A Lament, A Love Letter by Sarah Schwartz

One of my favorite childhood pictures was taken on my first day of kindergarten, standing shoulder to shoulder with my younger sister—me, with an enormous smile, nearly bursting out of my daisy print dress with excitement, and my sister, arms folded, lower lip at full pout, fuming that she was not yet old enough to be headed to school herself.

It was my first encounter with evangelical Christianity.

When it came time to send me to school, my parents—who were religiously unaffiliated at the time—but aware of Something or Someone they wanted their children to have the chance to know, enrolled us in a local Christian elementary school.

It doesn't take much for me to conjure up vivid memories of Friday morning chapels in the carpeted basement of that creaky old building on Wynooksi Street, learning hand motions to songs about this God who was love, love, and more love. Or sitting criss-cross apple sauce on a carpet square with frayed edges, listening to women with round, kind faces read from leather bound Bibles laying open on the folds of their floor length skirts, telling us stories of a man named Jesus who was a friend of the unlikely and left out, whose message about his Kingdom, where the last were first and the poor were blessed, made the powerful shake in their boots.

In middle school and high school, my teachers would stress that truth not only existed, but mattered, and that character was more important than wealth or pride or appearances.

When the accuser came, they'd say, recounting the old gospel story, offering Jesus all the Kingdoms of the world and their splendor in exchange for his worship, he refused, citing the command to worship the Lord our God, and serve him only.

For what good would it be, to gain the whole world, but lose your soul?

***

It was my evangelical college that first taught me about justice—that God's very heartbeat was for the restoration and redemption of all things. Want to know about true religion? they'd quote from the book of James. True religion is to care for widows and orphans in their time of need.

They said the world would know us by our love, and as the Good Book stresses, we were supposed to love the immigrant and the refugee in particular—anyone whose color, creed or class made them vulnerable. After all, as the beloved disciple wrote, no one has ever seen God, but if we love each other, God's love comes alive in us, and is brought to full expression in us.

They told tales of Israel's prophets calling Kings to account for their mistreatment of the poor or their exploitation of women. God didn't care about ritual for ritual's sake—no, the true worship he desired was that we treat each other justly, love mercy, and walk humbly!

He gave justice and help to the poor and needy, and everything went well for him. Isn't that what it means to know God? Or so said Scripture.

And Scripture? It was to be believed and obeyed, even when it was inconvenient or difficult, or came with personal or public cost. Moral relativism was dangerous, they said, a slippery slope. But happy was he who walked in the ways of the righteous, whose path was lit by the lamp of God's word.

One of their most loved soap boxes was the belief that every life was precious, and worth defending. The sanctity of life! they'd say with conviction. Human dignity! Each one made by God!

It wasn't until many of them started coming up with reasons why black boys deserved to die, that I wondered if it just applied to babies.

***

Over the past year, I've questioned every last bit of it.

Jesus? I still love him. I still think his is the most radical, inclusive, soul searing message I've ever heard. I still believe his heart beats for justice, and that his love is fierce enough to make everything broken in us beautiful again.

But I've wondered about this community, that was supposed to be his hands and feet, the ones who, for a time, would not be caught in public without their colorful fabric bracelets that asked what would Jesus do? Did they still believe all the things they once told me were true?

I've wept and screamed and lost sleep for local, national, and world events, but on a more personal level, for the tradition that birthed me, that so often finds reason to give up the very people we are called to protect for thirty pieces of silver. For truly, whatever you did to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me.

And in the ensuing quiet, I whisper, Father forgive me.

Forgive me for the self righteousness that so desperately wants to believe that none of what I protest, is alive and well in me.

For all of it is, in one form or another—prejudice, pride, greed. Fear of the other, & that which I do not understand. A belief in my own superiority to those who do not look or think or talk like me. A desire to be absolved of the ugliness in my own heart, without first making recompense to those I've caused pain.

I am not so different from what I grieve in the church that bore me.

***

Maybe this is the moment it all burns down, the great match that generates enough heat to melt our golden calves into the puddles of nothing they were all along. I've got a few things to throw onto the fire, and watch turn into embers swirling above the heap.

Maybe this is the decisive in-break of the Spirit, offering us a chance to break free of our allegiance to anything but Christ, and rise from the ashes as something more holy and true than we were before.

To be, as it were, born again.

2016. by Sarah Schwartz

At the beginning of 2016, I spent a sub zero weekend in Minnesota, because love is weird, and it demands that we give weight to our words with our hands and our feet and our presence.

I welcomed 25 with the confession that the first half of my twenties have been hard—but that the hard years have not been without provision, and the hard years will not last forever.

On Valentine's Day, my friends and I raised our glasses to those who have loved and lost us, wishing them well, wherever they were, hoping that they, too, were surrounded by friends that night.

I wrote of the long line of remarkable women from which I come, a reminder that I’m not fighting to be a beautiful and powerful and respectable human person; I already am. We already are.

My Grandparents sold the little house in the desert, graciously giving me several pieces of furniture that once adorned it's rooms, and I laughed at the poetry of taking pieces of that wild and terrible and wonderful summer with me into the future.

As a celebration of Women's History Month, the incredible Emily Joy captured the fear so many of us carry, of being simultaneously too much, and yet not enough. Too loud, too opinionated, too stubborn, too angry, too sad–not quiet enough, not submissive enough, not pliable enough.

I sobbed in my California kitchen and took shots of whiskey with my best friends at the news that my sweet Grandpa, with whom I shared a home for 18 years, and whose childhood bedroom I called mine 70 years after he called it his, was dying.

I revisited a piece I originally wrote as a celebration of Sarah Bessey's Jesus Feminist, on the radical nature of Jesus' Kingdom, where enemies become friends, God becomes man, the dead sit up and talk—the last are first, the poor are blessed, and the person who gives everything away gains it all in the end.

I had the honor of helping put together Biola University's Sexual Violence Prevention Week, featuring Eugene Hung of Feminist Asian Dad and activist Amy Buckley. (If you are a survivor of sexual assault in need of resources, please click here for confidential and swift support.)

I had the privilege of preaching at The Table Church in Washington DC, a community of "people who desire to look more like Jesus and join God in the renewal of all things."

In a, you-wouldn't-believe-it-if-I-told-you unfolding of events, I was offered the job of my right now dreams, and received word that my master's program is reducing it's number of required classes, moving graduation from something I thought would happen on the 12th of never, to something I can practically taste. (Seriously. Both of those things happened.)

I had coffee with an old friend, and I think I can tell you now how it feels when a wound turns into a scar.

I cried in the aisle seat of a Los Angeles bound plane for the flesh and blood image bearers who have repeatedly been disparaged and debased in the public square this year, and for the ways the gospel has been bastardized to support the injuring of the vulnerable.

My friend Ellie Hughes of Selflessy Styled shared the why behind her passion for ethical fashion. (This is my project for the new year---no more clothes made by slaves. Join me!)

The thing we were all pretty sure wouldn't happen, happened, and the grief nearly knocked me over. But it also inspired me to get to work, and I hope you will, too.

In 2016, I did my best to live a life of small faithfulness followed by small faithfulness, to love my people, to cause some trouble, and to be kind, even to myself. As always, thank you, dear reader, for being along for the ride.

Until next year, I'll leave you with the words of Chinaka Hodge, and her magnificent original poem, "What will you tell your daughters about 2016?

"When she asks you of this year, your daughter, whether your offspring or heir to your triumph, from her comforted side of history teetering towards woman, she will wonder and ask voraciously, though she cannot fathom your sacrifice, she will hold your estimation of it holy, curiously probing, 'Where were you? Did you fight? Were you fearful or fearsome? What colored the walls of your regret? What did you do for women in the year it was time? This path you made for me, which bones had to break?'"

 

 

Love,

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Grief (and getting to work) by Sarah Schwartz

I don't know if I am ever going to have words for what transpired last week. Nor am I ready to try to find them.

I only know to say that I am shattered—permeated by a kind of grief I did not know was possible.

Over the last several days, I have been confronted with the stark reality of my own privilege, and the knowledge that as an educated, white Christian with access to resources, I will most likely escape the next four years relatively unscathed.

And yet, as a woman, I am humiliated that my dignity has been offered up as acceptable sacrifice on the altar of political power, as well as terrified of what it will mean to have a body like this one in the days to come.

I do not know what to say, except that while I will pray like hell for this administration to love mercy and do justly, I refuse to normalize bigotry. I refuse to deem this politics as usual.

I will not accept sexual assault, the demonization of black and brown bodies, anti-Semitism, ableism, homophobia, or Islamaphobia as status quo.

I am going to pray like hell, and you better believe I'm going to fight like it, too.

***

White friends & family, can we have a quick huddle?

If your faith, your family, your religion, your body, or your community was not insulted or threatened on the campaign trail, please don't tell people how to feel right now. Have the compassion and humility to recognize that you do not know what it is to be a minority or a woman or a Muslim, etc. If you are not upset about the election results, or you do not have anything to lose due to them, lean in to kindness right now, not condescension.

And regardless of whether or not you are upset, please, I'm begging you, over the coming months, be intentional about the kind of voices you are listening to—the media you are consuming, the books you are reading, the people you are asking opinions of.

Are you being presented with a single story from people just like you? Or are you listening to the voices of people of color, women, the poor, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, the all too often left out and left behind? If your news anchor, your book club author, and podcast publisher all look, talk, and think alike, make it a point to broaden your horizons.

***

It's time to get our hands dirty, friends. We've got to write, paint, organize, donate, volunteer and (white people, I'm looking at you) educate ourselves. Here's a list to get you started.

Anti-Defamation League Regional Offices

Border Angels

Books for Your Journey Towards Racial Justice, Austin Channing

Refugee Council USA

Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network

Code Switch: Race & Identity Re-Mixed (podcast)

The Representation Project

15 Books for Fighting for Justice in the Trump Era, Christina Cleveland

American Civil Liberties Union

***

This post will make no one's "Best Of" list, I know. This is not the most eloquent post I've ever written, but it is honest.

I'll leave you with the words of Jonathan Martin, words I needed desperately this week.

"So much sucks right now, I know. It is good and right to make space for the grief. But for God’s sake, in the days to come — man and woman of God…

Stand up!

Speak up!

Don’t speak from the center. The center already has more than enough people speaking for it. The center does not need your protection.

Speak for and with the One who was crucified outside the gate.

Speak from the margins.

If you will not speak from the margins, don’t you dare claim to speak for God.

We need you. I need you. The world needs your prophetic voice.

Don’t pontificate, damn it.

Prophesy. Prophesy. Prophesy."

Selflessly Styled: A Guest Post on Ethical Fashion by Sarah Schwartz

Y'all, Ellie Hughes (of Selflessly Styled) is a force to be reckoned with in the ever growing ethical fashion movement. I'm proud to call her friend, and thrilled that she agreed to share her story with us here in my little corner of the internet. Make sure check out her bio below to start following her work.

With each year that passes, I find the Gospel refining my worldview in new ways. Sometimes this refining happens subtly and slowly, but other times it crashes in unexpectedly and changes my course in an instant.

This sort of unexpected refining happened in 2015 when the Gospel came crashing into my closet. My closet… the last place I ever would expect to find my faith engaged.

Here’s how it happened:

I learned that there are threads of violence, injustice and abuse woven into the very fabric of the fashion industry. I found out that the pretty outfits that made me feel confidant and empowered were made by women who had been exploited and abused. I saw that the reason I could buy clothes for such low prices was because someone across the world was paying the price of their own safety. I heard the voice of a woman in Bangladesh say, “I don’t want anyone wearing anything which is produced by our blood.”[1]

My eyes were opened to the ugly truth behind an image-driven industry.

Devastation.

I was overwhelmed.

But then hope came crashing in.

I was filled with purpose.

Determination.

My eyes were opened to a pathway of redemption in this industry.

I learned that there is a way to acquire clothing that ensures the people involved are given dignity, treated fairly and respected. I found out that there are brands selling quality clothing that makes me feel confident not only in how I look, but in the impact my purchase made on other human beings. I saw that I could stop buying cheap clothes, start practicing self-control and invest in pieces from companies who are doing things the right way.

In a way that only a Gracious God can, He showed me that instead of wallowing in guilt over the privilege that I have, I can use my position of privilege to further his Kingdom of justice for the oppressed.

Don’t mistake my use of the term “privilege” for wealth. (I’m a millennial working for a non-profit and married to a pastor… that should be enough information to tell you that I’m not operating on a giant budget.)

Privilege comes in a number of different forms.

I have the privilege of a voice.

The fashion industry will listen to me as a consumer. Major companies won’t hear the cries of exploited garment workers across the sea, but they will hear my American dollars loud and clear. If my purchasing habits communicate that I value the ethical treatment of people over a “bargain,” you can bet that companies will begin to rethink their strategy.

I have the privilege of choice.

In a world of online shopping, I have hundreds of options literally at my fingertips when it’s time to make a purchase. I can choose to “shop ethically” and spend money at companies that reflect my belief in treating people fairly.

The term “ethical fashion” can be confusing. We have to start by understanding what "unethical fashion" is. As of 2016, about 98% of the clothes purchased in the USA are manufactured overseas. The vast majority of these items are produced in factories that underpay, use child labor, abuse and threaten workers, participate in varying types of trafficking, and force employees to work in dangerous conditions. These factories produce the cheapest results, which they sell to major companies who mark up the prices and sell them for far more than they're worth. 

So, ethical fashion is the opposite of that. Ethical fashion is created by companies who pay all of their employees a fair wage (whether that be in the US or internationally) and source their materials sustainably.

As you may have guessed, ethical fashion comes with a higher price-tag. In order to pay people fairly, consumers have to be willing to pay a little more for their clothes.

I think this is the biggest obstacle to overcome.

There are plenty of practical steps I’ve taken to help myself and others in this endeavor: learning to shop less, shopping secondhand when necessary, taking care of items to prolong their life, shopping out of season, etc… but beyond the practical steps, I think there’s a mindset shift that has to happen:

We need to view the way we shop as an act of generosity.

In the church, we talk a lot about generosity, but it’s usually in the context of how we give. I think we’re missing out on the fact that where we spend our money speaks just as loudly about our values as where we give our money.

I once heard someone say, “Every dollar we spend is casting a vote for the type of world we want to live in.”

Let’s cast the vote of our money towards a world that says the life of a working mother in Bangladesh is more valuable than our need for cheap fashion.

Let’s buy clothes that don’t just empower ourselves, but empower the hands that made them. 

Let’s let the Gospel crash into our closets.

I never would have dreamed that God would weave my heart for the oppressed into the world of fashion.

I never would have guessed that He would transform shopping into a holy experience.

But isn’t that just like Him?

Transforming the vain and hollow into something truly beautiful.

Ellie Hughes is a blogger, consultant, and advocate for global justice through ethical fashion. She resides happily under the clouds of Portland, Oregon with her very tall husband and very short corgi, but her roots are in sunny Mexico where she spent her childhood as a missionary-kid. Ellie is passionate about empowering people towards conscious consumerism from a place of hope instead of guilt. 

You can follow her life on instagram @seflessly_styled and learn more about ethical fashion on her website SelflesslyStyled.com

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[1] Shima Akhter The True Cost

 

You Matter. by Sarah Schwartz

"He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; Then it was well. Is not that what it means to know Me?" Declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 22:16)

Yesterday found me squeezed into a teeny tiny aisle seat on a flight from Portland to Los Angeles, my body doubled over with grief.  A busy weekend at home had not allowed me the space to process the national conversation surrounding women, but upon being alone with my thoughts in 22E, I crumbled under the weight of this brutal election cycle, this last blow finding the cracks in my dam and causing me to shake with sobs.

My grief is two fold—first for the flesh and blood image bearers who have consistently been disparaged and debased in the public square over the last year.

And second, for the manner in which the gospel, this good news of Jesus—where the last are to be first and the poor called blessed—for the way this "good news" has been bastardized to support and animate the injuring of the vulnerable.

I grieve for those hurt (myself included) and I grieve that the name of Jesus—who inaugurated his ministry by declaring that the Spirit of the Lord had anointed him to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim the captives be released, and the oppressed set free—I grieve that his name is being used as a tool to defend that which is unquestionably evil.

Oh, Church, how quick we have been to sacrifice the defenseless on the altar of power.

***

So let me say this clearly, because it is not being said nearly enough.

Racism is not just yucky or unpleasantit is an affront to the gospel.

Sexism is not just distasteful or uncomfortableit is an affront to the gospel.

To dismiss or minimize or stand idly by while the image of God is maligned in the least of these is an affront to the gospel.

In the words of James Cone, a Church that does not lend their whole selves to the defense and dignifying of the vulnerable is to be charged with theological bankruptcy. 

***

And so let me say this clearly, to myself and to the countless others who have been humiliated not only by words and deeds magnified over the airwaves, but by a church that has deemed us acceptable collateral on the path to worldly gain:

You matter more than politics.

You matter more than power.

More than tax cuts.

More than Supreme Court Justices.

More than poll numbers.

You matter more than any party or label.

More than wealth.

More than trade deals.

You matter more than the comfort of the powerful.

More than the comfort of the already comfortable.

Your dignity is non-negotiable.

You matter.

You matter.

You matter.

***

"I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning...No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act.
Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless." (Isaiah 1: 14-17, MSG)