Today was “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday” in the Episcopal Church. It brought the typical reactions online. For example, one person posted,
Are Episcopalians racist enough they require a letter to be read to them to not be racist? I find this strange.
Yet I think this reflects part of the problem. We don’t use racial epithets or display symbols of racism. We all go to church. We confess that we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We get forgiven and that’s good enough, right?
Maybe some of us even admit having privileges as white people that people of color do not have. We acknowledge that. It is good enough, right?
We nod appreciatively as a letter from the Bishop is read about racism, and we say a special little prayer during the service, and it’s all better, right?
Maybe we’re even church leaders and we are going to attend a training about racism, and we’ll go, reluctantly, because we feel like we’ve already dealt with our own racism. We’ll go without too much grumbling. That’s good enough, right?
I don’t think so. I think God is calling us to much, much more. Our parish is going to have conversations after church for a couple of Sundays starting at the end of the month. I’m not sure what the goals will be, what the format will be, or what the outcome will be, but I am praying for this. It is really important.
I’ve spent a bit of time working on racial health disparities. Did you know that as of 2012, the most recent data I could find, the infant mortality rate for black infants in Connecticut is nearly twice that of white infants in Connecticut? In Hartford County, it is almost 2 and a half times, and this is after significant progress in recent years. I mention infant mortality, because it is something that many of us understand how horrible it is. There are plenty more examples.
Why is this? Perhaps some of this is because of racism. Not the racial epithet shouting confederate flag waving racism, but a subtler racism that is built into our system, that we participate in, perhaps unknowingly.
What do you see when a young black man runs across the street in front of you? A thug who’ll probably end up in jail? Another potential headline of a black man killed by police? A future President or future Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church? If we are honest with ourselves, it isn’t always pretty.
A longtime friend of mine wrote a blog post about this the other day, Enforcing the Pattern. What do you see?
Then, think about this in terms of what it must be like to be seen this way, all the time. Here, I think about the blog post I shared yesterday. “Picture yourself as a stereotypical male” explores how people do on tests as a result of their self-perceptions. How does our view of the young black man crossing the road change the community and culture we are part of? What happens when we see ourselves and those around us, like the young black man crossing the road, as beloved of God?
We’ve got a lot of work to do, or at least I know I do.
According to Facebook, I became friends with Heather Cronk back in 2007 and we have 59 mutual friends, most, if not all are progressive activists I met one way or another. Recently, Heather has written a couple Facebook posts discussing Kim Davis, the County Clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex coupls..
Heather starts off with
Cut out the personal attacks on Kim Davis. Most of what I'm seeing is liberal/progressive men making jokes about her outfits, her appearance, her past marriages, her perceived socio-economic status, and the hypocrisy of not distributing marriage licenses due to her religious beliefs despite having been divorced three times. Cut it out.
Heather talks about her own experiences growing up in the South with conservative Christian beliefs, suggests others do the same, using the hashtag #IwasKimDavis and goes on to explain
This moment is not about a county clerk in Kentucky - it's about showing folks who live across the South that there is plenty of room to grow and to change and to shift, and to do so with love.
I like that, but it still makes me feel a little uncomfortable. It sounds a little bit like, “I used to be a close minded bigoted conservative, but I grew up, and you can too.” And that sounds an awful lot like the conservative preachers suggesting that people struggling with their sexual orientation can pray away the gay.
So, I’ll take what Heather says, and push it even further. I’ll start off with paraphrase of Luke 18:11,
“The progressive stood by himself and prayed: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people—southerners, conservatives, Republicans--or even like this county clerk….”
No, I cannot say #IwasKimDavis. I think it is better for me to say, #IamKimDavis. I try to act boldly on my beliefs, even if they are out of step with others, even if they mean that I must break the law. Sometimes, I properly discern what God wants of me. Other times, I may be convinced of something that is not what God wills. Yet I believe that even when I am completely wrong, God still loves me with love greater than I can understand.
So, I confess my sin
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
Yes, I am a sinner. I need people to pray for me that I might discern God’s will, that I might be able to show God’s love to people different than me, even if they are bigots, homophobes, or whatever else I might find objectionable in other people.
So, pray for me, a sinner, pray for Kim Davis, and Heather, and those who once were, or even still are like Kim Davis, that we all might show a little more of God’s love to people that are different from us.
Donald Trump’s non-answer to the question about his favorite Bible verse has generated a lot of interesting discussions online. It made me think of a verse that has been getting a lot of discussion online recently, Matthew 4:9
"All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."’
Somehow, this seems like a quote that captures Donald Trump to a T. Of course, those who have been paying attention to the discussion about Matthew 4:9 may find this all the more apt. If we read this verse in context, we have:
Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Go, Satan! For it is written, 'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'"
So, it made me think, what if someone had asked me that on the campaign trail. Psalm 19:14 comes to my mind:
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
These are words I wish more politicians would pray. Other verses that come to my mind are John 1:1
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Or even James 1:5
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
Of course, all of this is focused on the Judeo-Christian tradition. Some of my friends are Muslim and often quote the Quran. I’m not sure what they would say, or for that matter, what favorite religious quotes from other traditions would be.
What are yours?
The Roanoke Times, in there article, Our view: Sweet Briar does what it wasn't supposed to do; it reopens quotes a banner welcoming students back to Sweet Briar College saying, “This is going to be a legendary year.” They note that in other years, this would seem just sloganeering, but this year at Sweet Briar is going to be legendary. It already is legendary.
For those who missed my previous blog posts about Sweet Briar, this was the women’s college in Virginia whose board of directors voted to close the school last spring. It was cited as another casualty of changes in higher education, where liberal arts, and women’s colleges just aren’t valued as much anymore. Yet not everyone shares the same view about the value of women’s colleges and liberal arts education and a group of alumna and other concerned people gather, and fought successfully to keep it up.
Yes, this is going to be a legendary year for everyone at Sweet Briar. It is the spirit and attitude that we should be encouraging students with. It makes me think of how leaders in Hartford welcomed students to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School
The group — Hartford businessmen, lawyers, community organizers, city politicians, artists, neighborhood dignitaries, a police officer in uniform — erupted in cheers and whoops for Jamar, giving the boy high-fives and handshakes as if he were LeBron James being introduced at Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
I hope it will be a legendary year for those students in Hartford as well.
All of this provides a stunning contrast to how freshman women were welcomed at Old Dominion University in Virginia, 200 miles east of Sweet Briar. The Sigma Nu fraternity there made national news, when their activities were suspended after putting up banners saying “Rowdy and Fun, Hope Your Baby Girl is Ready for a Good Time.”
In all the discussions about charter schools, high stake testing, and so many other educational issues today, we tend to overlook the educational culture and climate. Sweet Briar College in Virginia and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School in Hartford get it right.
“This is going to be a legendary year.”
On Facebook, I shared a link to an article about protestors claiming to represent the #BlackLivesMatters movement who disrupted an event where Bernie Sanders was scheduled to speak. I spoke about the article in terms of transformation:
As I read the article below, as well as comments from many friends, I remembered this:
"the biggest lie told by people like me to people like you at election time is that, 'If you vote for me, I'm going to solve all your problems.' The truth is, the power to change this country is in your hands, not mine." - Howard Dean, 2004
And so I ask, "Where is transformation taking place in the 2016 election?"
Currently, there are twenty-eight comments on the post, representing many different viewpoints, yet it feels like almost none of them are confronting the underlying question of personal transformation. What does it mean to say, “you have the power?” What is this power we have, and how should we use it? I am reminded of the cartoon where the politician ask, “Who wants change?” and everyone raises their hands. Then, he asks, “Who wants to change?” and no one raises their hands.
I’ve often heard preachers pray that their words might distress the comfortable and comfort the distressed, and I think this is an important part of the discussion. It feels like some Bernie supporters are comfortable talking about economic justice. Perhaps they come out of the #Occupy movement. They seem to believe that the economic populism of the Sanders campaign will bring not only economic justice, but racial justice. People standing up and saying, “No, that is not enough” is distressing, the sort of distress a preacher might hope to bring. Economic populism, especially economic populism that asks little of anything other than the 1%, is not enough. We must all work together, making sacrifices, that there might be real, economic, racial and social justice.
A common response to “#BlackLivesMatter” is “#AllLivesMatter”. I’ve often had discussions with people for whom #BlackLivesMatter is a very important hashtag. They see #AllLivesMatter as a cop-out, a means of avoiding, or even denying that for too many people in power in our country, black lives do not seem to matter. This has played out in the comments on my Facebook post, and I return to distressing the comfortable.
To those who are comfortable saying #BlackLivesMatter and uncomfortable with those who would water it down to #AllLivesMatter, please listen. Saying #BlackLivesMatter is very important. However, there are times when saying #AllLivesMatter may be what is needed. I have relatives who are white law enforcement officers, relatives that have jumped to the defense of officers involved in the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. I have relatives posting racist comments about our President. I probably even have friends that agree with Donald Trump in his dismissal of political correctness. Most of these people are not able to hear the message that #BlackLivesMatter. Trying to get them to admit that #AllLivesMatter, and not just #OnlyMyLifeMatters is a major battle. From what I hear from Trump and his supporters, it seems like too many people in our country don’t even believe that #AllLivesMatter. To them, all that matters is themselves. We need to reach people where they are at.
Yet to those who really do believe that #AllLivesMatter, and cannot bring themselves to say #BlackLivesMatter, we must also distress them.
One person commented, “I am so absolutely sick of BLM. ALM!!!!!” I, too, am sick of having to say #BlackLivesMatter. I wish I didn’t have to confront people with the truth that for too many in our country, black lives do not seem to matter. That too many people in our country are unwilling to look at systemic racism, or at their own unconscious racist attitudes. We cannot simply switch to #AllLivesMatter to be more comfortable.
In that discussion, I responded, “Recently, three friends have lost their sons. As I grieve with them, I talk about how their sons’ lives mattered. I could say that all lives matter. It would be true. It would also be very disrespectful.”
#IsaacWasHere. One of those sons was Isaac. His mother has fought hard for social justice. She also fought hard to start a family. I imagine if I scrolled back far enough in her timeline on Facebook, I would find some very important posts about #BlackLivesMatter, but now, all I see is grief. I cannot being to say how wrong it would be to respond to #IsaacWasHere with #BlackLivesMatter. Both are true, but responding #BlackLivesMatter in this context would be so wrong. Responding #AllLivesMatter to those fighting for racial and social justice in the wake of Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, Charleston, the list seems endless, is just as wrong.
#IsaacWasHere. I have said his name. I will also #SayHerName. More accurately, I will say the name of one of one victim of police brutality against women. Sandra Bland. Hers is not the only name. In a recent faith study group, one of the women, a woman of color, with a strong voice, a Sunday school teacher, spoke about her fears. She could easily see herself in Sandra Bland’s situation. Others said that things like that happen in the south, but not here in Connecticut. This led to a discussion of policing in East Haven. This is not just a problem that happens somewhere else. It happens in our own backyards. We were discussing the Psalms and what our responsibilities are in proclaiming The Word of The Lord. To me, I return to Psalm 19:14
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
To my friends of faith, I challenge you to pray this before each comment you make online. I find it a hard challenge to keep this in my mind as I read what others post online.
I am uncomfortable writing all of this. I hope others are uncomfortable reading this. If we want justice, if we want transformation, we need to get out of our comfort zones.