Thoughts on Father’s Day 2013

Father’s Day is a mixed bag for many folk. Mother’s Day too. I walk the fine line in church every year on those “holi”days of acknowledging that some of us had parents that fit the ideal, some of us don’t, and most of us have a mixture of experience if we were truly honest. I’ve come to believe that most people do the best they can by their kids.

My father, Charlie Driscoll, died 12 years ago this July. For the first decade, I was processing pain. Seriously, the first decade of grief, was dedicated to the difficulty of living in a household with an alcoholic, becoming the “adult child of an alcoholic” and one enabler, and the grief that death was the only way my dad was to be free of the disease. (Please don’t reply with ideas of how helpful rehab is; for some folks, my dad included, death is the only release. I’ve come to terms with this; I don’t need you to do so.)

Over the past couple years, I’ve had clear moments of feeling my dad’s presence. I do not subscribe to any particular expression of how that happens. Maybe he’s really with me, maybe it’s something my brain does. It’s ok either way because what I know now is that my dad and I are making new memories, good memories for today that are connected to good memories of the past. It is so holy. Let me share one with you.

Nick and I recently bought a house in Tulsa. A couple lovingly cared it for since the mid 1970’s. They last updated in the early 1990’s. Suffice it to say, we’ve got our work cut out for us as far as making it our own. But, it’s fun and we love working together on projects.

Before we moved in, it was my job to remove the wallpaper in our bedroom so Nick could paint. At the hardware store were many tools to make this happen. I left with a scraper designed for removing wallpaper. After a few hours of scraping, which seemed to be much harder that I anticipated, I left to check on the dogs. Nick and I would continue the work later in the day. When we came back, I scooped up the scraper and noticed that the blade was loose. After looking carefully, it became apparent that the DULL side of the blade was facing out. For several hours that morning, I’d been using the dull side to do the work! Out of nowhere, I heard my dad’s chuckle. (If you knew him, you know exactly what I’m describing. My brother laughs that way sometimes and it always brings a tear.) Anyway, I heard my dad chuckle, and said out loud to myself, “Let the tool do the work, Kelli.”

Those words, “Let the tool do the work, Kelli,” are nearly scripture to me when it comes to my memories of my dad. You see, Charlie was a mechanic. He worked on helicopters while in the Coast Guard, went to Spartan here in Tulsa, and worked on planes after that. Eventually he worked at Libbey Glass because airplane mechanic jobs were sparse in Shreveport. As a small kid, I wanted to work with him on projects. I also always used the tool wrong. When I say always, I mean it. If he gave me a hammer, I’d hold it by the head. If I was asked for a Philips, I’d always come back with a flathead. You can get nail in that way, or the screw, but it will be a LOT more work. “Let the tool do the work, Kelli.”

This Father’s Day, I’m looking forward to more memory-making with my dad. Reclaiming my history in a way that is heart-felt, honest and so very apparent in my life today. Here’s to more memories, Daddy. I’ll try to let the tool do the work.


Developing thoughts on Racism in Tulsa or When Bill Cosby came to Tulsa

It’s been my experience that good people do insensitive things. I’m guilty and I rely on others to point it out to me. Here is my attempt to be a conversation partner, a voice pointing out insensitivity that borders on racism and certainly the white rescue mentality.

A couple of weeks ago, there was an event co-hosted by an organization for which I give a great deal of time. I’m pretty sure we didn’t have any part of the logistics of what I’m about to describe. Other good people did.

As I walked into the event, it was clear people were buzzing. They were excited to hear Bill Cosby speak. Yeah, that Bill Cosby. I’d been told he wanted to talk to ministers while he was in town. He wasn’t wearing an awesome sweater. (Bummer) But, he did wear gray sweatpants and a t-shirt. Seat? Check. Diet Coke? Check. Let’s do this.

Except, it didn’t really start. There was a line of people before him to talk. The majority of them were well-known Tulsa folk on the stage. 6 people on the stage including Bill Cosby, all men and one woman MC/coordinator. We were told Bill Cosby was speaking about fatherhood beforehand. I knew this was going to be interesting. Bill Cosby speaks about fatherhood in general, but over the past decade he has focused on African-American fatherhood and social dynamics. If you’d like a hint at what it was like, watch this video on Meet the Press. Michael Eric Dyson has been highly critical of Bill Cosby’s point of view.

We began with our MC, celebrating the Bill Cosby will speak on Fatherhood. How fatherhood is vital and how important it is have fathers in the home. An African-American single mother, now a grandmother, who persevered raising her children, one of whom is active father with his own children now, came up to speak. She has an inspiring story that was meaningful. Except, she wasn’t on the stage with everyone else. She was brought up from the floor and sent back to the floor. The inferred symbolism was problematic to me.

Then, we had two white men begin talking about a program set up this summer to help kids in “North Tulsa.” You don’t have to be around Tulsa long to know that North Tulsa is never really talked about as if it is fully part of Tulsa. Always, it is referred to with the directional element. North Tulsa is also a historically African-American area of Tulsa.  This summer, the city of Tulsa was in the process of closing down neglected city parks in the North part of Tulsa. People were upset. Our mayor responded to the need with a plan to get together churches to build programs for kids out of school for the summer. (I’d like to go into how governments expect churches to solve problems they don’t want to, but this post isn’t about that.) It was mostly a “look what we did” moment. I believe in celebrating accomplishments. It’s important, but in this moment it felt stilted. And then it got worse. A white minister from a wealthy area of town got up to talk about the way his church responded. The program itself and the church’s response are important and they are good work. However, an appropriate speaker about the program would have been a parent from the neighborhood whose child benefited or a pastor from a church in the area the program serves. The whole moment was disconnected from how it appeared… white people to rescue. A white mayor presenting a white minister (both men, by the way) coming to the rescue of a historically African-American community that has been systematically neglected by the city.

When Bill Cosby finally got to speak, even he was surprised! He was friendly, engaging, funny and clearly NOT there to talk to ministers. He was there to talk to African-American ministers and leaders. It felt like I was listening in on a private conversation.
Yes, that happens sometimes, but I felt like a poser, a lurker.

Walking away from that event, my frustration level was high. The organizational structure of the event played into old roles and institutional racism. The fact that Bill Cosby really wanted to speak to a specific group of people seemed lost to the planners. Perhaps they didn’t know.

The event, I am sure, hoped to build bridges and bring people together. Good people working hard, no doubt. Unfortunately, it ended up looking disconnected, insensitive, and racist.

Can We Sing Sanctuary?

“Can we sing Sanctuary?”

This, my friends, is the church camp worship planner nightmare question. It creeps up out of nowhere. Just when you think the scripture leads to singing certain themed songs, a voice pops up asking that question as if it has never been asked before.

You may not know the song named “Sanctuary”. It is a simple tune with these lyrics, “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary. Pure and Holy. Tried and True. With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for You.” Once you learn it, it is in your head for days. You’ll be walking along humming it. The song is chant like, can be sung in a round, and always lingers in air after it is sung. (Click here to listen to the song.)

The middle school and high school youth I’ve worked with at church camp in the summers declare each year this is their favorite song. The worship-nerd inside me wants to push back and invite them to sing new songs or old hymns, anything but Sanctuary. As a teen, I’d be that voice popping up to ask to sing it. (What goes around comes around, huh?)

Today, the tune edged itself into the forefront of my mind. My thoughts jumped here: “Ugh! Again! I need sanctuary from that song! I don’t want to be a sanctuary. I want God to be a sanctuary for me!”

After living with those thoughts for a while, I realized how easy it is to want things from God that we aren’t willing to give to God. On this hectic day, I wanted God to give me rest, peace, sanctuary. I was unwilling to share with God the little peace and rest I have, opening up to see how God could use it.

Seeking God can be confusing. Prayer and worship often focus on sharing with God our thoughts without asking what God’s thoughts are for us. Sometimes, we resist God; sometimes, we beg for connection. Each per-son who follows Jesus is invited to turn over to God all that we are. Often, we only turn over to God the difficult parts of life, looking for problems to go away. God isn’t plucking us up like flowers in a garden. God is strengthening our roots. God will prepare us to deal with life. We must open up to let God do that work.

Perhaps the youthful love of that song is there because they’ve had less time to be convinced of self-reliance. Each one of us can accomplish much alone. God is always with us. We can be more (which is not the same as accomplishing anything) when we open up to God. Our capacity to see God’s companionship comes when prayer for what we desire and for what God desires in us happen mutually. Then, we shall find sanctuary in God and that we are a sanctuary for God and others in the world.


I’m often guilty of thinking the world’s problems are solved by people simply making better choices for themselves. Most of the time, I can remember that not everyone has the autonomy and skills to do such a thing. Then, there are the moments where both options remind me of how easy it is to judge rather than show compassion.

Over the past six weeks I’ve been on the planning team for an event addressing the issues of homelessness. The event was a success last night with multiple elements including a meal, listening panel, main speaker and breakout sessions on how to get involved. We worked to create a safe space for people to come and give voice to their stories in relationship to homelessness.

One brave young woman* spoke about her experience being homeless. She’d been homeless most of her teenage years into adulthood after the death of her mother. Some family members gave her a place to stay, but those did not last. Eventually she was not only homeless, but also pregnant and homeless. This happened twice. I listened, teared up and walked away with a heavy heart. She was brave enough to share her story and I was caught up in judgment. Pregnant and Homeless? Twice?

While planning, I (and the whole team) focused on the opportunity to educate people about what is really happening in people’s lives as they deal with homelessness. My education came in discovering how easy it was for me to judge, even as I was tearing up in awe of a woman’s bravery.

Last night taught me that my tendency to judge is insidious. It is not always obvious and we must be careful of when our mind wanders down that road. To find my footsteps with Jesus, I’m reminded of this scripture. “We should stop judging one another; judge rather that you should not put anything before your brother or sister to make them stumble or fall” (Romans 14:13).

Might I be convicted of compassion rather than judgment.

* It is an incredible blessing to have the permission of this woman to share this bit of her story with you here. I’ve kept her name private, but trust that we can lift her to God in prayer without having it.

If you have questions about what judging means for a Christian, check out this post from Taizé.