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On Being Curious

“Mama, do you have any questions for me?”

Our four-year-old almost always starts his day with this question. He is so curious. He wants to know as much as he can about everything from the names and planets of Star War characters to how and why hurricanes form. He wants to learn every letter and how to spell all kinds of words. He just wants to learn.

When do we lose this innate curiosity? When do we become convinced that the way we learned something is that way everyone learned something? When do we stop wanting to learn?

Maybe it’s because I was trained as a teacher or the fact that I never taught the same grade twice, but there was always something in me that wanted to read a new book and find out about a new place. But there is a subject I would prefer not to learn more about.  I have to admit when it comes to learning that I was wrong about something or that I have participated in unjust systems, there is a part of me that wants to pretend like I don’t know.

Austin Channing Brown says in her book, I’m Still Here:

Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origin than we are worried about our comfort. It’s not a comfortable conversation for any of us. It is risky and messy.

May God grant us curiosity and community to explore what we discover.

Blackout Day

Today July 7th, 2020 is Blackout Day. Today those who are co-labors in the fight to protest racism and preach the gospel that Black Lives Matter are encouraged to only buy from Black-owned businesses and boycott all others. What the leaders who have organized today realize is that in our capitalistic society, things won’t change until big business begins to feel the hurt of losing income.

Joining in today to support Black-owned businesses and to boycott other businesses and systems puts your money where your mouth is. If you have been calling out that black lives matter, but haven’t taken action, this is a very good way to join in.

Austin Channing Brown in her recent podcast with Brene Brown explained that saying you are an ally or listing the number of Black people that you are friends with or even work with really doesn’t make you an advocate. Sometimes these things actually impede you from doing the work that you need to do and risking your privilege to fight for Black lives. Instead, she suggests that if you are working towards social justice, you will find yourself working beside Black people. You will find yourself working alongside those who have been oppressed by capitalistic interests and pursuits. You will find yourself learning and growing alongside those who are listening to other people who have been oppressed and silenced.

The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.

We are building and planting something beautiful.

 

Racial Reckoning

The death of George Floyd took me back to the shooting at Emanuel in Charleston, SC. At the time of the shooting of the Emanuel 9, I was at Emmanuel teaching Bible Study. I was in my first pastorate. The shooter was born and raised just minutes from our church.

In the midst of all the protests and all the voices crying out that systemic and cultural racism is wrong and has continued, my ears and eyes have been opened again. For someone who was often the one in worship planning meetings who asked the question, “But what does it look like to have only older, white males on chancel for worship? Doesn’t that make it look like we don’t affirm and welcome women into worship leadership?” I hadn’t asked myself the question, “Whose voices am I listening to? Whose voices am I reading?”

I took a critical look at my social media feeds and realized, I am listening to white voices. I had been intentional with what I was reading. I was reading POC books and articles. I was listening to podcast interviews with those same authors, but my social media feeds were inundated with white voices.

And so I began to listen to recommendations of others and follow the voices of Black women in particular. I sought after those authors I had been reading and found their social media accounts. I looked at the white voices I had been following and decided to let go of a few of those voices who didn’t acknowledge the racial reckoning.

Then I began to listen to the stories of Black classmates from my white, independent liberal arts college. I began to listen to the stories of blatant racism from students and faculty. I began to confess for all the times that I have been in a system that not only is racist but chooses to continue to be racist. Again and again, the stories are stories of encounters and conversations I didn’t know where happening. Again and again, I was confronted with my white privilege.

As I have been reading Austin Channing Brown’s I Am Still Here, this passage struck me:

When you believe niceness disproves the presence of racism, it’s easy to start believing bigotry is rare, and that the label racist should be applied to only mean-spirited, intentioanl acts of discrimination. The problem with this framework – besides being a gross misunderstanding of how racism operates is systems and structures enabled by nice people – is that it obligates me to be nice in return, rather than be truthful. I am expected to come close to racists. Be nicer to them. (pg. 101)

It is not Austin’s or any other Black person’s responsibility to do my work. My work is to make sure that I am not adding more work to the work that so many Black people and women, in particular, are doing and have done their whole lives. It’s time for me to wake up and realize that I am part of the problem and intentionally choose to be a part of this racial reckoning. I will work to challenge and dismantle systems that oppress Black voices and experiences and values white voices and experiences. I will continue to acknowledge my privilege. I will continue to cull my social media accounts to include POC voices and experiences. I will continue to do the work to listen to voices that I haven’t listened to for so long.

Want to join me on this journey? Let me know what you have been reading and listening to!

Here are some of the resources I have been reading and listening to:

What White People Can Do for Racial Justice

I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown

White Fragility

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Case for Reparations Ta-Nehisi Coates

UCC Stop the Hate

Racial Justice Resources 2020

Brene Brown and Austin Channing Brown on I’m Still Here

On Being: Notice the Rage

On Being: Imagining a New America

On Being: The History is Long, the History is Deep

Stepping Into a New Day

One of the routines we quickly implemented in the midst of our quarantine life was a morning walk. For all of us, it helped make the transition between home and school. It helped us breathe in the new day and to look around for signs of Spring and indeed signs of the Divine moving among us.

Our walk looked a little bit different. Instead of a stroller with a four-year-old walking beside, the four-year-old was on a bike and the seventeen-month-old was riding in a hiking backpack. I found myself looking down at my shoes noticing the steps I was taking and the way that even the way we started this life in the midst of a global pandemic is changing. Our kids are learning new skills and new things. We are growing and changing as a family as we work to intentionally include conversations about racism into our walks and learning.

I can promise you that I don’t have answers and I can promise you that I will mess up this journey to be intentional about ways that I and our family have benefitted from a society and culture that values some lives over others. I can also promise that I will start the new day walking and seeking and noticing and reflecting.

I will keep reading and listening. I will keep walking in this new morning that has enlightened me to how much work still needs to be done.

 

On Having More Work to Do

Yesterday, was the five-year remembrance of the fatal shooting of the Emanuel Nine. It was particularly powerful for me that this anniversary fell on a Wednesday night, the same night that a young white man walked into a community of faith’s Bible Study, sat with them, and then opened fire. When this happened, I was pastoring a church in Lexington, SC, the place the shooter was raised. The overwhelming revelation that came was that we still had much more work to do.

In the last three weeks, as I have watched and listened to the voices of protestors, I have been overwhelmed at the depth of discrimination that exists in law enforcement and in our culture. Again the revelation washed over me that we still have much more work to do.

The global pandemic has made us tired and scared. We have felt exhaustion, numbness, anxiety, and so many other emotions. I have heard many people say that they are tired of doing the work of trying to determine what activities are safe or not safe. And now they are also tired of being reminded that racism still plagues our society and that people with white skin have enjoyed privilege and opportunity from this broken system.

I think Austin Channing in conversation with Brene Brown said it best: “Y’all might think you are tired, but we were born tired.”

Five years later and racism still plagues South Carolina even after we took down a symbol of hate and division. Five years later and churches still have to have safety plans in place. Five years later and protesters are still marching because the system is broken and unjust. Five years later and there’s still more work to do.

Reflection in the Mirror

One of my favorite songs from a movie is from Mulan. The lyrics that always get to me are:

Who is this girl I see

staring straight

back at me

When will my reflection show

Who I am inside?

There have been more than a couple of times in my life that I have stared at my reflection in the mirror unsure if I recognized the person I was looking at or not. The most memorable for me was five days after our son was born. He had a traumatic entry into the world. I had a traumatic post-delivery twenty-four hours.

I looked at my reflection in the bathroom mirror after being helped into the shower and out of the shower wondering who was looking back at me. It’s one of those moments you don’t forget because you have been so changed by life and experience.

This week I have looked deeply into the mirror and into my reflection confessing, wondering, and hoping. Confessing that the very whiteness of my skin has granted me certain privileges while others have suffered. Wondering why I didn’t recognize that being in my very body, a body that society has privileged, has impacted the way I view the world and how I exist in the world. Hoping that the deep desire for justice and transformation can transform me.

Take a minute today to look at yourself deeply in the mirror. Who do you see staring straight back at you?

On Confessing

There are some spiritual practices I readily practice. Walking and wandering while reflecting and pondering are always life-giving. As I walk and wander, I pray for family, friends, and for our world that we would find a more peaceful and just way of being together. I am always so grateful that my job is to read, study, write, and create. These have always been very natural tendencies for me and to be able to answer a call that encourages and supports those habits is truly wonderful.

There are other spiritual practices I tend to push aside. They are not comfortable. They are not welcome in my life. And yet they are so very important in grounding me in my understanding again and again of my dusty nature. Prayers of confession have always made me jumpy. Even as I would say these prayers communally, I found myself trying to speed up the pace of the confession so that we could get through it and be done.

This past week, I have done a lot of confessing to God. I’ve confessed that I have been a part of the problem by telling myself that I didn’t enjoy a privileged life. I have been so focused on what I have had to overcome and work through that I didn’t stop to think that there were other parts of daily living that I never, ever had to worry about. I have told myself that I had to fight my own fight before I was ready to fight for others.

I have confessed this week that I have thought of every excuse and justification so that I wouldn’t have to admit to being a part of the problem. I have confessed that I feel lost and overwhelmed because the problem is so deep and so ingrained into our society, into our culture, and into our communities of faith that it seems impossible to change. I have confessed that I am scared and fearful of the voices and stories because I wanted to pretend that they weren’t true.

I have no doubt that I will do much more confessing. For now, I am thankful and grateful to bear witness to this good and holy and important work. May my confessing bring me to my knees, silence my mouths, so that I might listen, truly listen, and be a part of the change.

Walking in the Backwoods

Yesterday, we took some time to go to Croft State Park. This was always a place that provided retreat and respite because it was so close to where I grew up. Also, I knew that this is where my grandfather was during World War II. There was even a desk from the administrative office at our family business growing up.

As we walked the trails by the lake, I found myself imagining what it was like a training camp. The number of soldiers who came to train in the woods or backwoods as some may call it. So much of the landscape and the foliage was familiar to me. It felt like my backyard, but to those soldiers coming from around the country, the heat and humidity and bugs must have been surprising.

I knew where we were going and I knew the significance in my own story of that place.

This is a significant point in our history personally, culturally, and societally. This is an invitation to stop and to decide how you are going to participate. What conversations are you going to have with your family? What conversations are you going to have with your kids?

In Exodus chapter 35, we find the reminder that when Jacob was fleeing for his life, God appeared to him and after God appeared to Jacob, he built an altar to remember that God appeared and that God was with him.

Jacob built an altar there and called it “God of Bethel,” because that was the place where God had appeared to him

How are you going to mark this time in a way that you will remember? What will you build to remember? This is indeed a remarkable time to be a part of history and to be a part of much-needed change. May God grant us strong memories to remember and courage to continue the work of change.

“The Kids Want to Help”

This week, I have been intentionally quieter here in this space. I have been reading. I have been listening. I have been lamenting. I have been asking for guidance.

All of these are practices that get pushed aside in the midst of the busyness of life. When something like the events of this week provokes the realization that I have benefitted from a system that has oppressed and silenced so many, my initial instinct is to deny that realization. I want to say that I’ve had my own fight to find my voice. I want to say I too have been silenced. I want to say I know how you feel.

But I don’t and to say these things overshadow the voices that need to be heard.

On one of our walks this week, the four-year-old unprompted said: “The kids want to help and when they do God will be proud of them.” Yes, I wanted to shout. Yes, we need a new generation of helpers. We need a new way of being and learning and growing together.

From these voices, from the kids, from these realizations, maybe just maybe, we will finally be able to create something new.

 

Dreams of Screams

I dreamed of screams last night.

It’s just a dream I told myself.

But it wasn’t.

Last night the screams of justice were heard all across our country. These screams were followed closely by the screams of fear from people who were victims of tear gas and rubber bullets. Screams of citizens trying to make their voice heard and realizing that the system and government in America are going to fight back. Fight to continue to oppress. Fight to continue to hold power and control.

My screams turned to tears and sobs.

I dreamed of screams last night on Pentecost Monday when we remember the mighty rushing wind of the Spirit coming so that all may be free.

Come Mighty Spirit, carrying these screams to the heart of God and let justice roll down.