PC: KSB

Who is my neighbor?

You hear a lot of talk about loving your neighbor, but what does that really mean? Neighbor love can be defined in three ways and about 450 words, so let’s go.

Neighbors are the people that live on your street. Americans in general are pretty bad about knowing the people who live proximate to them. My dad, cognizant of the importance of loving the people in your local community, always made sure he built relationships with these neighbors and served them. I grew up knowing a few neighbors but definitely failed at reaching out to the people across the street and next door once I began renting on my own. That’s something I’m working on in my new location and which comes into the story in my next post.

Then there’s the idea of neighbor that Scripture holds in the story of the Good Samaritan: your neighbor is anyone you come into contact with.

This requires compassion for anyone you meet, regardless of having a pre-established trust. This requires a bit of bravery and stepping outside your comfort zone because you might not like the people you meet – you might even be from conflicting religious or ethnic groups as in the story Jesus told – but still God commands us to love, to give of ourselves and resources, to those neighbors. (And honestly, God doesn’t ask much else of us besides to love.)

Plus, getting to know the people you meet might not be bad! Why fear when you could have a spirit of openness and a vision to see the good in others? You could meet some pretty fantastic people by looking up, and if you hadn’t chanced it, you never would have known them. That’s how I met my collabo and now good friend on the single “Astrogirl,” and you can listen to it to see how that went!

Finally, this concept of loving neighbor applies to loving those you haven’t met but still impact indirectly through how you take care of the earth, stand up against systemic injustice, et cetera.

Even if you don’t immediately see the effects, someone will be impacted by your putting milk jugs and soda cans, which aren’t bio-degradable, into landfills, and it will eventually come back to you too. Even if you aren’t personally impacted by immigration policy, the migrants and refugees who spent years searching for safety and even being promised a home here, are. And even if your biological son wasn’t shot because of his skin color, that son’s family and community are impacted by your choice to stay silent or to speak up against racial injustice.

No person is more deserving of human rights and a safe and healthy home than another. No neighbor deserves less love because of cultural, emotional, or social distance.

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Cockroach. PC: KSB

Where do cockroaches go when they die? (A poem)

Behold a tale of myst’ry and woe

And the questionable fate of where cockroaches go

Upon their death, if they ever die,

(For nobody knows if they do…sigh.)

 

Heaven, hell, or the next door apartment?

Do they die outside or in a compartment?

They can resist a bomb scare, or so I’ve been told,

But doesn’t a cockroach ever grow old?

 

I once saw one fall down a drain;

Another in the fridge was fain

To take a nap, and never quite

Woke up from the cold, oh what a fright.

 

When cleaning to extinguish them

I found five exoskeletons

Atop the black refrigerator.

They died before; I found them later.

 

But most remain a mystery.

Many are born, oh cute babies;

They grow into teenager years,

And then their adult fuzz appears.

 

Brown and hairy are their legs,

And they continue to lay eggs

But rarely do I find them dead;

They only multiply instead.

 

I hope you enjoyed this poem! As you likely noticed in my last post and in this poem, I’ve had quite a few adventures living with Mr. Cockroach and his family. The German roaches are mysterious and plentiful neighbors, bold and full of life to be sure! If you cracked a smile at either post, be sure to like it and share through your social media. (I know you’re on it!) And don’t be shy; comment your own cockroach stories below, too. (No spider ones allowed though. Seriously, I can’t stand those creatures.)

God bless, and may your lives be

cockroach-free,

As mine it seems, may never be. 

 

cockroach. PC: KSB

Open letter to cockroaches

Of all the bugs with which I’ve shared a home, cockroaches are certainly not the worst. We have the German kind, so they’re really more like beetles, and they don’t seem to do anything except be everywhere, so it’s not that bad. I honestly find it amusing at points, though also a bit annoying. Because I am frustrated with certain things, I have crafted a letter to the king of the cockroach clan that resides in my apartment complex. Please enjoy and share this if you have similar issues with the cockroach community.

Dear Mr. Cockroach,

How art thou, O ruler of my apartment? I don’t know why I think of you as a mister, but I do. Evidently there are enough women in your bunch to multiply your offspring in this humble domain you have chosen to be your kingdom. That’s fine; babies are good, but I do have a couple things I’d like to discuss with you for the mutual benefit of Apartment 301 and the building as a whole.

  1. You reign in this apartment, in this whole building in fact, but you don’t pay rent. Do you know the cost of living these days? Since you use the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room more than I do and repose in the living room and bed room as well, I think it’s only fair that you do your part. With the amount of roaches in your clan, it really shouldn’t be that expensive. So please, I know you’re the king, but you have to think of the good of your people (meaning us four actual humans) in your apartment kingdom. Thanks.
  2. I don’t mind sharing with you. I really don’t. I like to think of myself as a friendly and hospitable person. But when you walk all over me (literally when I’m on the couch and you’re walking across my body), that’s too much. Let me maintain some dignity, and don’t abuse this relationship. I need some respect.
  3. This respect implies privacy as well. I’ve learned to close my eyes when you decide to sleep on the wall a yard from my face. I know you won’t hurt me. But when you are on the toilet seat and I need to use the loo, that’s unacceptable. I would appreciate space in my bedroom, though I’ve learned to share, but I absolutely need the privacy of a free toilet seat when I need to relieve myself. Just go on the wall. It’s only a few feet away. Don’t claim my chance to have a throne just because you’re king.
  4. And please stop entering the fridge to eat our food. It only ends up killing you anyway.

Thank you for hearing my complaints, O Mr. Cockroach, and considering my words. You know where to find me to discuss these matters further. Thank you again.

Sincerely,

Katelyn Skye Bennett (Skye)

2017 Solar Eclipse, PC: KSB

It’s been 500 years since the Reformation, and I’m calling for unity

Today my former evangelical church celebrated 500 years since the Reformation. My alma mater has made a whole semester of it. But even as a Protestant myself, I’m not so sure I want to be celebrating it.

Since moving to Denver (which is why I left my previous church), I’ve befriended a house of Catholic volunteers. A few months ago, I was volunteering alongside one of the folks doing this one year service program, and he invited me to their weekly mass and dinner. Now I’ve become a regular and call myself a friend of the house. I love going each week because it is such a place of peace.

And I’ve learned a lot about Catholicism since I became friends with them a couple months ago. But I realize that this might startle some of my family, so let me give some background.

I grew up with people who had “converted” from Catholicism to Protestantism, or evangelicalism more specifically. They saw and thus I heard of the dark side of the Catholic Church: the extreme focus on works over faith, where doing was all that mattered. To me, it seems like a hopeless task to reach the throne of God, coming from that perspective; just read Romans 3:23, 6:23, and John 3:16). I was taught that Catholics were not Christians, and indeed I knew several that were not.

I grew up in a pretty atheist state, although nominal Catholicism was prevalent as well, likely due to cultural ties and passed-down religion.

But when I went to college, I met Catholics who were Christians. These people believed in Jesus for their salvation. They were people with different traditions, more liturgical blessings instead of the freestyle prayers to which I was accustomed, but they were people who believed that Jesus is the Savior of the world and loved those around them as Jesus did.

Then, in a Social Change sociology class during my senior year, I read documents from both evangelical and Catholic leaders. The Catholic Church is well-organized and unified in its beliefs, whereas there is no one leader of the evangelical church making statements on doctrine. Thus, while is more difficult to define the global “evangelical” viewpoint on any issue, the papal encyclical for example, lays the Catholic stance out.

What I’ve noticed is that the Catholic Church does a lot better job of caring about social justice and for the earth than the evangelical church. It’s understood as a natural part of Christianity, although evangelicals in America generally have a harder time seeing that. I admire and agree with these things, however. I think the evangelical/Protestant church can learn a lot from the Catholic Church in these regards.

The Catholic Church also has a richer understanding of history and a lot more examples of faith since they do not skip the whole period between the early Church and the Reformation. Though all Christians are saints, the Church-ordained saints serve as examples of how to live holy lives. They’re not gods or idols, but they are examples in the faith.

(Now, the Catholic Church can also learn from the Protestant church, and we can both learn from the Orthodox Church as well. The Church is like a mixed media sculpture, and our diversity has the opportunity to strengthen and unify us as we are molded into the image of Christ.)

Because I’m friends with this house of volunteers, I’m now having conversations before dinner and hearing words at mass about Church unity. These Catholics in their twenties and the priests who are preaching have a heart for everyone who calls themselves Christian. As a Protestant Christian, I appreciate and agree with this too. And it is crucial to hear this as many celebrate the Reformation today, since the Reformation stands as a marker of division in Church history.

I’m still learning a lot. I don’t agree with everything Catholic, and I still call myself a Protestant. But I see a lot of shared beliefs in our diverse practices, and I don’t believe that we have to be exactly the same in order to have unity or worship together.

I’m also not ready to say that the Reformation was completely bad. Martin Luther called out some things that needed to be said in that day, such as paying for indulgences to save deceased relatives from their sins. It was a huge money making scam that hurt the poor and corrupted the truth back in the 1500s, and Luther was a prophetic voice in the Church to stop it. For what he did to restore the Gospel truth (that we are saved by grace through faith) and thus care for suffering communities in body and soul, I am grateful.

But I don’t want to glorify division in the church, as I fear is happening particularly at this 500 year marker of the Protestant Reformation. Today, countless Protestants are rejoicing at their Reformation from the Catholic Church, and many Catholics are looking on saying, “Are we not one Church?” Protestant Stanley Hauerwas writes an educated article about the Reformation, disunity, and sin here, which I encourage you to read.

We can have different practices, we can all celebrate truth and grace and the living out of our faith, and there is no getting around the fact that we do have different histories now, but are we not one Church with the same goal of building the Kingdom of God?

Dark purple lips to match my shirt and skirt. I was ready for the job fair! PC: KSB

My story: how fashion reflects my spirit

Purple lipstick is always a good choice. Wearing it last week, I felt confident and on top of the world, basically like Fena Gitu. I wore it to match my skirt, and it changed my outlook on the day. I love lipstick and purple and the two combined. But there’s a spiritual point to this, and it applies to people of all genders.

Thanks for sharing in my story.

Today when the cashier at Wendy’s said purple looked good on me, it reminded me of how far I’ve come. I dress how I feel, but I have a rule now that I must always wear some splash of color in my outfit to share some joy. I began this practice during an eternal Chicagoland winter several years ago when everyone around was wearing black and grey like the gloomy sky above. Even when I’m mourning, I’ll wear a bright scarf or necklace on top of the black to symbolize hope.

But this was not always the case. In junior high, life was rough. Some girls at my tiny Christian school bullied me, and I had few friends. Why they excluded me, I never knew. I was different than them and refused to conform. Did our particular differences weird them out? I honestly never found an answer. I tried to keep a pure heart and to be on good terms with these girls, but that didn’t stop my understanding of my worth from dropping as they treated me poorly and ignored me.

My attire also reflected my musical interests, one of the differences I mentioned. Skillet was my favorite band at the time; I was obsessed with the band that evolved from grunge when I was born to hard rock around the time of my obsession. A quick Google search will show how it impacted my fashion choices — in short, with lots of black. The punk, rock, and emo scenes drew me. I still enjoy those genres, but my situation and outlook on life has changed, as have my clothing tastes. I don’t wear t-shirts displaying mummies anymore, although I really loved that one in eighth grade before I lost it at a basketball practice. (Sorry I can’t find it online to show you, but here’s a photo of me around the same time.)

Me and a special friend the summer after eighth grade, lol. Photo belongs to KSB.

My special friend and I the summer after eighth grade, lol. Photo belongs to KSB.

Life was miserable at school, and so I dressed how I felt: in black, lots of grey, sometimes olive green — generally lifeless colors. At the time I thought I just liked the colors, but I see now that I wore them as a reflection of my emotions.

I had a total of two friends at school in eighth grade, and I must have had a few clothes items that weren’t black or grey, because one day one of those two girls told me my purple sweater looked good on me. This comment, however random it was, stuck with me.

Slowly, I began incorporating more color into my wardrobe, including a lot of purple. (Towards the end of high school, a girl I babysat was wearing a turtleneck she liked asked me what my style was, and I could only think to say purple.) School also grew gradually better over the years. College was the real game changer. People accepted me with all my quirks and unique interests there.

Today I adore color — particularly purple, which does go well with my complexion and green eyes, but I appreciate anything bright. Color is beautiful. It represents life, joy, and hope. Color makes others smile. This is why I love to wear it now: to bring smiles to those around me, particularly when the weather is grey and everyone’s attire matches it. I want to be a ray of sunshine.

And I’m not the only one who’s had to overcome something difficult and came out rocking colorful lips. Nyakim Gatwech faced discrimination and harmful ignorance based on her dark skin in her modeling career but decided to rock bold colors in the face of the naysayers. Her story is quite different than mine, but I encourage you to read it here. Her colorful style is symbolic, too.

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As a disclaimer, I do know some exuberant people who prefer to wear dark colors, but I personally view color as symbolic of life and have found that a bright sweater can make people smile when it stands out amidst grey coats on a rainy day. I praise God for bringing me joy in Him so that I can share it with others, even through something as simple as my wardrobe. Evidently, our outfits aren’t always just clothes, after all; as symbols, they contain meaning.

Seven years ago, I felt invisible. Now I am a new woman, a confident one who is learning her worth and beauty and calling that out in others. As Fena sings*, do your thing and be a queen. And of course, remember that you were created in the image of a loving, holy, and entirely capable God who sees you.

 

*See link in first graf. Really. It’s worth it.

 

Taken at #WRD2017 at the Denver capitol. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Why you should support refugee resettlement today

Refugee resettlement is a personal issue to me. Not only do I live with and attend church with 150-200 resettled refugees, who became my dear friends once I met them in the United States, but I also have friends who have applied to receive refugee status and are waiting for that to start the process of potential resettlement.

The family fled the Democratic Republic of Congo, where their hearts still lie, in order to protect their physical lives. They lived in a Tanzania for a short bit, but the country did not provide services to help them, so they flew to Madagascar to stay with a friend and “survive better” there. The youngest family member is six and has already traveled from DRC, through Rwanda and Burundi to Tanzania, then through Kenya to the island nation of Madagascar. He has spent time living in a city in DRC, one in Tanzania, and two in Madagascar since 2015.

Praise God that this family received the first document from the UNHCR stating that they are being considered for refugee status. But after that, if they receive status, the chances of them being resettled are still incredibly low.

Less than one percent of the 22.5 million refugees worldwide are resettled. Refugees can spend 8 years in a camp, 13 as one of my friends did, or their whole lives. Some of my church friends were born in a camp. (Many refugees live in cities, too, as these particular friends do.) Because of the diversity of protracted refugee situations, the length may vary by country and situation.

Despite the amount of people waiting to resettle to a safer nation with more opportunities, the United States has cut its numbers in half. (This article by PEW Research shares more numbers regarding the history of refugees in the U.S.) In the 2016 calendar year, we accepted just under 97,000 people, with a goal of 110,000 in the fiscal year due to the Syrian refugee crisis. Under the 2017 Trump administration, we accepted only 50,000, and in about two weeks we will see the results of the decision for 2018.

Not only has this drastic cut resulted in prolonged instability for refugees waiting to be resettled, but it has also hurt the American economy by cutting jobs for Americans who worked in refugee resettlement. As someone who volunteers in this field and desires a job in it, I’ve witnessed this firsthand.

This is our last chance to influence our politicians before Trump’s decision is declared in October. Pick up the phone and make a call. Use resistbot to send a text message that will fax your politicians. Go to Twitter and Facebook too. Refugee Action Colorado Coalition (RACC) has shared these posts for anyone to use and suggested a minimum of three posts per week:

50k #refugees is inexcusable.  Would be the lowest goal EVER.  We want #75k. #COWelcomesRefugees #GreaterAs1

Stop dismantling refugee resettlement.  Stand against #refugee/Muslim ban. #COWelcomesRefugees #Stand4Refugees #GreaterAs1

#Refugees make positive contributions in economics, national security & community strength. Sustain US refugee resettlement program.  

RACC helpfully shared the handles of Colorado politicians, saying, “Let’s tweet @realDonaldTrump @WhiteHouse and our Senators @SenCoryGardner @SenBennetCO and your Representatives.”

The rally at the Denver capitol on World Refugee Day 2017. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

The rally at the Denver capitol on World Refugee Day 2017. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Political action is surprisingly easy with media today. It’s something every American, even minors, can do. Get on your knees and pray and then pick up your cell phone. Together we can make our voice heard this September.

PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

15 ways I experience white privilege

White privilege: Maybe you’ve heard of it and can identify. Maybe you don’t see how it impacts your life. Regardless, I’ve made a list of just fifteen ways I experience white privilege on a regular basis. It has taken time to reach this point of realizing the ways I benefit from my whiteness since it can be difficult to identify something unless you feel the lack. But when we realize our privilege, we can be better allies to those who don’t experience the same privileges.

These are not in order of significance but rather in the order that they came to mind from my experiences. I encourage you to read to the end and consider what ones resonate or what I may have missed!

  1. Band aids match my skin almost perfectly and can be found at any corner store. In fact, that’s what inspired this blog. I cut my toe, put on a band aid, and could barely detect it through a camera. Go ahead, try to find it:

    Comment if you find the band aid. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

    Comment if you find the band aid. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Brands like TruColour are trying to change this, but what if mainstream band aid brands took on the task as well?

  1. I am not followed or questioned when I shop, even though I wander back and forth quite a bit at grocery stores these days since I always go to a different one and do not know the layout. I have heard that others are watched more closely, however.
  2. Not being called racist slurs, ever. In all my 21 years, I cannot recall having ever experienced anyone degrading my humanity by calling me a derogatory, race-related term.
  3. I have a President (#NotMyPresident) who is my race and loves my race and prefers it over others, as do most other people in power in my country. This sounds like Nazi Germany now that I write it out, and it has a name: White Supremacy. This leads to a lot of policies in “my” favor, even though I desperately crave equity instead.
  4. Dolls with my skin color are the norm. I see a lot of young black girls in my city playing with white dolls, braiding their straight brown or blonde hair, but these children themselves are highly underrepresented. And although I have seen one or two black baby dolls in my time (eek, compared to hundreds or thousands of white ones!), I have never seen an Asian doll.
  5. White people are seen as the good ones in movies. They are generally the only ones in movies, to be honest, but when there is a person of color, s/he is usually stereotyped and put in an unflattering light. Even in Barbie movies, those with light features are the good ones who save the day and become princess, while the dark haired person or people are the villains. (Raquelle, anyone?)

    Raquelle from Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse. Credit to DraikJack, who added it to the bio I linked above.

    Raquelle from Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse. Credit to DraikJack, who added it to the bio I linked above.

  6. English, my first language, is the standard language that everyone else in must use to get by in the United States. Important documents are in English. Job applications and interviews are in English. Spanish is a common second language in certain neighborhoods of certain cities, but it is not accepted the way English is, and African American Vernacular English (AAVE) or Ebonics is not considered acceptable in formal environments. Moreover, immigrant languages like Swahili and Burmese are unrecognizable by most Americans, and Arabic could even cause alarm. But English, the language I was born speaking, is accepted in every American setting, and others are expected to learn my language instead of me stepping into theirs.
  7. Makeup in my color is easy to find. In my wealthy, white college town, it’s next to impossible (or actually impossible?) to find makeup if you are black or brown. Even in the city where I live now, it may depend on the neighborhood. But I have light skin and can always find foundation or powder to match my face.
  8. I have never been questioned or talked to by police. I have never been in trouble by them, and they have never had their cautious eyes on me. But I have witnessed this happen to one of my Afro-Latino friends while we walked together downtown.
  9. Barring the recent natural disasters, I can ignore most news with no consequence to my racial community, and many people would say that it is okay to do so. This attitude of “take a mental break and focus on something ‘positive’” demonstrates potential apathy towards the stories of others whose live experiences are different than my white peers, and regardless of either genuine or apathetic intent, it always demonstrates the privilege we have to step away without being directly affected by that action.
  10. “Skin color” crayons mean peach or apricot (which, oddly enough, are yellow fruits but white-skin-colored crayons) instead of brown. I have had both a white peer and a young brown, Latina friend refer to crayons in this way and have spoken up to say, “Which skin color?”

    This is what I call a queen. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

    This is what I call a queen. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

  11. Shampoos and conditioners for my hair type are cheaper than those suited for Afro-textured hair. I need something to lock in the moisture for my combination of soft and course 3A curls, but the Aussie brand does this well while being about two-thirds the price of hair products for more textured hair at Walgreens.
  12. I am not questioned if I belong anywhere I go. I have multicultural, multiracial friend circles that are welcoming. People in my African church thank me for coming as the only white person because they see it is rare and potentially difficult due to language barriers. (It’s my pleasure, honestly; it’s my church.) And in public, one of the most white settings I experience these days, I am seen as harmless. I can come and go as I please (refer to #2).
  13. My name is easy for Americans to pronounce correctly, and because my family name sounds European, I have statistically higher chances at hearing back from jobs (Bertrand and Mullainathan 2003; Pager et al 2009). Yes, I experience privilege simply because of my white-sounding name.
  14. Others want to look like me. I am reminded of this every day when I wake up to see my roommate’s lightening cream sitting on her bed. White European beauty standards reign not only in this country but around the world. I am of White European descent, so my light skin tone and my sister’s silky straight hair are traits that many others seek to attain, even if their bodies are naturally darker or their hair kinkier. (Don’t try to be me. Be you. You’re gorgeous as is.)

    My roommate's lightening cream. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

    My roommate’s lightening cream. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

 

Most of the things on this list may seem small, but they add up. This post does not delve deep into systemic issues but scrapes the surface of privilege. Once you grasp this, however, you can dig deeper to see the ways these examples form patterns that affect every aspect of a person’s life, both for white people and people of color. As white people, we just receive unearned benefits, hence the term privilege.

What are some ways YOU have experienced white privilege or seen it play out in the lives of others? Comment below, and let’s keep learning together!