A Brief Hiatus…

TreeIt’s a time for words. Many words.

But mine are not coming. At least, the motivation to put them down is not.

It’s been a busy year, full of activism, new jobs, moving, and marriage. It’s been a year of first protests and first holidays as a married couple. It’s been a year of participating in life in wild and wonderful ways, and learning to be myself.

And part of that learning and participation has been letting go of the writing and the blog. At least for now. At least until I remember why I write, not so I can produce something to simply be consumed, but to get myself out there and share my “Me toos” with the world.

I will return after the holidays. I’m not sure if I will share weekly updates or what my new rhythm will be, but I will return with stories to share.

I hope to see y’all when I do!

Advertisements

Mind Flayers, Systemic Evil, and Other Demonic Forces

ST2 Will

***SPOILERS AHEAD for Season Two of Stranger Things***

“They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him.”
Mark 5:1-2 (NRSV)

One of the last classes I took in seminary was “Spirit World, Global Church.” It addressed topics surrounding what we in Christian-speak call spiritual realms, namely dealing with angels, demons, spiritual warfare, and the like.

I entered the class with great fear and trembling. I used to be a Pentecostal who believed demons could possess my soul if I fell into any form of backsliding, from “engaging in witchcraft” (because of my love of Harry Potter) to doubting basic tenants of Christian orthodoxy. Even watching horror movies and doing yoga could open me to demonic possession and cause me to fall out of God’s favor.

This seminary class seemed tailor-made to bring me face-to-face with this upbringing from which I had run so far away. And as such, I feared being in the class would force me back into the mold of the person I had been years ago: narrow-minded with a black-and-white view of the world and the supernatural. I feared I would abandon my interests and loved ones in an effort to stay “pure” and “untainted,” something I had done in the past.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”
Mark 5:6-9 (NRSV)

Despite abandoning most of my old Pentecostal beliefs, possession still scares the shit out of me.

I have never seen an exorcism movie. If I see a picture of Reagan from The Exorcist or see a clip from The Conjuring, I struggle to sleep. When things go bump in the night, I wait for a shadowy demon to jump out from behind a door and take me over.

I am 27 years old and have not set foot in a Pentecostal church in over 5 years, yet I am still held captive by the theology of demonic possession.

I don’t mess with this stuff. Even though I do not 100% believe in it, I give it enough respect in the hope that it won’t happen to me.

I am fully aware that this isn’t a foolproof plan.

But when I took the class, I began to think about ways our spirits and our bodies, the so-called “spirit realm” and the “physical realm,” are connected, how there are times when it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

A couple of months after I completed the class, I binge-watched Stranger Things.

Last month, my husband and I finished the second season, and once again, I can’t help but think of possession and the blurred lines between the two realms.

Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.
Mark 5:11-13 (NRSV)

Stranger Things tackles possession in Season Two. There is the “Mind Flayer,” a monster made of shadows and tendrils, who invades Will’s body, mind, and soul, forcing itself into its human host and causing Will to lose agency over himself.

It’s a parasitic relationship. There is neither camaraderie nor mutuality; the one uses the other for its own gain. In the process, the demonic force separates its host from his loved ones. It steals memories from and inflicts bodily harm upon Will. Under the Mind Flayer’s possession, Will unwittingly leads the soldiers who wish to close the Upside Down to their grotesque demise, and he is only able to communicate with his loved ones by tapping out Morse code with his fingers.

Fortunately, Season Two ends with the Mind Flayer fleeing for its life after a confrontation with some space heaters and Will dancing with a girl at the Snow Ball. But before we get our hopes up that all is well, we see a shot of the monster watching over Hawkins in the Upside Down while Sting’s creepy ass song fades out.

And as the music and monster fade, we are left wondering if everything really will be OK.

Stories about possession usually end on a happy note. Once the evil is gone, life seemingly goes “back to normal,” whatever that means. The possessed person has little to no memory of the horrifying experience, and they skip through life happier for having survived.

But how do we move forward after evil has touched and consumed us?

Some, like Will, go to the dance, hang out with their friends and family, and try to recover. Some, like the demoniac, work within their own communities to spread the good news of new life, new beginnings, and new hope.

But what about people touched by the physical evils of this world?

My church taught me it takes great trust in Jesus to cast out a demon, and where Jesus is, evil cannot dwell. But as the years went by, and I continued to see people possessed by real-world demons, I wondered if this meant not a lot of people trusted Jesus, or if Jesus is absent more often than he says.

I wondered how I’m supposed to look at evil and possession, not only through the lens of the supernatural, but as the very real and physical evils that nip at our heels every day.

Now, I believe we are possessed when we are separated from God, ourselves, and each other.

Systemic racism makes evil puppets out of us as much, if not more so, than a demonic entity can. There is demonic activity in our obsession with power and wealth at the expense of our human siblings and our very planet. Evil wins when we look at others, from our closest loved ones to strangers on the street, from avatars in cyberspace to our own reflections, and see anything less than the image of God worthy of honor and dignity.

I also continue to believe that good art turns our own reality upside down to show us how to confront and shape it. It creates monsters so we know they can be slain. It creates heroes and villains so we know how, as humans, we can rise and fall.

So while there may not be a physical Mind Flayer beneath our feet, there are powers that seek to do harm, first to the individual and then on a global scale. And we have the power to either destroy these powers or be drawn into doing their bidding.

We have the power to buy into white supremacy or break its stranglehold over us and over people of color. We have the power to buy into a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality or help those who are drowning under systemic oppression. We can go with the mob mentality of ignoring abuse and brutality when it happens in front of us, or we can call it out when it happens and prevent it from happening in the first place.

We have all received the holy calling to live in camaraderie and mutuality with each other, and we have all, at one time or another, answered that call by exploiting each other.

We have the capacity to be Mind Flayers, and we have the ability to slay them.

Which path will we choose?

*****

By the grace of God, may we realize when the demonic entities of evil are possessing us, as oppressors and as victims of oppression.

May those possessed and used as tools of oppression find ways to break free from our destructive cycles. May those possessed by oppression find freedom, identity, comfort, and love in themselves and their communities.

And when we break free from our yokes of possession and oppression, may we exorcise the demon-possessed systems, that their evil work may die for good, and new life may be born.

Fangirl Theology: Nostalgia as Deception and Comfort in Stranger Things, American History, and the Bible

ST1 Poster

***POTENTIAL MILD SPOILERS FOR STRANGER THINGS SEASON ONE AHEAD***

Nostalgia is a funny thing.

In Greek, it roughly translates to “homesickness.”

This would explain the feelings we experience when we find an old toy, flip through an album of sepia-toned Polaroids, pick up a vinyl record, or binge-watch a season of Stranger Things in less than 24 hours.

In the act of remembering, we experience a type of homesickness, a woebegone sense of longing for the beloved and familiar. While our memories can be positive and negative, nostalgia holds us in those idyllic moments with all its might. It give us glimpses of home and tastes of (more) carefree days.

We are nostalgic, because we can’t help but yearn for the past when our future seems so uncertain, unsafe, and unknown.

My generation gets a lot of flack for our “early-onset nostalgia,” but I think our critics often forget the context of the world in which we came of age. Some contributing factors included a huge economic recession, job and financial instability, and disenfranchisement with the crippling War in Iraq. It only makes sense that we would cling to relics from our past for comfort, especially from a time that, to us, epitomized financial and global security.

Yet we remember so selectively.

Nostalgia insists on the existence of the “good ole days,” a magical time in which “life was easier.”

But does it dare to ask for whom those days were good, and for whom life was easy?

Does it prompt us to wonder who was invisible in our lives then and shed some light on who is absent now?

ST2 Boys

Stranger Things tells a story with multiple perspectives through a retro, Stephens Spielburg- and King-esque lens. Three boys search for their missing best friend and discover a strange girl with superpowers, a la E.T. and Firestarter. A teenage girl is caught in a cliche example of a love triangle right out of a John Hughes flick. The boy’s mother and the local police chief work together to find this missing child only to uncover an even darker secret that could have set John Carpenter’s hair on end.

From the clothes the characters wear to the posters on their bedroom walls and the iconic scenes they mimic, the whole show is cut and tailored to pull our nostalgic heartstrings by reminding us of a past time. And yet, with its retro style comes a freshness our generation craves. It is a nostalgic tale, but it is also a tight, fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat story. The acting and writing are phenomenal, and the themes of conquering evil are both comfortingly cliche and organically original.

Many of us need some nostalgic comfort in our country’s chaotic heydays. At the same time, we need to be cautious with it.

ST1 Eleven

Nostalgia influences our memories, and it can deceive them. There’s always someone or something missing from our strolls down memory lane, and if we take the time to find out why they are gone, we can infuse our fond recollections with a strong dose of reality.

Let’s look at the 1980s themselves. While the decade saw significant economic gains, they came as a result of slashed funding to government assistance programs for the poor and marginalized. While the US kept the USSR at bay, we also sent millions of dollars to corrupt Central American leaders, who spent it on weapons to murder their citizens. In return, we slammed our nation’s borders shut on these refugees when they sought to escape the war zones we had enabled. While the white population believed the country had moved on from racial inequality, the race-fueled “War on Drugs” and prison industrial complex picked up steam.

But these stories are not evident on the surface of this 80s-inspired show.

There is only one person of color in the first season (Lucas, one of Will’s friends), and not only is he relegated to a supporting role, but he gets a lot of flack for being rather reasonable with his concerns about Eleven.

None of the characters are people whose parents are not from the US, or who came to the US as children, and there are no people with disabilities.

This is not to say these characters’ traits and the complete absence of others is completely intentional. But then again, very little about anything systemic is.

And as such, we often chalk it all up to the fact that “things were different back then.”

But here’s the truth, y’all: the people who are absent from this and other stories existed then. They were the heroes of their own stories. At the same time, their stories were unacknowledged, ignored, and even silenced by a majority of Americans.

It’s an absence that, if you’re privileged enough, you have to hunt down. But for the forgotten ones, it is visible and painful.

ST1 Barb

Nostalgia’s comfort and trickery is in the biblical text, too. After its devastating collapse, the psalmists celebrated Jerusalem in its glory as if it wasn’t also a place of greed, oppression, and corruption. The prophetic writers were the ones reminding the people of both their triumphant past and the reasons for their tragic downfall.

King David is idealized as the perfect king, and he was a rapist who feuded with his own son to the point of death. Again, a prophet had to bring the man to his senses so he could see the error of his ways.

The writers of the conquest narratives talk about God’s blessing of their successful missions to destroy the Canaanites, but we never hear the Canaanites’ perspective. Unfortunately, they did not receive any prophets, and their stories of pain and loss went unheard.

This is not to say pursuing feelings of nostalgia is a corrupt quest. It is comforting and necessary to remember where we’ve been and who we are, and we should be thankful when we can do so with joy and thankfulness in our hearts.

But it can also blind us. It can hold us back and keep us apathetic. It can make us dwell on what was instead of moving forward into what could be, and it can make us focus on a false narrative instead of digging deeper into the dark Upside Down beneath its facade.

We can allow nostalgia to comfort us and remove us from our own reality. Doing so can encourage us to play again, and when we remember how to play, we can change the world. After all, the kids in Stranger Things saved the world because of the wisdom they accumulated while playing Dungeons & Dragons, reading X-Men comics, and watching Star Wars. They were victorious, because they knew the value of play and imagination. Nostalgia can help us recover those traits after we bury them under adulthood’s reason and seriousness.

So go ahead and be nostalgic when you watch Stranger Things, and be comforted and emboldened by it. It’s only natural in a world like this.

And also remember to be honest. Remember that the privilege to look back on a time with nostalgia often comes at the price of someone else’s comfort, and you did nothing to earn it, nor did they.

And remember to do what you can to make this a world in which every person can have a home for which to be homesick as we journey through life.

Fangirl Theology Series: Stranger Things

ST2 Poster

Stranger Things has become one of my all-time favorite shows.

It’s a delightful and frightening coming of age tale in which the weird kids, the preppy teens, and the messed-up adults save the day.

It’s a tale of parallel planes and nostalgia trips that allows us to ask the “What if” questions of life:

What if an evil force invaded, and the little ones and the broken ones, saved the world?

What if there is a world within a world, a place that is here and not here, and it’s threatening to break through?

How do we deal with the repercussions of confronting the darkness in the world?

After looking at the evil in this story, what do we learn about the evils that plague our own reality, and how do we confront it?

There are evil forces at play in the land of Hawkins, Indiana, in the form Demagorgons and warring governments who care more about beating each other than the lives of their citizens. There are the loveable “losers,” the girl with no name but fantastic powers, the single mother barely hanging on, the cop still grieving his daughter’s death, and the dysfunctional step-siblings.

And beneath it all lies the Upside Down, an alternate dimension of death, decay, and darkness, with a creature (and, in the second season, creatures), who seek to infiltrate our realm and destroy us.

In short, it’s a biblical story.

The Bible contains stories of the looming threats of the otherworldly powers of darkness and the present power of Empire, not to mention actual monsters (Job 40:15-24 and 41). Its list of heroes includes infertile nomads, foreigners who glean the fields, a shepherd boy overloooked by his own father, and a refugee born in a manger.

And beneath is all is the Kin-dom of God, God’s Dream for the world, the New Heaven and New Earth, the here but elsewhere, the now but not yet, a space of interdimensional, thin-planed existence.

*****

Storytelling is a formative experience. Sci-fi and fantasy are some of my favorite storytelling mediums, because they remind us of the world’s enchantment. We remember that magic is real, we are not alone, and there are things more beautiful and great than we can comprehend, yet are within our reach.

It’s been a while since I’ve dug into the theology of a good story, and I want to begin again with the dark enchantment of Stranger Things. 

On the blog, I will be spending the next two weeks digging into the theology in Stranger Things through a few themes. I hope you will join me on this and other journeys through the lens of Fangirl Theology!

Newlywed Reflections on Revelation

image_6483441 (2)

“I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband.” Revelation 21:2 (The Message)

The earrings dangle from my ears, pierced through once-closed holes by my soon-to-be sister-in-law. The old, golden necklace hangs from my neck, its ornament matching the one on my earlobe. The engagement ring, once a trinket of my soon-to-be husband’s great grandmother, rests quietly on my finger, anxiously awaiting its partner. The bodice and Spanx hug my body, sucking everything in, hopefully in a not-too obvious way. The headpiece pinned onto my head sparkles in the afternoon light with its golden bangles, and the veil is tucked neatly into the mountain of bobby-pinned curls. My eyelashes are darkened by touches of mascara. The eyeliner and pink eye shadow bring out my dark eyes. The pink lip gloss brightens my lips. Everything here highlights what is already there naturally instead of hiding it all away or making it into something it’s not.

The large bouquet is composed of home-grown wheat and flowers plucked from the shelves of Michael’s. The lace dress with matching sleeves to mask the fact that it used to be strapless is simple but elegant, if I may say so myself. A bustle hides behind the gown so I can lift it up to dance the night away, and I will kick the golden wedges on my feet off the moment pictures are done.

It’s not a resplendent get-up. But damn, do I look beautiful. And for once in my life, I feel ready.

image_6483441 (3)

image_6483441 (4)

“One of the Seven Angels who had carried the bowls filled with the seven final disasters spoke to me: “Come here. I’ll show you the Bride, the Wife of the Lamb.”” Revelation 21:9

The harbinger of death, destruction, and apocalypse suddenly becomes the doting parent of the bride.

Both of my parents attended and played significant roles in our wedding. Mom walked me down the aisle, and Baba prayed a blessing over me and my husband. While both of them are in my life right now, Baba insisted that my mother be the one to, for lack of a better phrase, “give me away.” She raised me, after all. I know it. She knows it. Baba knows it. The whole family knows.

It was she who walked me down the aisle as she has walked with me my entire life. It was she who took my hand out of hers and placed into the waiting hand of my husband, symbolizing a transfer from one family and one partner to another. She kissed our cheeks and told us she loved us, welcoming her son-in-law as her own and leaving me behind to make a new life with another instead of her. She went to her seat and watched us exchange our vows and promises to one another, and she came back up the aisle alone.

For years, it was me and Mom against the world. It was our home that sheltered, nourished, and emboldened me to make my own. It was us that weathered apocalypses together, who stared into dark secrets uncovered in our lives, saw the people we loved exposed in true form for better or worse, saw dreams die and new ones born, grappled with fears and insecurities and lived into our strengths. We weathered the despairs and joys together.

And that day, she put my hand in Bryce’s as a way to say, “Go, and do likewise.”

image_6483441 (5)

“Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making God’s home with people! They’re God’s people, God’s their God. God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good – tears gone, crying gone, pain gone – all the first order of things gone.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

I can’t imagine something new coming into the world without tears spilling or laughter bursting.

I didn’t cry on our wedding day. I don’t cry when I’m overwhelmed by joy.

I laugh.

I giggle.

I grin my wide, toothy, ridiculous grin that distorts my face and drives my husband wild with happiness.

My husband cries.

When our friend Makayla read a poem, his lips quivered and his eyes watered, but they never broke contact with mine. As he began saying his vows to me, his voice broke as a sob escaped and he struggled to maintain composure as he got the rest of the words out.

It was my giggles and his sobs that ushered in our union and brought us into the world together.

Will it really be like this when God’s Kin-dom comes?

Is that why we stand when the bride walks down the aisle? To see her into this new world, this new life with her greatest love and joy?

Is that why we cry and laugh and spend so much time, money, and effort on marking these occasions?

Maybe so.

All I know is, if that day brings half of the peace, joy, and overwhelming love we felt on October 14th, we might really be in Paradise again.

image_6483441 (6)

Our vows:

“I, (name), do solemnly swear:

To honor and be faithful to you as your husband/wife, partner, and best friend,

To love and embrace you in times of joy and struggle, 

And as we learn and grow together, 

To stand behind you as your support, in front of you as your leader, and by your side as your equal,

As long as we walk this earth.”

Kneeling for the Kin-dom of God

On Shrove Tuesday, (or Fat Tuesday for those adverse to fancy liturgical language), I slid down a slick ramp and busted my left knee open.

I was working in a parsonage office, and my boss brought to my attention that it had started raining, and I’d left my car windows down. I had taken the recycling and trash to the dump on my way to work, and without the cracked windows, my car would have been real ripe for the drive home.

Heeding his words, I grabbed my coat and went a little too fast out the door and onto the small, descending ramp attached to the house.

And I went down. Hard.

As I recovered from my embarrassment, I bit back curses and gingerly pushed myself up from the soft ground. I could feel the wet blood sliding down my leg and seeping through my favorite pair of jeans, which had, of course ripped. Nevertheless, I hobbled to my car, rolled up the windows, limped back inside, and asked my boss for a first aid kit.

This nasty cut bled through the 3 Band-Aids my boss gave me and 3 more at home.

The next day, Ash Wednesday, my knee stung and prickled as I knelt in front of the altar and the deacon smeared ashes on my forehead in the shape of a cross, muttering, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

On the first Sunday of Lent, after days of replacing bandages and applying Neosporin, small amounts of pus replaced the blood. Kneeling for prayers at my Episcopal service was unbearable, and I was in a constant state of adjusting myself on the kneeling altar.

By the second Sunday, getting on my knees for prayer was a bit more bearable. A hard scab covered the worst parts of the wound, but a small remnant of exposed skin remained open to the environment.

I began to regret being part of a denomination in which most of our prayer time was spent on our knees. We made our confessions crouched over rickety altars. We partook of our holy meal while kneeling. Whenever we asked to be made right with God and for the world to be renewed, we did so in the most submissive position a body can take. And I did so with physical pain simmering in my body.

When you spend a lot of time on your knees asking for renewal, and you’re already in some type of pain or discomfort, the desire for said renewal to happen becomes much more urgent.

*****

I’ve been thinking about my knee and kneeling in light of the American athletes bending down on football fields, soccer arenas, and basketball courts across the nation.

I think about how I knelt in reverence, and how these athletes knelt in protest, and I can’t help but think they’re somehow connected.

When I knelt in painful awareness of my busted knee, I did so out of submission to and reverence of God, with a sense of humility, smallness, and even defenselessness.

I knelt in preparation for, during the receiving of, and while returning from the Eucharist, a communal meal symbolizing Christ’s nourishing presence within us.

I knelt during prayers of confession, wondering why the One who made us and the universe would entertain the notion of letting us approach with our tiny pleas for forgiveness.

I knelt to lower myself before God, in order for the Kin-dom of God to be made real, first in me, then in the world.

Back in 2016, Kaepernick began kneeling down during the playing of the national anthem to protest the system that this country gave birth to, one that allows the police to brutalize and destroy its citizens with no consequences. He knelt, not because he’s not a patriot, nor because he disrespects veterans, but because he cares about the people deemed unworthy and disposable.

Other athletes began to join him. They, too, knelt in defiance of the corrupt ways of our country, and they hoped that in their kneeling, others would be inspired to make a different world possible.

Instead, people lashed out. Instead of clinging to justice, they clung to their star-spangled idol.

Those who are against this movement say they care about respecting the flag and the country, and about revering the lives lost to protect it.

But I don’t think that’s really why they’re upset.

They’re not mad that Kaepernick knelt or that others joined him. They’re mad that he wouldn’t stand to honor the country that disproportionately mutilates and murders black and brown bodies, bodies like his. They’re mad because these “sons of bitches” broke a code of conduct for an inanimate object that idolizes an idyllic lifestyle that exists at the expense of black and brown and other marginalized lives.

Like the Pharisees with their tithes of mint, they give their fair share of salutes and attention but neglect the more important matters of the law: “justice, mercy, and faithfulness.”

But standing for the flag isn’t the reverence those who seek a more just, merciful, and faithful nation need to show. If we are serious, like Kaepernick and his supporters are, about making America a more just nation for all people, we need to show reverence and submission to something greater.

This requires us not to stand, but to kneel.

We need to show that reverence to God’s Dream for the world, in which justice rolls down like water, the wolf and the lamb feed together and a little child leads us all, and we will no longer need written laws, creeds, anthems, or codes of conduct, because the love of God will be engraved into every heart and soul.

It is to God’s Dream that we pledge our ultimate allegiance. Not America. Not the American Dream. Not even the flag.

And it’s an allegiance we show by getting on our knees.

We show that allegiance by kneeling and confessing our complicity in a corrupt system, even when it is extremely uncomfortable and even painful to do so. We show that allegiance by kneeling in front of our siblings of color in submission to their leadership, since they know the way forward better than we ever could.

We kneel to make ourselves open to discomforting change and transformation.

We kneel to say God’s will, not America’s, be done.

Because the truth is, God’s Kin-dom isn’t something we stand tall and proud for as it enters. It’s one that is ushered into the world as we kneel down in submission to its presence and in defiance of the empires of the world.

We kneel, because we owe our allegiance to this Kin-dom, not an prideful, idolatrous, exclusionary, supremacist Empire.

I’m Not “Woke”

Oil Lamp

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.” – Matthew 25:1-10 (NRSV)

In high school, I had thick, springy curls that my straight- and thin-haired friends and family envied. One of those friends, a white girl, told me that I had “black people hair.” I took it as a compliment.

I took it as such a compliment that I told my mother what my friend said while we were riding on the DC metro, and a woman of color was sitting in the seat right behind me.

My mother tried, in vain, to get me to shut up. But I still spewed those words out of my mouth.

There’s no nice way to put it: I made a racist comment.

At the next station, the woman in the seat behind me got up to leave, and as she walked by our seats, her bag bumped me rather roughly in the arm.

It was more than likely an accident. But I felt enough shame to never say the remark ever again.

*****

I wish I could say I stopped making racist comments and remarks, intentional or otherwise, after this encounter. But I didn’t.

Hell, I still say and think problematic words and thoughts. I still have strong biases that need time, effort, and intention to destroy.

Yet I once considered myself a “woke” person. I’m sure other white people did, too.

And that in and of itself is problematic.

First of all, as a white person, I shouldn’t be using a term that began as an urge by and for people of color  to “remain vigilant, but also to keep safe,” before being appropriated into a badge white allies use to say that “if they walk the walk, they get to talk the talk.”

Second of all, the use of the phrase implies that there is a prize white people get when they cross the non-existent finish line of “not being racist anymore.” For white people, our so-called “wokeness,” our collection of quotes, behaviors, and friends, does not prove we’re “no longer racist.”

Our work of dismantling white supremacy is more than that. It is an uncomfortable and unceasing journey, and white people can cover themselves with merit badges without putting a dent in this system.

Claiming a so-called “wokeness” separates us from other white people. It allows us to claim we’re done being racist while other white people are not.

It’s a false claim that says we no longer have biases towards people of color that still need to be broken down.

It’s a claim that falsely announces the demise of this whole system.

The hard truth of it all is I didn’t magically stopped being a racist when I started chanting “Black Lives Matter” or when I marched in Charlottesville.

I’m still part of this broken system, so I’m still a racist. And that hasn’t stopped yet. Not now. Maybe not even in my own lifetime.

The same applies to all of us white folks.

*****

Along with most white Christians, I like to think I’m one of those wise, eternity-minded bridesmaids in Matthew’s parable, ready and waiting for the coming Kingdom with oil overflowing.

But more often than not, I’m one of the foolish ones caught unaware and unprepared, left begging my siblings of color for oil to light my lamp instead of fetching it for myself ahead of time.

So I’m getting rid of this “woke” label, one that was never mine to claim to begin with.

Instead, I’m waking up to my own self, my own biases and complicity, and the system that has made them all possible. I’m waking up to my past sins and attempting to move forward in humble repentance instead of being paralyzed by personal shame. I’m awakening compassion, empathy, and understanding within me, and I’m opening my ears to be more attuned to the stories of pain and joy from people of color. I will wake up to my need to admit wrong-doing and to apologize.

But waking up isn’t an easy process, either, nor is it a quick one.

Sometimes, I hit the snooze button. Sometimes, I take a long time to rub the sleep out of my eyes. Sometimes, that bed of privilege and supremacy is so comfortable that I don’t want to dream of resting on anything else, even when I know that comfort is built on the backs of my marginalized siblings.

Sometimes, like the seven bridesmaids in Matthew’s parable, I awaken with a jolt to discover I have no oil in my lamp and am lost in the dark, and those wiser and more prepared are moving towards a more perfect world.

It is in those times I am called to remember it’s one thing to bring a lamp in a dark space and quite another to bring the oil to light it.

And the sooner we realize we don’t have what we need to illuminate the darkness, the sooner we might start following those who have known the way much longer than we have.