Everyday a Hurricane

texas

Hi everybody!

The nation has Hurricane Harvey fever right now as we all watch our friends and family in Texas face this incredible storm. The devastation is stunning and I know us Becks are having trouble peeling our eyes away from the news coverage primarily because we are so familiar with the areas that are effected and are concerned for the people we care about who are in the middle of it.

For those of you who may be reading this from Galveston/Houston know that we are actively praying for these rains to stop and for flood waters to recede quickly. We are also asking how we might be most helpful to the recovery process once that gets underway. One thing is for sure…Texas will not recover alone. I am certain of it.

For those of us at a distance I thought it might be a good time to repost a poem I wrote a few months back. I was inspired to write it after reading some great counsel about how to best consider terrorist attacks without losing your mind with fear. Its so hard to see news coverage after attacks and hurricanes and be stuck in the “in betweenness” of it all. We’re not necessarily there to experience the devastation of it all first hand but we’re stuck watching it from a distance, feeling helpless.

Well the writer of the article I read said that the reality is people in our very neighborhoods and cities experience personal hurricanes and terrorist attacks everyday. Everday, someone gets a cancer diagnosis or in a car wreck. Aging parents need care or children are bullied at school. Mr. Rogers said it best when he described how his mother helped him digest difficult news: “Look for the helpers,” she told him. This has been the best advice as I’ve watched the news coverage and seen countless men and women in boats working to rescue folks in Texas. Its also helpful as I watch from a distance and realize that while I can’t go help an emergency crew right now I can head to my neighbors house and ask how I can lighten her load while she battles severe morning sickness. Be encouraged friends. There’s always something we can do to make the world a little lighter and always someone who can lend a helping hand. Lets all dig in and give where we can both in Houston and at home.

Everyday a Hurricane

By Courtney Beck

After the Hurricane hit New Orleans

I went to Jazz City to see what could be done

Hundreds gathered early one morning

Rallying for orders and direction.

Our leader took to a makeshift metal stage

An open top, turned upside down,

Elevating him above the crowd.

He shouted from his belly

That Jazz city would rise again because

Lumber and nails could join together

Via voluntary hands

The crowd shook off their slumber

As his cadence quickened into

shouts of togetherness. Excitement

filled the air in audible crescendo

as my neighbor; a German native

cheered and laughed from her guts.

“Oh how wonderful!” She exclaimed.

“This is all so incredibly AMERICAN!”

A hurricane hit my neighbor’s house last night.

His father just passed away.

There’s no day, quite like this day

To be an American.

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To Worship with the President

habitat

This past weekend, Andy and I had the opportunity to attend Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School lesson in Plains, Georgia. I had learned from a friend shortly after we moved here that he still teaches regularly and had put it on my mental bucket list to do at some point. When I heard of his recent fainting spell on a Habitat work site I moved it up a notch in my mind, recognizing that at 92, it might be important to do sooner rather than later.

I have always loved President Carter. Its my understanding that he was not popular in his presidency but having not been alive when he was elected my understandings of him have always been in relationship to his work with Habitat for Humanity. Its a common misunderstanding that he started the organization when the reality is simply that he used his name and connections to put a once unknown organization on the map, so to speak.

I still remember reading the chapter in Forces for Good that talked about the benefits of what the author called a “superevangelist.” If a person of good reputation likes your organizational mission and agrees to champion it the opportunities for exponential growth abound. Every year that I worked at Habitat we would receive updates about the annual Jimmy Carter work project that builds 100 plus homes each year in a community of great need. Mr. Carter mentioned this on Sunday and I just about cried to hear him say that at 92 he had helped build 150 homes with families in Canada a few months ago. I mean really…the man looked like he could be my grandpa and I found myself simultaneously in awe of this man who’s given his life to the service of others AND at the same time wanting to ask if I could just sit on his lap for a minute.

The entire experience, from our entry into Plains at 8:30 Sunday morning to our travels around town before we left at 2:00 just pointed to all that is right, good and beautiful about our country. People showed up for service in any manner of dress and as the President started his time with us he asked where people in the audience were from. A dozen or more states were represented as well as a couple of countries. I recall Japan and Ukraine. He also asked if there were any missionaries present and had one of them open his time up in prayer.

Mr. Carter started in with Galatians and reminded us that despite whats happening in America today we can rest assured that Jesus Christ was no racist for “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” He then took us into 1 Peter 3:

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For

“Whoever desires to love life
    and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
    let him seek peace and pursue it.

President Carter was criticized in his presidency for failing to, quite frankly, worry about the politics. In a long form article by the Rolling Stone six years ago the writer states that he became known for focusing on goals that “required tremendous diplomatic exertion…if only because they were of such low political priority to everyone else. ‘There was something more than a desire to lead,” says Hertzberg. “That was very strong. But as strong was the self-sacrificial ideal of doing the right thing even if it cost him the presidency.’

This sentiment about President Carter oozed out of every minute of the experience and I can’t help but find myself rising to the call of his (and Rosalynn’s) life. I mean think about it. We were in Plains, Georgia at 10:00 in the morning on a Sunday in August. Its two and a half hours from the nearest metropolis and there is exactly one street going through the town with six stores that sell nothing but peanut butter and peanut butter ice cream. There is one restaurant called “the cafeteria” that you can eat at after church is over which is just as fancy as it sounds: grab a tray and choose between fried or roasted chicken, green beans or collard greens.

Yet by the time we were finished at that little Baptist Church on a country lane in Plains we had listened to him urge us to be more sympathetic, more unified, and more compassionate. Then we watched him step aside from his lectern to show us that where we fail to do that, and he reminded us that we will fail to do that, we have no better partner than Jesus Christ whom we all turned to worship. And that was it for me. That partner word. Its the word we used approximately 10 billion times at Habitat to emphasize how you change a life. You do it by showing up and working in humble partnership with God and your neighbors.

In this way, Carter is one in a million. All the history books seem to read that he was a failure of a president. And perhaps its actually true. In many respects he probably was. But this is also a president who knew, or at least struggled hard to hold onto the knowledge, that the presidency was never the point. It was what he could do with the calling he’d received.

We were reminded on Sunday that we follow a savior who received none of the glory this side of heaven that people consider worthy of honor. Jesus of Nazareth was a childless, unmarried man born into poverty who was killed at the hands of the religious and political elite at the age of 33 after just three years of public ministry. Yet by partnering with the risen Spirit of this man, Jimmy Carter is eliminating poverty, eradicating crippling disease and promoting world peace. The man is truly a living embodiment of Christ’s words in John:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”

Its tempting, when confronted with your heroes, to see their lives and think that we’re supposed to take precise notes and follow in their footsteps. This inspiration can last for a season but it quickly dies when things get difficult and you realize that your hero is actually a human being who can’t possibly live up to the expectations of a god. Heroes do serve a purpose though and the worthy ones are those that get out of the way and point you to a lasting hope. President Carter did that for me this weekend when he put down his notes and sat in a pew beside his wife of 71 years and sang “Turn your Eyes upon Jesus.” What a privilege it was to worship with the President. I will not soon forget it.

Acknowledgement, Humility and Connection

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So this past Friday I went out on a limb and decided to rejoin Facebook. I had pulled the plug four years ago when I felt like I was somehow closer to living more of my life online than living my actual life. (When you’re walking into work and wondering what people are posting while you’re supposed to be preparing for a busy day of interactions with real live people, its probably time to cut the cord.)

I jumped back on last week in an effort to feel more connected to our community here but within 24 hours I wondered if I had made a mistake. By Sunday, my entire feed was filled with news articles and blog posts about the events in Charlottesville and as someone who tries to regulate how much global news threatens her inner peace it was all a bit unsettling. Don’t get me wrong, I have STRONG opinions about whats happening in our country. I even posted a blurb from the President of Emory that I so appreciated on the topic. But sometimes I wonder if posting our deepest held opinions on a social media outlet ever gets us anywhere in the end. Maybe we’re just supposed to be fully present and compassionate in our daily interactions at work or in the grocery line and work our way towards unity that way. 

Then I read this in a post by Tim Keller on the topic:

Twentieth-century fascist movements that made absolute values out of [“Blood and Soil”]—putting one race and one nation’s good above the good of all—also claimed to champion traditional family values and moral virtues over against the decadence of relativistic modern culture. Even though [fascists] were no friends of orthodox Christianity (see Adolf Hitler’s heretical “Positive Christianity” movement), they could and can still appeal to people within our own circles. Internet outreach from white nationalist organizations can radicalize people who are disaffected by moral decline in society. So it is absolutely crucial to speak up about the biblical teaching on racism—not just now, but routinely. We need to make those in our circles impervious to this toxic teaching. 

Now to be clear, I don’t think I have the power to sway anyone’s deeply held beliefs on a topic any more than the next gal. But in reading this I felt a nudge that staying silent on the topic isn’t necessarily the answer either. We all become products of what we put our attention to and if anyone reads this post and feels nudged in any way towards compassion than I’ll count it all worth it. So here goes nothing.

I can remember a dozen or more instants off the top of my head when I realized the color of my skin bought me a type of privilege that I hadn’t earned. There was the time I overheard my black co-worker responding to an apartment listing on her lunch break and watched her slam the phone down after insisting angrily that of course she had a job or she wouldn’t be calling to apply in the first place. (No one’s ever asked me that in response to my questions about an apartment) There was the time a local donut shop wouldn’t allow a 45 year old black volunteer I was working with to pick up a box of donuts I had ordered in advance because they thought she was stealing them from the 22 year old white girl who had placed the order the day before (I’ve never been questioned incessantly when sent in to pick something up on behalf of another.) There was the time I looked at my “competition” for a job waiting to be called back for an interview that I had just finished and knew without a doubt that I would land it because my private school college professor had admonished me ahead of time to wear a skirt suit and no one told him that his short sleeved dress shirt didn’t go with his tie and dark sneakers. There are also the untold number of times that I introduced well meaning white volunteer groups to a group of leaders on a work site only to watch them shake hands with all the white construction team leads but ignore the black future homeowner I’d also introduced who was standing directly next to the team lead.

These instants all happened but the one that shocked me the most was the moment directly after the donut shenanigans. Jackie and I got back in the car after she had been told to find me and I immediately felt shame on Jackie’s behalf that she had to be a part of that entire scene. No middle aged woman wants to hunt down the 22 year old college kid who’s running an errand across the street to tell her that she’s not exactly what Dunkin Donuts had in mind. We silently grabbed our seats in the Habitat van with the four other African Americans that were in the car with us and started making our way to our destination when I broke the silence and apologized to Jackie for the whole ordeal. She shrugged it off with an “it happens” when one of the other ladies in the car shared a recent experience at a grocery store. She had handed a clerk a $20 bill to pay for her items and the clerk slid her change back to her on the surface of the cashiers desk. “It was like he didn’t even want to chance that he might touch me when he returned the change.” she told us. My internal jaw dropped and then followed quickly by my actual physical jaw when all five women in the van said in some form or fashion: “Oh, I HATE when they do that!”

I was shocked. It had never occurred to me that someone might not want to touch me because of the color of my skin. It hand’t occurred to me because it just simply had never happened. You pay for your food, grab your change from the cashiers hand and go. But that conversation with those five women changed me. From that moment forward I couldn’t help but see all the tiny gestures that all of us, myself included, made or didn’t make due to skin color. We defer to the white people in the room for their opinions more quickly than the black. We ask the white men in our church to consider eldership but overlook the black gentleman who’s faithfully served for years. I walk into a crowded room and say hello to the group of white friends seated at a table in front of me and completely miss acknowledging the black man who was so kind to OPEN THE DOOR FOR ME TO WALK THROUGH in the first place. (Emphasis mine because I’m 10 plus years into my journey of awareness on this topic and I did this approximately 6 weeks ago. I was kicking myself all the way home and at least aware enough to apologize for my rudeness and introduce myself).

Here’s the thing. Its all about intent, right? White supremacists are a whole other category of people with a severely twisted ethos. As the President of Emory University said in her email to students this week: “supremacist groups are not engaged in the difficult work of informed civil discourse… These groups seek to undermine the fabric of civil society through ignorance, fear, and violence.” This is truth and I think we need to denounce this activity with every cell in our bodies. My question is, what do we do when all we have left is to look at a facebook feed that’s filled with clamor and fear and a heart that’s wondering if that feed is total reality?

For me its looked a lot like acknowledgement, humility and connection. That day in that van I had to acknowledge truthfully that my experience has not ever been close to what those women have experienced. I have never once had to reconsider pursuing something because of my skin color and my friends in that car had. If the roles had been reversed and I was a 45 year old white woman told to go find the 22 year old black girl because I didn’t have the right skin color I would have promptly said “Excuuuse me” with all the sass I could muster and said “Either give me the donuts that my organization has paid for fair and square or you can do without our business and all of our friends business from now on. AND DAMMIT WE ALL LOVE A GOOD DONUT!” But for Jackie, the look on her face showed me that this was a common occurrence and she didn’t feel like making a scene. (which means we can also have a little more understanding next time we see someone making a scene too, right? Maybe they’ve just had it up to here with this crap. Can you blame them?)

After acknowledging the difference I found that a little humility went a long way. And hear me. I’m not saying white guilt. None of us tapped our mothers from the womb and said I’ll take white skin, blonde hair and blue eyes thank you very much. Feeling guilty doesn’t help anyone. But I do think it means we make amends when we notice that we screw up. I also think it might require an openness to the fact that success might look different than we thought.

A few years ago we installed a new pastor at our church in Galveston. He has an adopted African American daughter and I would assume has a similar stance on these topics that I do (though we’ve never discussed this). Within short time I noticed that the African Americans in our congregation were entering various leadership roles slowly but surely. One Sunday morning, Terry, a teddy bear of a black man with a booming speaking voice stepped up to the podium and read the scripture passage that the Pastor would be teaching from that morning. It could have just been me but I think I could have heard a pin drop. I closed my eyes and his voice sounded like an angel’s speaking truth about the God he and I both love. After he was done reading Terry closed the Bible and prayed the most eloquent and intimate prayer. With my eyes closed it felt like Terry and I and God in one room by ourselves, communicating.

I went up to him at the end of the service and thanked him for reading. He said he’d been nervous all morning because he’d not spoken in front of a crowd for a while. I told him that I hoped he would do it again because his reading and prayer blessed me profoundly. He thanked me and we went on to enjoy the rest of our Sunday.

Maybe this is what revolution actually looks like. Revolution after all is defined as “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system.” Well, the social order of our day appears to mean throwing our opinions on the moving target that is social media and saying RAGE and then going back into our churches and workplaces and letting all the white people continue to run the show. But what if the forcible overthrow of the dastardly tremors of systemic racism in our country starts with acknowledging the gifts and the very presence of the people of various races we encounter by saying with our words or our actions “You are stunning. I see you and you take my breath away.” 

Is this not the Imago Dei in action? We can share articles and like posts until the cows come home but if it doesn’t work itself out in our day to day interactions then all of it is nonsense and all we walk away with are anxious and angry hearts. So perhaps today you’ll stop at a grocery store or walk through a park and meet someone who’s different than you are. I know I will. I’m praying in this moment that I can be present enough to acknowledge that person’s presence. If we’re exchanging money for goods purchased I am probably going to skim his or her hand before one of us takes our leave. I’ve done this since the day I left that van, a new person for the education I’d received from the other passengers in the car.  I don’t know what its like to be overlooked or ignored because of the color of my skin but I do know what it feels like to be ignored for other reasons. It’s lonely. And I can stare at my phone and wonder what I can do to make a difference or I can leave my phone in the diaper bag and have a conversation with the other mom at the park who’s kids look different than mine. At some point along the way we’ll get past the awkwardness and realize that we’re a lot more similar than we are different. And the world will be changed a degree for the connection we’ve made.

 

A Spacious Place for Creativity

woman and city

For so long I had felt incredibly confident in my stance on women in the home and workplace. I know, I know. You’re probably ready to bounce off this page as who hasn’t heard every argument in the book when it comes to the Mommy wars. I totally get it. You know what though? The other day I had a bit of an epiphany on this front: What if all the debate on the topic of work and domesticity is actually healthy? Sure, we can go down rabbit trails that are unhelpful. Yet lets be fair to ourselves…we’re talking about the meat of life here. Our callings to the people we love and the world outside of our households. Shouldn’t we allow ourselves a bit of debate on such important topics? Yes, I believe we should.

The funny thing is that it didn’t take long after I hit the fork in the road that suggested that I would need to contend with this debate on a personal level that I felt my confidence slipping away. You see, for some time now, I’ve felt pretty certain that there are multiple ways to build an admirable life. I have friends and family members who are full time working moms. I know others who stay at home full time with their kids from the start. I know people who mix it up in various seasons. I also know people who have chosen not to marry and/or have children at all. So many of these people are building lives and families that I admire and I glean bits and pieces from each of them as they live out their lives in front of me.

That being said, I won’t quickly forget where I was when I heard the voice in my head that said “Really? You’re changing life lanes? Are you really allowed to do that?” I was driving on Harborside Drive in Galveston in my last week at work before we packed up and moved to Atlanta. Already in my third trimester with Ellie, we had decided that I would stay home to start if only by necessity at first. We moved six weeks before she was born and there was clearly no point in finding a job only to take maternity leave almost as soon as we hit the ground. I didn’t know how I would take to staying at home full time so I reasoned that if I wasn’t built for it then I could consider getting back out there once we found our rhythm. (which by the way…do we ever really find the rhythm? No, of course we don’t. OK, just checking)

I was thinking about these issues recently as I was reading Paul’s freedom manifesto that is Galatians. There’s this verse which, again, Eugene Peterson translates so beautifully in the Message:

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. So live creatively friends…Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” Galatians 5:25-6:1, 4-5

Isn’t that just lovely to read? I love that a passage in the Bible is calling us to live creatively. This book is so much more than a book of rules to live by. Its a story of the Spirit igniting fires in the hearts of men and women to live beyond the categories we all want to put ourselves and each other into. Its saying that the mother who works a full time job and snuggles with her children on Saturday mornings, is just as valuable as the woman who encourages her neighbors at the playground down the street on a Monday afternoon. When you’re following the spirit’s leading (a key point), there can be any number of ways to live out any aspect of our lives. Its also saying that the couples without children are just as gorgeous in their spirit led careers and callings in the world as the single man or woman is in her willingness to mentor or paint or cook or account or whatever it is she does that culls out her gifting for the world to experience with her.

All this makes me want to do two things:

  1. Encourage, Encourage, Encourage. Can we be honest with each other? Does anyone really know what their doing with themselves? No, none of us do. We are all stumbling forward through our days and as a friend told me before Ellie was born “Whatever you decide. Its hard.” Work is hard, raising children is hard, singleness is hard, married life is hard. With all of it being so difficult in its varying ways I think we could do with a lot more encouragement and a lot less judgement of ourselves first and then other people. (A rabbit trail here but I really think our judgments of other people simply stem from our lack of confidence in our own selves. But that’s for another day). I’m so grateful that God has at least freed me up enough to be over the top proud of my friends and family members. Rest assured next time we get together for coffee…I am probably resisting the urge to bust out my pom poms and say “Get it, girl.” I really do stand amazed by the women and men in my life and I was not always that way. That is a straight up gift from God.
  2. Lean into the Spirit of God. The more I get to know the Lord, the more I realize that being in his presence is a lot more like taking a deep calming breath. Following his lead is lot more like watching a field of wildflowers bloom than it is striving to be or do something with all of my own might. I want to know where the spaces are that let me breathe deeply. This doesn’t mean I’m sitting in a corner all day mediating. It does mean that at some point in the day I am spending time getting quiet with God and then carrying that soul quiet into the work that I’ve been called to do.

Lets face it. Women in particular have an edge in the creativity game. We get to nurture loved ones and neighbors AND we also get to participate in the stewardship of our culture in a way that men simply don’t. This is a blessing. Yet as many before me have pointed out, if our theology or world view doesn’t work for ALL women, it doesn’t work. If it doesn’t work for the woman in the African slum AND the woman in an American suburb than its never going to be open enough to include any of our paths and the myriad directions those paths can meander. My greatest prayer on behalf of the women in my life is that I might be among their greatest fans and cheerleaders. May I get quiet enough, even if its just for this moment, to hear God say the same thing back to me.

“He has brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me, because he delighted in me.”

Ps. 18:19