Dear White Church,

When White Christians today consider the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 60s, I would guess that the vast majority of us look on it favorably.  I know I always have and nearly every White Christian I know does as well.   Equal rights and access for all.  All hail Martin Luther King and I Have a Dream, right?   Well, not exactly.  Did you know that White Christians and most evangelical churches were actually involved in the efforts to thwart the Civil Rights movement?    It’s true.  Churches were either actively outspoken in their opposition to the movement or simply absent from the conversation altogether.

When I was a kid my parents would always sing me happy birthday at the exact moment of my birth.  8:08am.  Every year without fail.  They would sing to my sister at 8:35am.  Every year.  But when we were in high school, my sister and I looked at our birth certificates one afternoon and discovered that the times had been inadvertently switched!  They should have been singing to me at 8:35, not 8:08, and vice versa.  My sister took it in stride but I just couldn’t believe it!  I had always been the 8:08 girl and even after seeing it in writing, I insisted that they sing to me at 8:08.  It was the story I had been told all my life and there was just no changing it.  They still, to this day, call me at 8:08am.

Most White Christians during the Civil Rights era truly believed that segregation was the way God intended things to be.  It was simply the “natural order of things” and it was the story they had been told their entire lives.  Even as millions of people, Christians included, marched and protested and rallied and said, “no, let us tell you a different story,” they just couldn’t believe it.

Now, though, we look back and say, “pshhh, how could they not see?  How could they not know?”   We know better now.  We wouldn’t get something so terribly wrong.

Would we?

Demo-photo-Black-Lives-Matter-sign-400x400

Tens of thousands of people marched in New York City this past week.   Thousands upon thousands marched in Washington, DC.  There have been dozens of other marches around the nation, including several here in Seattle.  There have been walk-outs and die-ins and rallies all across the country.  Yet the collective White Church remains either outwardly outspoken in its opposition of the #BlackLivesMatter movement or absent from the conversation altogether.  We are making the same mistake all over again.  Black people are desperately trying to tell us a different story and we will not listen.

When I was 23 one of my closest college friends lost her cousin in a car accident.  Not just any cousin.  This cousin was like a sister to her and the funeral was only 2 hours away from my house.  I was starting a new job the same day, though, and I was nervous about asking for a later start date.  I was also afraid.  I was afraid of the sadness that I would see.  I was nervous about driving alone and navigating the freeways of Los Angeles.  My presence isn’t important, I told myself.   It’s family time.  They don’t need me to be there.

Not showing up at that funeral is one of my greatest regrets.  It’s inordinately painful to recall my cowardice and my unwillingness to push through my discomfort and show up for my friend.  I had the opportunity to sit with her in her grief and I chose not to do it.  If a situation of that sort were to surface now I hope that I would move heaven and earth to be there.  I hope that I would use my grief and my sorrow and my repentance over my failure in the past to propel me to a better choice the next time around.

Beloved Church, let’s not make the same mistake again.   We need to confess and lament our action and our inaction from 50 years ago.  We need to confess and lament that we have preserved a theology that has reinforced racial hierarchies and perpetuated systemic injustices.   To do this we need to be brave.  We need to be brave enough to stop telling ourselves the same story over and over and over again.  We need to be brave enough to consider a different story; the story being shouted from the streets of Ferguson and the sidewalk in Staten Island; from the playground in Cleveland and the Wal-Mart in Ohio.  We need to be brave enough to say, “We are sorry that we didn’t listen then.   We are listening now.”

——–

Word Art Meditation

I saw a picture posted on Facebook last night of some students at my alma mater (a small Christian college) joining the protest movement and holding signs that say, among other things, that #BlackLivesMatter.   My first response was surprise!  I didn’t expect to see that sort of support and solidarity from the predominantly White college.  But I also know that my own exploration of race began on that campus so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.  Either way, I was pleased and proud to see it.

But then I read the comments.

Let’s just say that I should have clicked “LIKE” and left it at that.

I’m sitting now on the couch in the dark by our Christmas tree thinking about Pakistan and the deflating words on that comment thread.  This has felt to me a particularly painful Advent season.  It’s hard to feel merry and bright and I’m wrestling with the hope of heaven that I wrote about last month.   Some days, some hours are so desperately dark.

I worked on this word art mediation a few weeks ago after the Ferguson Grand Jury Decision and I returned to it again this morning.   I’ve been listening to “I Need Thee Every Hour” over and over again this Fall.  It’s technically not a Christmas song but this line speaks of Advent waiting.  Come quickly, Lord.  Come quickly.

 

IMG_6875

 

This is the version I like best right now.

Advent Week 3

Week 2 was decidedly better than week 1.  Onward!  If you’ve got young kids and you don’t mind a non-committal collection of Bible translations, this might be for you!

 

Week 3 is the Week of JOY

Day 1 — Isaiah 12:6 (MSG)

“Sing praise-songs to God. He’s done it all!
    Let the whole earth know what he’s done!
Raise the roof! Sing your hearts out, O Zion!
    The Greatest lives among you: The Holy of Israel.”

dancingmama

Day 2 — Luke 2:8-12 (MSG)

“There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”  

shepherds

 

Day 3 — Isaiah 35:10 (NLT)

“Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return.
    They will enter Jerusalem singing,
    crowned with everlasting joy.
Sorrow and mourning will disappear,
    and they will be filled with joy and gladness.”

 

tajmahal

 

Day 4 — Isaiah 9:3 (MSG)

“You repopulated the nation,
    you expanded its joy.
Oh, they’re so glad in your presence!
    Festival joy!
The joy of a great celebration,
    sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.”

gift-table-snowflakes

 

Day 5 — Psalm 47:1 (CEB)

“Clap your hands, all you people!
    Shout joyfully to God with a joyous shout!”

clapclapclap

Day 6 — Psalm 28:7 (MSG)

“Blessed be God
    he heard me praying.
He proved he’s on my side;
    I’ve thrown my lot in with him.

Now I’m jumping for joy,
    and shouting and singing my thanks to him.”

flip

The gymnast in me can’t resist this one. I have always felt so much joy in flipping.

Day 7

For the final day of the week we will look back over the week and talk about where we saw, felt or shared joy.  I’m hoping to tell the boys about my grandmother, Pat, who was known for her joy all her life.   She wrote her life story so I’d like to look up the part where she talks about her joyfulness as child and read it to the boys.  There is so much that they can live into that was set in motion by their great-grandmother.  What a gift.

pat

Music

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring
Holy wisdom, love most bright
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned
With the fire of life impassioned
Striving still to truth unknown
Soaring, dying round Thy throne

——-

Other Advent Posts

Week 1: Waiting with Kids 
Week 2: Waiting with Kids… Turns Out It’s Kinda Hard!

Waiting with Kids — Turns out it’s kinda hard!

Ok, so perhaps I don’t know my kids quite as well as I claimed last week.  We did manage to make it through our Advent readings each night (save one) last week but Jason and I nearly lost our sweet minds in the process.   It’s possible that bedtime isn’t the best time of day for lighting candles, looking at pictures on the iPad and trying to read metaphorical verse with your kids.    Just a thought.

The first night actually went really  well and I was feeling sort of smug about the whole thing.  The boys enjoyed the picture of the kid in the garden, we chatted briefly about the passage and we lit the first candle without incident.  Rockin’ it.

The next night, though, and every night following, was an all-out battle of the wills between the 4 of us.  It was NOT pretty.   Gryffin ran to the bedroom door (sometimes out the door) whenever we started to light the candles because the match-lighting made him nervous.  Isaiah, on the other hand, could not get any closer to the matches during the candle-lighting.   When I was 5, my bangs caught on fire from the Advent candles (hel-lo  Aquanet) and I spent the entire season with singed tips on my forehead.  Needless to say, Isaiah makes me particularly nervous this year.

Both boys would then proceed to bounce around their bedroom or roll around on the floor in their underwear while Jason and I tried to talk about hope and the baby Jesus and blah, blah, blah.  I don’t know how many times Jason said, “Boys!  Sit down!  Attenta-focus on Mama!” while I tried in vain to explain what it means to “walk in the land of shadows.”

Do you know how much kids their age are able to understand metaphors?    Not a bit.  Not one single bit.   So in between telling the boys not touch the glass votives and not to dig their fingernails into the Christ candle, we attempted to explain “shepherd-rule” and “Daughter Zion.”

And do you know how you feel just before bedtime when your kids are 4 and 6?   DONE.  You feel done and any hope you had earlier in the day of explaining things like “shepherd-rule,” (which I still can’t even grasp) with any amount of patience is out the window.  WHO ON EARTH CARES ABOUT SHEPHERD-RULE JUST GO TO BED.  Lord, have mercy.

It wasn’t a total fail.  The pictures were a big hit most nights and the boys ran right over in reverent awe when they saw the glow of the iPad.  Honestly, I think at this age, you could light a candle, look at a picture and call it a day.  But I pressed on with the Scripture passages this week because… well, because SCRIPTURE.  Isn’t that kind of the point?   I’m hoping that more specifically connecting the images to the passage this week will give us a little more head way.  We’ll see.   I’m not holding my breath!

 

Week 2 is the Week of PEACE

Day 1 — Psalm 29:11 (MSG)

“God makes his people strong.
God gives his people peace.”

 

liftingweights

Day 2 — Isaiah 26:3-4 (CEV)

“The Lord gives perfect peace
    to those whose faith is firm.
 So always trust the Lord
because he is forever
    our mighty rock”

 

krishnasbutterball

Salavankuppam, Tamil Nadu, India

Day 3  — Isaiah 55:12-13 (MSG)

“So you’ll go out in joy,
    you’ll be led into a whole and complete life.
The mountains and hills will lead the parade,
    bursting with song.
All the trees of the forest will join the procession,
    exuberant with applause.
No more thistles, but giant sequoias,
    no more thornbushes, but stately pines—
Monuments to me, to God,
    living and lasting evidence of God.”

 

aspens

Day 4  — Isaiah 26:12 (NLT)

Lord, you will grant us peace;
    all we have accomplished is really from you.

 

triathlonHehe, remember when I did a triathlon!

 

Day 5  — Isaiah 54:10 (MSG)

For even if the mountains walk away
    and the hills fall to pieces,
My love won’t walk away from you,
    my covenant commitment of peace won’t fall apart.”
    The God who has compassion on you says so.

 

JAI-NZ02004

Day 6  — Isaiah 9:6 (CEB)

A child is born to us, a son is given to us,
    and authority will be on his shoulders.
    He will be named
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

 

motherchild

 

Music

I listened to the song I picked last week a grand total of once.   This week’s pick is Silent Night by Pentatonix.   The “dawn of redeeming grace” connotes peace to me and the in-breaking of shalom.

 

Activity

Yeah, there was no baking last week.    We did talk about how we could offer hope to someone sad and the boys said they wanted to give people hugs.  That’s about as far as we got on the kinesthetic learning.    I’ll get on it for this week just as soon I as I figure out that shepherd-rule thing.

Blow after Blow

Oh, friends.  Another grand jury indictment ruling today.  Or non-indictment ruling, rather.  This time the victim was Eric Garner.  If you aren’t familiar with what happened, here’s his story.

He was a 43-year-old man, husband and father of 6.   He was a horticulturist for the New York City department of Parks & Recreation.  He was known by his friends as a peacemaker; as generous and kind.

Garner & his wife

On July 17th of this year, at 445pm, he was approached by some New York City police officers on Bay Street, Staten Island.  He’s reported as saying, “I was just minding my own business. Every time you see me you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today.”   Some of the officers touched him and he swatted their hands away, saying, “Don’t touch me, please.”

One of the officers then put him in a chokehold/headlock from behind in an attempt to subdue him.    Chokeholds were explicitly banned by the NYPD in 1993, btw.

Garner could be heard repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.”  He was not resisting.  Some other officers then helped wrestle him to the ground and one of them pushed Garner’s head into the sidewalk.  Garner said again, “I can’t breathe” but the officers left him there and did not offer him any assistance.  He laid there for a full 7 minutes before anyone thought to offer any help.  They did think to handcuff him though.

He died there on the sidewalk and all of it was caught on video.  The medical examiners ruled his death a homicide by neck and chest compression.

Yet our justice system essentially says “Nah, it’s cool.”

I’ve heard a lot of conversations on social media lately about how we need more cameras.  Body cameras.  Dash cams.  I even got a request to sign a petition for more police cameras in my email earlier this week.   But what purpose will these cameras possibly serve?   Do we think justice is assured if we capture it on tape?   Please.  We have Eric Garner dying right in front of us, ON CAMERA.  John Crawford shot in the back, right in front of us, ON CAMERA.  Tamir Rice, a freaking 12-year-old shot at a playground, right in front of us, ON CAMERA.

White friends, can you even imagine this happening to you or your husband?  Brother?   Father?  Have you ever even considered the possibility?  If my husband was confronted by the cops and they literally choked him to death, what do you think would happen?   How would I feel if the courts ruled that there shouldn’t even be a trial.  A trial!  Our laughable justice system today ruled that there shouldn’t even be a trial in Eric Garner’s case.

Even if you want to ignore the fact that study after study after study after study reveals how much racism still factors in to our every day existence in America; even if you think we’re post-racial; even if you refuse to put yourself and your children into this narrative; even if you insist on turning a blind a eye to stories like this one and this one and this one, don’t turn a blind eye to Eric Garner.

Jeremiah 22:3 in The Message translation says this:

Attend to matters of justice.
Set things right between people.
Rescue victims from their exploiters.
Don’t take advantage of the homeless, the orphans, the widows.
Stop the murdering!

Nobody spoke up for Eric Garner on July 17th.  Let’s raise our collective voice for him now.  Let’s not turn a blind eye.   This is a matter a justice and we must help set things right.

———

Sign this petition asking that President Obama and the Attorney General for a full investigation.

 

 

 

 

 

An Unlikely Candidate

Portrait of Rosa Park, who organized the boycott of buses in Montgomery, Alabama, 1955, 20th century, United States, New York, Schomburg Center.Did you all know that yesterday was the anniversary of the day Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus?  I didn’t until I saw something about it in my Facebook feed last night.  I read a little about her and I was surprised to discover that she wasn’t actually the first person to do it!  Here’s what I found on Wikipedia…

On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake’s order that she give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger, after the white section was filled. Parks was not the first person to resist bus segregation.

Others had taken similar steps, including Irene Morgan in 1946, Sarah Louise Keys in 1955, and the members of the Browder v. Gayle lawsuit (Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith) who were arrested in Montgomery months before Parks.  

So although there were at least 6 other courageous women before her that paved the way, the NAACP decided Rosa Parks would be the best candidate to possibly fight the system and win.  Even though her case ended up stagnating in court, her act of courage and defiance went on to become one of the quintessential symbols of the modern Civil Rights Movement and Rosa herself became an icon the world over.   You can read and watch more about her here.

“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day.  I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”        -Rosa Parks

This morning I discovered this tribute to Parks by poet Micah Bournes.  It’s his piece from the Justice Conference last year and it’s so prescient for us today as we remember Rosa Parks and simultaneously grapple with Ferguson.

If you want to be just,” Bournes says, “Bathe yourselves in the blood of the innocent.  Stand beside them in their pain.”  And at 3:30, when he starts listing where we will march, he can add Ferguson to that list.

 

Other posts related to #Ferguson

Mordecai’s Call
Langston Hughes on #Ferguson
Misplaced Imagining
A Song of Lament
Fury in #Ferguson
#BlackLivesMatter

Waiting with Kids

Advent

A couple weeks ago a friend of mine asked if I knew of an Advent Calendar I could recommend for kids.  I didn’t.  I don’t.  A couple years ago, when Gryffin was 4 and Isaiah 2, we got a simple cardboard one with the flaps that opened to tell the story of Christ’s birth.  No candy involved and it was pretty ugly, truth be told.  To our surprise, though, Gryffin was totally into it.   Who knew?

Last year, I forgot to order one ahead of time and the only ones I saw in the stores were the candy-filled ones.  Nothing against chocolate but it just seemed to defeat the point entirely, not to mention we were still working through the Halloween candy.  I made a half-hearted attempt to light the candles in our Advent wreath each Sunday but I think we only managed to remember once.

This year, though, after the nudging from my friend, I looked around in earnest for a good option.  The candy, though!  Geez, you just can’t get away from it. And once there is candy involved, all bets are off.  It’s all they think about.  Treats!  Chocolate!  Goodies!

I also looked at various books but none of them seemed a good fit for us as a family.  I found a new one that I ordered for me and Jason but came up short in the family department. Finally I decided to just create my own.  Here’s what I came up with.

advent1

First, I made us a candle calendar.  24 small candles on a tray with a large one in the middle for the Christ candle (seen above).  Those stupid glass candle holders were essentially a crafty Pinteresty etching cream disaster that left me wringing my hands and wailing.  I managed to rescue them with some glue and epsom salts but NEVER again.    Anyway, we’ll light one the first night, two the second, and so on until all 25 are lit on Christmas day.

 

Week 1 is the week of HOPE.

At 4 and 6, our kids will tune out the second we say “stump of Jesse” so I’ve tailored this entirely to their ages this year.  For this first week, I mainly picked passages from the prophets of the Old Testament who were waiting in hope for a Messiah.  And I selected photos that we will look at together that show some form of hope; hope deferred, hope-embodied, hope-fulfilled.

Day 1 — John 1:3

“Everything was created through God;
nothing—not one thing!—
came into being without him.”

The hope involved in sowing seeds and waiting for them to grow.

Day2 – Jeremiah 9:2

“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light.
For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—
light! sunbursts of light!”

Volunteers working to fix up an elementary school.   It’s hopeful to build & invest in something.

Day3 – Isaiah 11:5

“His words will bring everyone to awed attention.
A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked.
Each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots,
and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.”

A woman cleaning up in Ferguson

A woman cleaning up in Ferguson last week.  An act of hope in what has been a dark place.

Day4 – Jeremiah 33: 14-15

“The time is coming’—God’s Decree—‘when I will keep the promise I made to the families of Israel and Judah. When that time comes, I will make a fresh and true shoot sprout from the David-Tree. He will run this country honestly and fairly. He will set things right… The motto for the city will be, “God Has Set Things Right for Us.”

Homeless Children in NYC

Homeless Children in NYC – in need of hope.

Day5 – Isaiah 9:6

“For a child has been born—for us!
the gift of a son—for us!
He’ll take over
the running of the world.
His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
Strong God,
Eternal Father,
Prince of Wholeness.”

Gryffin & Isaiah themselves at Easter 2013. In hopeful anticipation of, you guessed it, CANDY

Day6 – Micah 5:2&4

“But you, Bethlehem, David’s country,
the runt of the litter—
From you will come the leader
who will shepherd-rule Israel…

He will stand tall in his shepherd-rule by God’s strength,
centered in the majesty of God-Revealed.
And the people will have a good and safe home,
for the whole world will hold him in respect—
Peacemaker of the world!”

Weeping Woman -- Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris

Weeping Woman — Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris.  Hopelessness of grief.

 

Day7 – Zechariah 9:9

“Shout and cheer, Daughter Zion!
Raise the roof, Daughter Jerusalem!
Your king is coming!
a good king who makes all things right,
a humble king riding a donkey,
a mere colt of a donkey.
I’ve had it with war—no more chariots in Ephraim,
no more war horses in Jerusalem,
no more swords and spears, bows and arrows.
He will offer peace to the nations,
a peaceful rule worldwide,
from the four winds to the seven seas.”

Can you imagine?  Look at that boat!  Looks like this guy was rescued in the absolute nick of time!  Hope greatly fulfilled!

Music

I don’t have much hope that the boys will sit and listen to an entire song with us but I think I’ll pick a song for each week and just play it while we’re going about our weekly business.  Here’s the one I picked for this first week.  I surprised myself by choosing of this song that is a little… techno-ish?   What other versions should we listen to this week?

 

Activity

To make it kinesthetic, I’d like to come up with one activity per week where we can embody what we’re talking about.  This week we’ll try to come up with some way that we can bring hope and light to someone feeling the darkness press in.  The boys particularly enjoy taking food to our neighbors so if I can rally the energy to bake something with them, maybe we can make it happen!

I’ll let you know what we decide to do in the post for Week 2!

———–
All passages are from the MSG translation.

 

.

#BlackLivesMatter

The Grand Jury decision is in and I feel an almost physical pain.  A clenching in my chest and prickling in my eyes.  I feel weighted to my chair and I can scarcely breathe.

I am White.  I did this.  There is no free pass; no absolution.

mikebrown

I don’t feel like I can simply say that #BlackLivesMatter.   Tonight, as I sit in my despair and in my grief, I feel the urgency to be more specific, more concrete.

Janelle, my wonderful, wonderful friend — your life matters to me.
Kerry’s life matters to me.
Jada & Kya’s lives matter to me.

Reggie, your life matters to me.
Stacy’s life matters to me.
Your kiddos who have grown so tall and grown up since I babysat them way back when… their lives matter to me.

Brenda, I used to admire you from afar and now we labor side by side.  Your life matters to me.  Your family matters to me.

Tony, we met 8 years ago at the Faith & Race class at Quest.  Your life matters to me.
Angela, I was with you & Tony when Isaac was born and it’s a day I will never forget.  Your life matters to me.
Isaac’s life and Eli’s life matter to me.

Derick (Decanter!), my brother-in-law and friend, your life matters to me.

Flea, your life matters to me.
Brian, your life matters to me.  Your beautiful boys matter to me.
Caenisha, your life matters to me.
Elijah, your life matters to me.
Tre, your life matters to me.
Stef, your babies and your husband matter to me.  Sophia, Shiloh, Gabe, George. They matter.
Deborah, your life matters to me.
Ashley, your life matters to me.
Wendi, your life matters to me.
Messiah, your life matters to me.
Chereyce, your life matters to me.
Olivia, your darling kids matter to me.

Mike Brown’s life mattered.

John Crawford‘s life mattered.
Eric Garner‘s life mattered.
Trayvon Martin‘s life mattered.
Oscar Grant‘s life mattered.
Amadou Diallo‘s life mattered.
Sean Bell‘s life mattered.
Jonathan Ferrell‘s life mattered.
Emmit Till‘s life mattered.

Consider with me what it would feel like to think your life didn’t matter; that your children’s lives didn’t matter.  I’ve never really thought about it.  I’ve never had to.  This is Mike Browns’ dad at his funeral and I’m thinking he gives us a pretty good picture.

mikebrownfather

 

 

Fury in #Ferguson

Helping White Folks Make Sense of Michael Brown

Friends, are you still following along with what’s going on in Ferguson?  If you aren’t, things are about to go down.  Probably this week.  Although it hasn’t stayed at the fore of mainstream media, protests have continued throughout the last 3 months and the grand jury is set to give it’s decision in the possible indictment against Darren Wilson any day now.

ferguson_021_081414

In preparation for the grand jury’s decision, the governor of Missouri has declared an official state of emergency and has activated the state’s National Guard.   That’s a big deal.  If there are no charges brought against Wilson, there are plans in place for more protests and who knows what sort of unrest.  For a lot of White people, though, I think this entire situation is truly baffling and hard to understand.  Sure, a kid died, and maybe he shouldn’t have, but… these things just happen sometimes.  Don’t they?

 

What We Learned From OJ

OJSimpsonWhen O.J. Simpson was found not-guilty back in 1995 for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman, I remember a sense of genuine bewilderment.  Admittedly I was young at the time but I could not understand how people could rejoice over the acquittal of a man so obviously guilty.

I remember watching a newscast with two Black women who said something in an interiew along the lines of, “Oh, we know he’s guilty.  We know he’s guilty.  Everybody knows he’s guilty.  But we’re so happy right now!  This is a good day for Black people!”  

 

WHAT?  It made no sense to me.  How could they admit his guilt AND be happy?   What I didn’t understand at the time was that the trial of O.J. Simpson had taken on immensely more  than just a day in court.  It became the “trial of the century” because it was about more than O.J. Simpson.  It was about more than one man’s guilt for a particular crime.  It was about decades, centuries even, of the mistreatment of Black people.  It was about trial after trial after trial of White men acquitted for murdering Black victims.  It was about conviction after conviction after conviction of Black men and women by White juries.

Do you see?  It was about something much bigger than whether or not this one man was guilty of this one thing.  Was it the perfect answer?  No.  Was it justice?  No.  Was Simpson guilty?  Are there flaws in our justice system.  Undoubtedly.  But it was a victory on one level for a long-oppressed and unjustly treated people group and that’s why there was dancing in the streets that day.

 

And now, Ferguson

Unlike O.J. Simpson, Michael Brown was the victim.  Michael Brown was an unarmed boy shot in broad daylight.   They left his body laying in the street, uncovered, for over 3 hours.    This on the heels of Eric Garner being strangled to death by a White police officer in New York City and John Crawford being shot in the back by White police officers in an Ohio Wal-Mart.   This following Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin.    This following Amadou DialloSean Bell,  Jonathan Ferrell and so many others.

Do you see the similarities?  As with the Simpson trial, this has become about so much more than Michael Brown.  This, too, is about a long-oppressed and unjustly treated people group standing up and saying. We have had ENOUGH. 

ferguson

Sister, Sister

When my sister and I were younger we had this scenario that played out time and again between the two of us.  So much so that it has become part of family lore.   Here’s how it went: my sister would bug me in some form or fashion –waving her hands in front of my face while I was doing my homework, making an obnoxious noise when I was reading a book, pushing my chair when I was watching TV.   I would ask her to stop.  She wouldn’t.  I would ask her to stop.  She wouldn’t.  I would ask her to stop.  She wouldn’t.

Until I snapped.

It happened the same way every single time.  She would bug me and bug me and bug me until I couldn’t take it any more and I completely lost my *$#%.   I would snap at her, yell at her, bat her hand away or all three.

And then?

Then she would start crying!

Inevitably I would end up apologizing and it always felt so monumentally unfair.  She bugged the heck out of me, on purpose, yet in the end I had to apologize to her.

An overly simplistic metaphor but I think it’s analogous to what we’re seeing in Ferguson.  As a group, Black people in our country have been pushed down over and over and over again.  Centuries upon centuries of unjust treatment, both subtle and obvious, obscure and heinous are brought to bear on this generation yet we’re surprised when they push back?   We expect them to apologize to us when there is looting and rioting that gets out of hand?

We want to think that the past is the past.  Slavery is over.   We aren’t racist so let’s just move on already.  We’re post-racial, we have a Black president, Civil Rights and all that.  But we’re missing something fundamental if we brush the topic aside in an attempt to absolve ourselves of any guilt.

 

The Sin of Achan

In the book Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith, there’s a scene where the main character, Mma Ramotswe is talking with a friend about the unfair and unjust workload for the women of Africa compared to men.   There is a male friend also standing there with them and Mma Ramotswe stops to consider whether or not they should speak so freely in front of him.  He certainly worked hard.  It wasn’t his fault that the conditions of their country and their continent were the way they were.  But ultimately here’s what she concluded:

 

“He was a hard-working man, of course, but he was the only representative of the world of men present under that tree and so he would have to shoulder some of the blame.”

 

We must shoulder some of the blame.  In Joshua, chapter 7, the entire nation of Israel was held responsible for one man’s crime.   Achan, from the tribe of Judah, stole some of the goods that had been seized during the siege of Jericho.  The goods were off limits because they were set aside as sacred, reserved for God alone.  In response God withdrew his favor until the sin was rooted out from the nation.

The collective whole bore the blame.  This isn’t the case for all transgressions mentioned in the Bible but in this particular instance it was the collective attitude of the nation as a whole that enabled Achan to act as he did. And the nation as a whole was held accountable.  So too with us.  We, as White people, have to shoulder some of the blame.  We have to take collective responsibility.  Like the people of Israel, I think it’s our only way forward.

——-

Want to press in a little further?  Here are some things that might help…

  • Think we’re post-racial?  Think again.
  • Yikes, you aren’t racist like those quoted in the link above.  Sheesh, that was intense.  Read this one, then.  It would be great to hear where your story intersects with mine.
  • Read this.  Ferguson isn’t about Black Rage Against Cops.  It’s about White Rage Against Progress.
  • Look at Shaun King’s timeline of corruption in Ferguson.
  • Then read this interview with Shaun King.  It’s short but outstanding and very insightful.
  • Watch this video.  When I watch it now, nearly 20 years later, I’m able to see the nuance and understand the responses in a different way.
  • Lament.
  • Put yourself into the narrative.
  • Check your bias.   Take the test on the left.
  • Need a little comic relief?  This is so good.  Aamer Rahman on reverse racism.

Other posts related to #Ferguson

Mordecai’s Call
Langston Hughes on #Ferguson
Misplaced Imagining
A Song of Lament

A Sabbath Poem

I wrote this last Spring on a Sunday afternoon.  A foray into a different genre of writing for Lent.  I find it more frightening to share poetry than other forms of writing but I came back to this particular poem today as I look out the window and drink my tea.  The buds opened, of course, and are now a deep maroon red.  The heron is gone for the winter and I’m struck by how it all persists along its quiet, unhurried way.

heron

Sabbath

The heron leaps headlong, glides
Lands on rocks by water
falling

Ducks go bottom up,
and right side up again
in the brown-yellow brush

Saplings with bantam buds
in no rush
to open

Everything here does hurry shun
I distend my belly
a yogi’s breath

Sip

my

tea

slowly

Attempt assimilation