Thursday, November 16, 2017

Home for Dorothy and Eddie

This morning I am prompted to ponder home and a homeland. What is home but that place and space where you put your feet and your lay your head and you find your stuff that you find meaningful and you can breathe.  What is a homeland but a larger space and place where the ebb and flow and the people and the symbols and the language and its history connect with you in a deep sense and you say something or say maybe nothing at all that this is my homeland and these are my people and what I value most is found here.

Forever and a day I have had these yearnings for a home and a homeland. Even when we were away from our homeland, I found myself feeling most secure and at peace when we owned the brick and the mortar and the grass and the trees and found a place to come home to at the end of a long sojourn elsewhere.  Home necessarily included the people inside the house which was a home which was grounded in space and time.  Familiarity and predictability of the coming and the going and who was there and when they were not there things were all out of sync and had no rhythm or rhyme.

I think that is why amongst other things the story of Eddie and Dorothy Wise moves me so.  They met on the campus of Howard. Their connection was almost immediate. He yearned for home with chickens and dogs and pigs, lots of pigs. His home became her home and his homeland became their homeland.

Their story of struggle is well chronicled in a large document over in my filing cabinet. Edward and I wrote about them in 2008, and now here in 2017, we are hearing about them again and again because their story is so compelling that we cannot ignore it. It is told in all of its brutality on national radio. The interviewer with his penetrating questions, Eddie with his strong voice, and eventually Eddie with his gentle voice in the nursing home where Dorothy with her weak voice accepts the cookie and drink that Eddie has brought for his “Brown Sugar.”

Not their home. In a place of not their home. She died in a place not their home.

Their home had been taken away by the misdeeds of people with agendas that were clear to them and clear to Eddie and Dorothy. Eddie and Dorothy did not have the power or the place to change the course of those events. Those people who made those decisions had the power and the pen and the position and the system to make things work for those folks but not for those folks.

And then their home was no more. They were driven from it by a large group of uniformed and armed men. Uniformed and armed men who have no claim to the land and home driving people from the land and their home who have a legitimate claim to the land and the home.

Yes. Today I am pondering home and its meanings and why it is so important to me. I am also pondering such for people who have to fight and scratch and claw to hold on to their home and homeland.

I do not know of such deeper things.  Such matters are beyond my experience.  They are not beyond my ability to imagine and to empathize.  And when I do move into that space, my blood runs cold, my heart is ripped out, and my beliefs in justice and its righteous causes confirmed, and my conviction that there are people in power who have darkness in their hearts and they play the cold cruel songs of systemic racism.

And people are driven from their homes.

And then it was taken away.  The big boys with big guns and big pieces of paper came and drove them away.  They asserted themselves into a home that was not their own but they had the power of the paper and the writing on the paper to usher the folks who were at home out of their home and into a cheap motel, one which they could afford. Four walls, close quarters, concrete parking lot. A place to stay but not a home. A place to lay the head for some indeterminable length of time until things changed. Not their home but a place they stayed until they stayed there no more.

Then Dorothy died.

What does Eddie call home now? 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Dear God, Amen, and PS: Come Quickly

November 6, 2017

Dear God:

It is a dangerous world out there.  It is a treacherous place to live. Feelings of safety run the gamut from those who feel very safe to those who look over their shoulders at every turn.

We are bombarded by the left and the right and those supposedly in the middle, but who knows what is up and what is down and who can be trusted to the left and the right.

One more killing of innocent people, more than half of a church wiped out by a deranged white guy dressed in black with enough guns and rounds for a war. He had weapons of war and they had weapons fighting spiritual warfare. Someone was outnumbered. Someone or someones were not adequately prepped for the fight.

My soul grieves.  My heart is heavy.

We are picking sides as we always do.  The rhetoric is the same. 

If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.  The problem is not guns. The problem is mental health. Texas has the most liberal gun laws in the state. There are good people in the NRA, so leave us alone. The NRA owns America as one of the largest lobbies in the country.

We could go on and on, Lord, with the language of the day.

It is the same language that we used following Sandy Hook, Miami, Las Vegas, and now Sutherland Springs. There are more. Lots more. There are too many to list but you know them all. You know them all too well, and we only see through a glass dimly.

We pray. We say we will pray. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. The last time we prayed.  Before that we prayed.  Before that we prayed.  Praying is a thing we do, or at least we say that we do, but sometimes I think we say we do when what we actually do is say those words as a routine way of attempting to acknowledge the pain and suffering of others. I think is akin to “I’m thinking about you.” That is my cynical self speaking. Today is it loud.

Don’t get me wrong, Lord, I’m keen on praying.  You and I talk real often, and in fact that is what we are doing now as I try to grasp the magnitude of what is happening. Even as I pray those words, I realize that the magnitude of this thing is too big for me.  It is not, however, too big for you.

I have always thought that prayer without action is a waste of words.  The Spanish proverb is “pray, but keep hammering.”  The Russian, or maybe it is Scottish, or maybe it is from Randy Harris, is “pray and row for shore.”

Here in America we do a good job of praying, but we’re not good at rowing for shore.  We whine and complain and bemoan the carnage in the lives of people, but we do nothing beyond that.  Then, when carnage strikes again, we go through the same actions.

These are fighting words. America loves its guns.  America loves its 2nd Amendment. We default to emotional language when somebody perceived to be from the left questions these things.

Yes, Lord, I think we love the 2nd Amendment and our guns more than we care about people. People are curiously expendable, but guns and the 2nd Amendment are here to stay.  Curiously enough that when that document was written, the guns of war that we have now were not available and a black person was considered 3/5s of a human. In every act of carnage on American soil, weapons of war have been used. How many AR-15s or other similar weapons are needed, how many rounds for them are needed, how many of whatever are needed to protect the family, to hunt wild animals?

No, we do not pray and row for shore.  We say our prayers and sit and wait for the current to take us to some place. We pray and leave matters the same. We pray and do nothing.

Sensible gun control, addressing mental illness, and figuring how to have fewer weapons of war in the hands of the mentally ill are serious issues.  If we cared about people as much as we care about our guns, then we’d do something.  If we were truly Pro-Life, we’d do something.  We are not Pro-Life, we are selectively Pro-Life.  We attempt to protect the lives of the unborn, and rightfully so, but we do not protect the lives of the party goers at the concert, those having a good time with friends in the bar, the children and their teachers at school, or the young and old worshippers in our churches. Three churches of late in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.  And even one has suggested that we have a system of checking in our pockets and all, like we do when we go to court or the airport. 

We’ll rally the troops.  We’ll say the right things about the deceased and the killer.  We’ll declare it a mental health problem. We’ll pray.

Until the next time.

Then we’ll do it all over again.

Until the next time.

Then we’ll do it all over again.

Until next time, I simply say amen.

PS: Come quickly.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Way Down South

Several years ago I was in southern Georgia interviewing farmers and families and hearing their stories of discrimination in dealing with the USDA.  One particular name kept coming up again and again.  One day I walked through the cemetery there in town and recognized the name.  These words come to mind when I think about the farmers and the system that they had to negotiate there in their community.

Way Down South

Down South
Way down south if you know what I mean
There is a cemetery on the edge of town
That the whites work hard to keep clean.

The monuments
The big monuments you can surely see
Stand with pride in the sun
Perhaps for longer than eternity.

That tombstone
That one over there with the name I know
Looks to be a symbol for some important man
And surely that is more than just show.

That man
He owned that town often I was told
Set all those prices for seed and cotton
And now his bones lie cold.

His scales
Those big scales over there
Weighed light for the black folks
And to argue they didn’t dare.

His prices
The prices he set on the seed
Now those dollars were pretty high
That was all he’d need.

His control
His control of it all from start to finish
Of the seeds to the land to the price of the cotton
Served to keep them down, their souls to diminish.

No one argued
Not one argued or you’d pay a price
If they did their cotton was not bought
They learned that the man did not play nice.

Now that man
That man who owned this town
Lies buried beneath that big monument
His name of great renown.

That farmer
That farmer whose skin is black
Knew the bank was coming long before it did
And the land he loved he’ll never get back.

Such is life
Such is life when your skin is dark
Way down in the Bible belt south
Where Jim Crow still lives on in too many hearts.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Preach It, Mr. Preacher

Time seems to linger
Though the alarm has just sounded
Wake up from the slumber
And get ourselves surrounded

By the things we still recall
The people that we met
They still are playing in our heads
Even when our heads were at rest.

That sermon was real
The preacher was really on
Events of a week ago
Still come at us real strong.

There are no such things as divorcing
Our lives from the news of the day
We face it straight on
While we strain for a better way.

The world is what we bring
Inside that large worship room
There is no separating it all
To do so would just bring more gloom.

Let’s tell the truth in love
Ugly though it will be
Again let’s speak it out
That all too often our people hang from that tree.

The truth is ugly as we all know
Politicians run to and fro
They make noise that is unintelligible
I wish it were not so.

The headlines scream out loud
People sad or depressed or dead
It’s hard to take it all in
Upon it all some light to shed.

Tell the truth Mr. Preacher!
Speak words of grace over us all
Engage the spirit of Jesus
Lest we stumble and we fall.
Preach it Mr. Preacher!
Preach it long and loud!
Preach it Mr. Preacher!
Make the ancient ones proud!
Preach it Mr. Preacher!
Tell of that thing called justice!
Preach it Mr. Preacher!
Till there’s no one left of us!

Preach it Mr. Preacher!
Harken back unto the day
When prophets like Isaiah and Amos
Had their vitriolic say!

Preach it Mr. Preacher!
Proclaim it to one and all!
Speak the words of Jesus
Lest into silence we all should fall!

Preach it Mr. Preacher!
Out of our comforts zones we can move
We need to know the truth
When we walk in someone else's shoes.

Lest you think that those worlds collide
In the sanctuary there is no room
For the truth of life as we live it
There is anything but gloom.

I am encouraged when from the pulpit
The truth is told again and again
I will not rest peacefully
Until righteousness rules this land.

In our homes and in the streets
In our churches
In our villages
There is no retreat.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Let Justice Ring: Let Us Pray and Think About Our Prayer

I wrote this poem in the early morning hours back in January.  Its irreverence and pleas for something different fit this day and this time, at least in my opinion. Please let me know what you think.

Let Us Pray and Think About Our Prayers
Waymon Hinson
January 31, 2017

Dear Gawd, Jehsuuus, Dad, Holy One of Israel, lots of salutations we say
To plead for His hearing when we pray.

Some are contrite, others demand
Get it together, you foolish man.

Some demean, others quiet
Looking blankly toward the blinding light.

With heads bowed low we generously pray
Who is to confess the meanings of what we say.

Some are prayers of the right
Preaching righteousness and vengeance with might.

Some are prayers of the left
We all are a mess, left bereft.

Prayers from the middle, let us pray
Words of conciliation, we hope, we say.

Civility is now here in this sanctuary, this room,
Waiting, waiting, waiting, our return to the tomb.

Some are prayers of hope
Com’on, man, don’t mope!

Longing for the day.
We have all gone astray.

Some are prayers beseeching those who’ve gone before
Kindly leave your offering at the door.

Let us pray, let us demand
Expect of God His slight of hand.

We are so feeble, so frail and so fickle
I think I’ll go buy a burger with my last nickel.

Amen, and yeah verily I say, “Amen!”

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Prayer for Them and for Us

This was a prayer that I prayed and wrote on one of the flights back to the US, probably from Frankfurt into DFW.  It still holds true for me this morning as I contemplate the good people and our experiences back in Swaziland.  And in terms of what this blog is all about, I wonder about and pray for their abilities to bring shalom, justice, and goodness into the lives of those with whom they converse.

Please join me today in praying for them as well.

Dear Lord:

We are soon to touch down in Texas. Not long after that we will pull into our own drive way, unpack, see family, and sleep in our own bed.
We will re-establish our long held rituals, eat our own food, and rejoin our church. Slowly we will probably adapt to our own time zone after a few nights of less than normal rest. 

Lord, you know me. You know me well. You were there before, during, and after my birth. That was a long time ago. You know that I will re-acclimate with baseball, football  internet, unlimited wifi, and Buddy the Boxer. 

And we both know and understand how the rituals and routines in Swaziland were so different. The flat, foods, accents, worship styles, greetings and other acts of respect, and so many other things compelled our focus and drew upon our energies. We have been in those places before with other people groups, but still, you know of the changes though temporary that we experienced. 

My life will go back to normal. 

Charla's will go to normal. 
Or will they?
Can we really return to normal. 

Can we go about our daily walks unchanged by Swaziland and African Christian College and its students?
You know, Jesus of Nazareth, what it was like to enter the spaces and places of humanity. Charla and I now know something of entering the spaces and places of people from across Southern Africa and even from across parts of the US.
I am uncertain as to how those three weeks will change Charla and me. You know her well, and she'll be shifting through it as well. 
I will be formed in different ways by those people and our encounters. As I said in chapel on Friday as we wrapped up the two week class schedule, I was born to be a teacher and a healer and I felt reborn to do the same. I am clueless as to what those words meant, but they came out anyway. 
How to begin to process it all? Where to begin? How to begin? 
The very idea that the students recognized the inadequacy of their medical systems, the woeful state of behavioral healthcare, and the never before thought of possibilities of creating structures for the integration of those two is staggering. 
They know that beyond the unique cultures of their six countries, their homelands and their people have things in common. People live in extended families, people get sick and recover or do not, and medical conditions enslave the diseased and those who love them. 
I will remember those ten students. I will remember Charla partnering with me in teaching those students, and her even demonstrating those practices with us. 
I will remember wrestling with understanding each other. I will remember the unique greetings, the warmth of the students and others, praying in chapel, sharing meals and conversations with them, chatting about important matters in our flat over coffee and cookies, and watching and listening as they grappled with complicated ideas of the theory and practice of medical family therapy. 
They love you, Lord, they worship you expressively, and they love their homelands and their people. They will not return to make a lot of money, though some may. They will return to their people to share the love of Jesus with them by doing this important work of offering hope in Your name. 
So, Holy One of Israel, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and God of Admire, Ncobile, Veronica, Clide, Charity, Prudence, Tendekai, Judith, Julia, and Tadala, annoint them with your power and Holy Spirit. Give them eyes to see and ears to hear and wisdom for doing your holy work. 

Finally, Father, may the seeds we sowed within them spring up in works of service far beyond anything that we could ever dream. 

Through the sweet name of the risen Lord, 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Screening for the Unknowns

The “Medical Family Therapy: Cross Cultural Implications” course that I taught in Swaziland on the campus of African Christian College in August and September had a number of modules. Some modules were just read, think, and apply.  Other modules were heavy on application. One of those modules was on the use of screening inventories in behavioral health settings.

Screening inventories are used to rule out things that are not there and to rule-in things that are there and demand clinical attention. They are most frequently brief inventories. Preferably, they are less than ten or so items.  The inventories we learned were the ACE(Adverse Childhood Experiences), the PHQ-2 and PHQ-9 (measuring depression), the GAD-7 (measuring anxiety), the ORS/SRS system of Dr. Scott Miller which measures the challenges of the person since the last session as well as the evaluation of the session that is just ending. We gave some attention to the Marital Attitudes Scale and a recent publication by Hinson, Hargrave, Northrup, and Robertson (2017) though it is longer, i.e., 48 items that assesses the client’s commitment to the marital relationship.

The learning process included reviewing the literature, hearing me lecture on each screening inventory, and then completing, scoring, and interpreting the results on oneself. We then role-played giving each inventory to a client. This was no small task as the students were learning the inventories for the first time as well as processing one’s own unresolved issues. Obviously, we spent much time discussing the scores, their ratings as low, moderate, and high, and how to address personal concerns.

In view of our stated theological orientation of bring shalom into a broken world, these inventories and the students’ abilities to use them and use them well can help to create shalom for people who are broken or broken hearted. The inventories do not address how well one is, but rather how wounded one is.  On the one hand, the absence of a high score, or the presence of a low score suggests that one is doing well in terms of that which the inventory measures, but in integrated healthcare settings, people are generally going to be more troubled than less troubled.

If a therapist knows what the problems are, then a collaborative relationship can be created so as to address the issues. A caring, compassionate, and fully informed clinician can ease a client’s anxieties about discussing matters that are personal. A person who is trained in how illnesses can impact the family can be useful on the “front-line,” so to speak of the health and well-being of clients.

The students seemed to gravitate to Dr. Scott Miller’s ORS/SRS system. Here is the link for more information on this topic: Dr. Miller gave the students permission to download and use his materials and the students were thankful for the access to these materials. The Outcomes Rating Scale is simply a four-item, ten-point Likert scale, inventory that the client fills out immediately prior to the consultation.  This inventory assesses the challenges of the person’s life and it orients the therapist toward what needs to be worked on.  At the end of the consultation, the Session Rating Scale is completed.  Again, it is a four-item, ten-point Likert scale inventory that assesses the quality of the therapy session that is just ending. This is immediate feedback from the client to the therapist and helps to keep the process positive and constructive.

The ACE, or Adverse Childhood Experiences, inventory could be pivotal for their settings and homelands.  There is must loss, conflict, and trauma that defines the worlds from which students come.  They are familiar with suffering and grief.  They learned that the more trauma a person experiences in his or her life prior to the age of 18, the greater the probability of experiencing various medical conditions.  Addressing just the medical conditions is inadequate.  It is imperative that clinicians address the underlying trauma that prompted the rise in the number and severity of the medical conditions.

These students love their homelands, their church, and the Lord. They are convicted about serving God these unique ways when they return home. These tools are a hands-on way of serving the needs of people by assessing their lived experiences.  When they do so, they are bringing about shalom in their broken worlds.  How our world needs shalom.  Shalom in Africa and shalom in America. That is exactly what we all need.