hurt our wrists. Riding on a gritty inmate bus and sitting in a holding cell with only one open toilet was not exactly fun. Having to wait until after midnight to get bailed out was tedious. We were definitely outside our comfort zone.

But if it helped bring some more attention to the damage being done by a rampaging legislature, then it was worth the sore wrists and the long wait.

There will be more Moral Monday protests before the current legislative session wraps up. And we’re committed to working to make this campaign “a movement, not just a moment,” to carry the message as broadly across the state as we can.

This extremist-dominated legislature has put North Carolina out front in a race to the bottom in education, health care, environmental safety, racial progress and so much more.

It won’t be easy to reverse this shameful slide. But last Monday, we joined hundreds of others who took a step toward returning pride and progress to North Carolina. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.

Yours do, too.

Debbie Dobbins Liebers and Judy Buchmiller Lowe live in Fayetteville.