erin f. wasinger

stories of discernment, community, & other hard things

Social justice for ‘the rest of us’

On the way to their town house’s parking lot we smile at each other, quietly, nervously.

You’ve never driven a car, I ask.

No, she says.

Not even once? I ask.

No, she says.

I decide to start in an empty parking lot somewhere; I mention this but I’m unsure if she comprehends. So I drive us to an elementary school on this gray Saturday afternoon.

I wonder often about the limits of our refugees-turned-friends’ current command of English. How do they worry over the way America’s divided about Islam and refugees? How do they react when they hear the voice of our next president?

I’ve not known them long enough to talk politics — actually, that’s not totally true. I guess I just don’t want to have to explain. But of course our friends must understand the tone if not the content of the arguments America’s making among its people. Anger renders our air toxic. We breathe it without choice.

Our friends wouldn’t have asked for it. During the two-year screening process, they only know they want out. I think of that. My friend didn’t know six months ago that she’d be in some American’s (Cheez-Its-scented) minivan doing laps around a parking lot. She didn’t know she was pregnant then. She’s due on my middle daughter’s birthday. She’ll be 34 then, just like me.

They worship at a mosque that received that insipid letter reminding them that terror’s here, too. The letter cheered that Trump’s presidency means what happened to Jews under Hitler will happen to American Muslims under Trump. (Do we not remember? There is nothing new under the sun.) The letter stirred up cries for solidarity and a new feeling of helplessness. Now we’re praying/ wringing our hands/ sending donations to Aleppo.

I hate helplessness. 

I want to do something, to march somewhere, to go somewhere. But here I am. I am the rest of us: the ones who want to be radical but … aren’t. Kids in school, jobs, bills. Classroom holiday parties and we’re out of milk and there’s blue toothpaste all over the bathroom wall — HOW. I WILL KEEP ASKING UNTIL I GET AN ANSWER.

So our family does smaller, such as the small thing of teaching someone to drive.

She’s now behind the wheel. Seat belt on. Feet exploring. She finds the pedal on the left. “Brake?”

“Yes, that’s stop.”

“And — this one?”

“That’s the accelerator. It makes you go.” I charade that.

I learned to drive on country roads when I was 14. My uncle, his daughter, and I took turns behind the wheel of a tiny Dodge, learning the art of accelerating and braking. I think she could use some stretch of country road.

“Now, we’ll go straight” — I motion in the passenger seat like an air traffic controller — “and then we’ll turn.”

“Ahh huh.” She revs it; I put it in gear.

“You push it down slowly. Slowly,” I say, first motioning with my hand, pivoting from my palm. When I realize I’m asking her to catch my words and my symbols, I point to my foot and mime how slowly to push the pedal.

“OK, OK,” she says: and then she does. But now she punches it to the floor and we lurch toward a strip of grass between the lot and a basketball court.  I nicely yell “Brake, brake, brake, BRAKE.” And she finds it. Only the seat belts and Jesus hold us back as we stop.

And we laugh like my girls do when we flip them upside-down — how divine to laugh when all the world is yelling.  

We didn't practice at night, but isn't this pretty anyway?

We didn’t practice at night, but isn’t this pretty anyway?

We practice in that elementary school parking lot for a half hour, going forward and reversing, driving in the pick-up lane. She speaks in Arabic to herself, or maybe to me, thinking like we all do that if we only keep repeating our foreign words (maybe slower, maybe louder), eventually enlightenment and understanding will dawn on our companions.

“More, or are you ready to be done?”

“Stop,” she says, motioning the way umpires call runners safe.  

She notices the school sign. “Yes, that might be the school your kids go to if you live over here when they are 4 years old.”

“Four?” She has the same look as if she’d discovered a $50 bill in her pocket. She giggle-dances just as I did when my youngest started preschool. How divine to laugh when all the world is yelling.  

At her house, I defend her as her husband jokes through Dave: “Is my wife good at driving or hopeless?” Her husband and Dave have learned to clarify what they’re saying to each other using Google Translate. We laugh. And the kids do, to, as they hear Mom drove. They’re in on the joke.   

How divine to laugh when all the world is yelling.

That’s part of our upside-down response, friends. 

Some of us will resist hatred and fear in front of state government representatives and with our congressmen and -women. Some of us will write letters, will march, will carry signs, will go there.

Some of us will drive around a school parking lot.

The lucky might get to do a little of everything. None of us can do it all. So, together we’ll do it all. Because we’re upside-down people. We can yell, but we know it’s divine to laugh.

{Part 2 of 2.}

How we respond here to the refugee crisis

I watch my friend in her sparse kitchen.

She uses a small saucepan to scald milk for us to drink. Dave used to do the same when he baked bread in our kitchen, and the sweet-sour smell reminds me of home. She pours two steaming glasses and then sits on the folding chair, the only piece of furniture in the living room besides the loveseat on which I sit. And their new television.

This is our third visit with this refugee family we’ve begun to mentor through a local resettlement agency, and formalities of hospitality come first.

“We drink,” she smiles, motioning to the plastic tray she’s carried out. It has a bowl of sugar and two true tea spoons: petite and beautiful. “Then we go?”

I nod and try to sip the scalded milk before a film forms on top. Our kids, all six under the age of 9, bat each other with balloons we’ve just blown up. Their bare feet slap the laminate as they run. Incense she lit smells like spices whose names I don’t know. Home.

file7001251137499

My husband and I have been paired by a local resettlement agency to help the newcomers with bus routes, library cards, and their questions. A big percentage of their questions center on snow, and how deep, again, will it get? (A week later, we will stand outside while the children watch their first snowfall. Alice will make a snow angel and Violet will throw a snow ball. Our friends’ children will be terrified of the whole experience. But that’s next week.)

On this particular day, I’ve agreed to help the mother learn how to drive. I’ll be helping the family of almost-six acquire a different kind of freedom than they first received in July, when they arrived from a country in west Africa. Like another family we’ve mentored before, their choices and goals speak to an eagerness to start: quick to get jobs, quick to master English. 

For my American family — whose perspectives are the only ones I can write about — we feel eager, too. The world is breaking apart in places we can find on the maps that fall from the pages of my old bible. Our country is screaming in anger or horror about these things. More loudly are the Americans not screaming in anger at all. The void, the inaction, howls.

Yet, here we are, the lamenting. We sit in this living room, practicing being Boaz.

Remember him? Boaz, the man who married Ruth the Moabite in her Old Testament book, didn’t keep with public opinion about foreigners, either. Plus, Moabites were the sworn enemies of Israel (think of this warm-and-fuzzy life-verse option from Isaiah: “The Moabites shall be trodden down in their place as straw is trodden down in a dung-pit,” v. 25:10 NRSV). Boaz, as an Israelite, was supposed to hate Moabites. Instead, he marries one. Ruth the Moabite. 

He marries Ruth, the community finally embraces her and celebrates the baby that God gave the couple. She’s in Jesus’ genealogy: all evidence that this story’s more than a happy tale. It’s a message. God probably cares more for people than the boundaries we put between us and them.

One person: Boaz was one person who didn’t care for majority opinion. God blessed that.

We’re five people (but three are under the age of 9). We don’t care for the alleged majority opinion either. And God’s here, too.

***

So, here we are on that Saturday, the last one without snow. The mom has her state of Michigan learner’s permit, though in a few moments when we get in my van it will be clear our lessons will start at Point A.

For now, in her living room, her tray holds two spoons and a bowl of sugar. She scoops two heaping spoonfuls into her cup; I mimic her. Her spoon clangs like someone would do in their own home, where they’re comfortable.

“We’re going driving,” I remind Dave. He and the father are messing with a TV antenna that looks like a flyswatter. 

The woman finishes her drink, then moves through the obstacle course of our children, sprawled now on the floor in the spartan living room. She comes back moments later in jeans and a plaid flannel scarf draped around her head.

We’re all ready.

{Part 1 of 2 / Next post}

One final word about Alzheimer’s, I hope

I started a fire in the toaster Friday morning. Don’t worry: I got Louisa’s PopTart out just in time.

Because I saw the incident coming, I’d already been holding the contraption to the open kitchen window when I smelled the quick death of breakfast junk-food. I unplugged it — “Never stick a fork in the toaster,” my first-grader loudly warned me (“I’m not, it’s a spoon”) — and saved the morning, just barely.

Meaning the preschooler didn’t fall apart in tears. Meaning I could laugh about it and feel borderline Ma Ingalls about my quick thinking under duress. Also the house didn’t burn down, etc., etc.

Chances are, I’ll forget about this by next week. A year from now or later, I’ll read this and try to conjure the memory — what had happened? Why?

Because that’s what a life is, these little moments.

Read More

Book update: Year of Small Things trailer

Around my dinner table Wednesday night, we ate tacos and a whole bag of apples between the nine of us, my Year of Small Things people.

Lest you get a false impression of blissful community, consider the details. I had to ask, twice, for children not to sit on each other. My youngest was crying because my middle child insulted one of her stuffed animals. I started to sing the Doxology as our dinner prayer, my voice rising above the din of children pushing, jumping on, falling off, and generally not sitting on their chairs.

img_20161116_120938

Very new monastic around that blessed table.

But dinner did indeed happen, just as it did last week and will next week. I forget sometimes how strange it is that for the last two-plus years we’ve eaten so many dinners of pasta and tacos and hot dogs with these same people. Every week (barring stomach flu, fevers, and vacations). I have a hard time committing to five-day devotional plans. Yet we committed to this, and dinner still happened. That’s some sort of transformation already.

Before you can think about the other Year of Small Things stuff — such as the oddity of Tom and Sarah knowing our health (financial, spiritual, emotional, physical) — you have to consider the weight of simply showing up during this weekly time. As you’ll soon read in The Year of Small Things (releasing Jan. 31), it’s Jesus first, then this meal making our small things somehow bigger.

Each week we leave and nothing life-changing usually happens. You have to look at the long view to see the impact that kind of friendship: small, incremental changes over time. Small things: that’s the fruit.

To tell you all those small things would be spoiling the big reveal of the book launch, coming up in January.

Whet your appetite in the meantime by clicking over to the Year of Small Things website. You’ll find an incentive to pre-order copies of the book, skim the FAQs about the project, and feed on other behind-the-pages (?) goodies.

But first — the book trailer. (I’m so excited to share this with you, finally!)

Peace to you, friends.

 

Advice for those discouraged by the election

Dave, Louisa, and I climbed a few uneven cement steps to the door of a stranger. Knocked.

A woman wearing a beautiful teal scarf on her head answered the door with a confused expression. It’s hard to convey “we’re here to mentor you” with someone who doesn’t speak English.

Pause.

For those of you who woke up Wednesday discouraged, consider this moment. Think about what we as hopeful visionaries, Jesus followers, and do-gooders have gained, even in our disappointment.

Read More

My baby: Year of Small Things

Our oldest had colic.

Yes, we tried that remedy. Yes, we tried that other thing your Grandma swore by. People would tell us in the grocery store queue that “it gets better” and “babies with colic turn out to be really amazing people.” Others who saw us clutching books at the library with titles like The Happiest Baby on the Block and 101 Places People Will Never Find You Again would swear their chiropractor nephew could fix ‘er up in no time.

Sociologists call those “well-intended but not helpful attempts to remind parents not to abandon their young.”

I can only tell you colic nearly killed me. Mysteriously, though, I can’t tell you what her cries sounded like: something’s happened with my auditory memory. Now baby smiles are all that register. Here I swore her never-ending shrieks bore so deeply in my brain as to be fatal. Reading through my old blogs from 2008, I want to hug myself. It really does get better, little Erin-zie.

safe_image-1

Turns out I kinda miss holding that little baby in elephant-clad sleepers. She always smelled like baby powder, I think. I wonder if I could soothe her better now that I know her better.

I’m to that forgetful phase now, too, in The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of UsI don’t actually remember the colic, the stress, of writing it. I miss typing those words and, having turned in the absolute last edits, I wonder if I could restate some things better now that I know me better. Writing that book also smelled like baby powder. I think.

Well. Good news: a friend of mine lets me hold her baby so I can have all the good feelings without having a fourth child of my own.

Better news: The conversation about The Year of Small Things also continues at www.yearofsmallthings.com. We’ll be writing about what “radical faith” includes now that our kids are older (and we’re older), and how our love for our communities grows. We’ll have a small-group resource guide, videos of us picking dandelion bouquets (maybe), and more.

This is crucial for me, this ongoing conversation. I’m still evolving. Reading my own book reminded me why I was intrigued by new monasticism in the beginning. This gives us all a place to talk about how we can move from being inspired (and doing nothing with it) to discerning which parts God wants us to do now (and then doing it).

Whoa.

So, join us there. Here.

Consequences of a commute to school (that’s not carsickness, I promise)

The sounds of the neighbor’s air conditioner, a cardinal’s cry, and a big yellow bus’s “pfssht” all congeal in my last-minute dreams during those minutes just before I have to get out of bed. Those sounds are native to Alpha Street at 7 o’clock on any weekday.  

Our windows are open, the blinds are up. From our bed under the window sill, I prop my chin on the pillow to watch the world awaken. The bus turn on its flashing lights to stop. Neighbors start cars, dogs bark. A minute later, I abandon my post to brush my teeth in our attic bedroom’s half-bath.

Usually, I think about my kids sleeping downstairs. How they were supposed to be on that particular bus; how the Lansing school district assigned them to that route as late as last month. How I put that letter in the recycling bin.

That letter was our latest “Instead.”

Read More

Page 1 of 19

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén