Our Dislocated Body

south-tampa-mapIt is important in life to know where you are from. I spent most of my childhood years in a beautiful city named Tampa, Florida. Tampa is home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the best café con leche in the world, and four roads that remind me of my privilege in life. The area I lived in was called South Tampa. The northern boundary of South Tampa is Kennedy Boulevard, Gandy is to the South, Westshore to the–west, and Bayshore to the east. If you go too far east or west, you will find yourself swimming in water. Most people who have lived in South Tampa for a significant period of time were told at one point in their lives to never go past Kennedy or Gandy, for nothing of need is beyond those borders.  I found over the years that this was not true.

South Tampa Simba

Prior to my life as a Pastor, I served in the public school systems as a Speech & Language Pathologist. The first position I held was across the Northern boundary of South Tampa. Many of the children were the children of migrant farm workers. I remember doing language evaluations and being shocked how many of the children were missing the same word—bathtub. After several home visits, I realized the reason for this. Most of the families lived in make shift houses that did not have bathtubs. Some lived in homes with no floors. The children were allowed to wash themselves in the water fountains at the school for the administration knew they had nowhere to bathe. I could not imagine there were children in my own country living in these conditions. This would not be allowed where I was from.

After returning from graduate school, I took my second position in Tampa and it was in a school across the Southern boundary Gandy. This school was home to children primarily from low-income African American families. I remember being surprised over and over again by how many parents were working 2-3 jobs to support their families.   I also remember the school breaking ground on its new library and the shelves sitting empty for the longest time. I really wrestled with this because I just couldn’t understand how these vast divides in my community existed.  A library would not have stood empty in a school where I was from.

I am who I am today because of the way these opportunities to serve shaped me. I did not have everything I needed on the inside of the South Tampa boundaries for real community happens when we cross the lines that divide us, however those lines begin to form.dislocated potatohead  So often, the human body is dislocated from one another. We are separated by boundaries, we live at a distance from one another, and our sense of community lacks because of this. We understand who we really are when we see life in relationship with neighbors we live distanced from. Race divides us, economics divide us, sexuality divides us, language divides us, faith tradition divides us, experience and education divide us, and privilege or lack of privilege divides us as a people.

Honestly, I have to share that it is much easier to cross streets that divide us, then to recognise that there is no journey that I can go on that will erase the privilege that lives in me.  The only thing I can do is to continue to learn about these divides and fight for others to have the same privileges as me.

What might it look like for us to study the maps that contain the dividing lines and begin to work more intentionally to break them down?

With you on the journey,

Michelle Shrader

***Salary Support for my Individual Volunteer in Mission work can be received through this blog.  The donation button will lead you to the United Methodist Advance–an online giving mechanism that allows you to donate tax deductible monies towards mission engagements all around the world.  Check it out!

 

 

My Black Baby Doll…

My black baby dollWhen I was three years old, my Mother took my brother and I to a toy store to pick out any toy we wanted. I picked out a black baby doll and I didn’t want any other doll for years.  For the longest time in my adult years, I believed that this choice was demonstrative of my innate wiring as a reconciler, but something brought me to ask my mother if she had any idea why I would have made that choice. Her response blew my theory about myself out of the water. She alerted me to the fact that I was taught to love black people, by my exposure as a child.

My parents left my brother and I in the care of my Native American uncle and his African American wife when I was two years old. I have no memory of this time, but according to my mother, I didn’t want to come home when they came to pick me up. My uncle was ostracized from the family for marrying across the racial lines and I have only seen him one other time since. My mother believes that when I saw the baby doll in the store, it reminded me of the other part of my family tree.  Oppression of black people by Native Americans did not make sense to me, but others have helped me to understand that we pass on our own pain even when it doesn’t make sense.

I was asked once what my first memory of race was. My answer is hard. My first memory of race is when I arrived to my grandparent’s house on the other side of the family with that baby doll. I remember not fully understanding what was going on, but feeling protective of that doll, for it seemed like my grandfather was mad at her or me? He asked what I was doing with a black baby doll and I drew her closer. Before I knew it, the tension was gone, but I remember that moment more than I even remember the doll, for my grandfather had a way of making me feel like I was the reason the stars hung in the sky and that day I felt like he was disappointed in me.

“Did you swallow a dollar and break out in pennies?” he would say when I got freckles in the summer. “You are the only angel I know who has the devil living in her eyes…” was something I heard frequently and so often I would arrive to their home with old underwear for I was quite independent and wanted to pack for myself and he would say, “Well aren’t you holy?” That was my grandfather. I loved him so much. Yet, I am no different than most, I learned about race and how to distinguish myself from others by people I love.

Over the years I have learned that many people are fine with those who are another race as long as they stay in what is believed to be their place. I think that was the issue years ago. I don’t worry much about my grandfather today; today I worry more about me. The place thing is still an issue. We allow ourselves to be divided by place. We allow ourselves to believe there are people who hold characteristics that make them better than others and others who because of color, class, or whatever we decide are not good enough, beautiful enough, whatever enough.  If we only could learn that the DNA of who we are as people translates to nothing more than children of God.  Love for ourselves, God, and others requires an understanding of place.  Our place is struggling to live together within our family, the entire human race.

with you on the journey,

Michelle

*Salary support can be received through the donation button on this blog.

To be known…

 

Part of my practice of finding my way in Cape Town is to invest in the businesses around me and to walk up and down some of the streets every day. I get my haircut at the salon on the corner; I eat regularly at the restaurants right around me. I grab coffee daily from a café right near the church. Eventually something began to happen. Instead of waiting for me to order, the barista reaches for the mug I bring with me as I walk in. The servers in the restaurant run out on the street to say, “hello” when they see me. My hairdresser gave me a bottle of wine the other day because I listened to him. I find I am beginning to be known.

There was a moment a couple of months ago where I struggled with the way I was known and it has caused me to begin to shift my priorities a bit. Some pastors came together for what they call mission week. It is when they go to another area to serve to learn about life in another part of the country. We led a soccer camp with some of the kids. I was sitting with some of the younger ones talking to them when two of them said, “we know you.” I assumed they meant from church. I asked them, “do you know me from when I visited Sunday school?” “No,” they said, “Long Street.” Long Street is similar to Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The kids knew me from Long Street because that is where they spend time trying to get some extra money begging and they saw me walking every day.

I looked at the kids more closely and realized I did know them. These same kids have been asleep on the sidewalk in front of the church. I saw them at a banquet the Church had out on the street where 500 people were fed. I sat with them just the other day and asked them as many questions as I could to just be in conversation with them and before I left, they gave me a hug and I found myself at a loss. They have a place to sleep. Yet, they choose sometimes to be on their own. In the midst of conversations with them, I have been more invested in the Children’s Ministry at the Church. The gift is that CMM is invested in this as well. There are a couple of lay people who have agreed to help lead a conversation on how we can build a sustainable ministry and I believe when we get the two and three together, God will surprise us with plans.

My hope is that we can build a ministry that will last. In the midst of praying about the way forward, what was affirmed for me was hope for the future. I have always dreamed of a better day and pointed people towards it. In the midst of the pointing and the dreaming, people rise and they find their place in the building. This is what has been happening. Several lay people have sat with me to begin to plan how to strengthen the church’s ministry to young people. It is the work of this generation to build a better tomorrow for the next and so, this is my story of light from 2015—that there is a beginning and one that brings me hope not just for the children, but for those who say, “yes” to the building of a better tomorrow.

As we enter this New Year, I give thanks for those of you who hold me in God’s radiant light.  I have been in Cape Town for six months now.  In some ways this is a long time and in other ways I feel as if I am just breathing in the new life that is opening for me here.  Mainly because of answered prayer.  I asked some of you to pray that I might find people to commit to the journey with me.  People who will ask the question of how it is with my soul and care for me well.  It is what we all need.  Just last week, three people committed naming it as a need they had as well.  I have also finally found a spiritual director.  It is a gift to have someone committed to leading you into the place of rest in the Spirit and I am thankful, thankful, thankful to those of you who prayed with me as I searched to find the right one.  May this year unfolding be one where you find strength for a deeper walk and a fuller love being born in you.

With you on the journey,

Michelle

***Salary support can be received through the donation button on this blog site.  You will be directed to the United Methodist Advance–a tax deductible way of supporting mission work around the world–check it out!

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