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What Now?

The election is over – and there are many people cheering and others who mourn the results and have great fear in their hearts. I am sure that, among the people here at In The Garden, we have people on both sides of that emotional line, and those who don’t think they are affected at all. Politics has a way of emphasizing our differences while ignoring all those things we have in common.

With the election of Donald Trump, and yes, he was elected by the people no matter what anyone says, certain people who have felt unheard, neglected, marginalized and demeaned have seen this as permission to speak and act in ways that are socially unacceptable. But Trump gave his followers permission; he is quoted as saying:

“For the most part you can’t respect people,” he has said, “because most people aren’t worthy of respect.”

And this is what that kind of rhetoric has spawned.

African Americans have been approached by people who ask ‘How do you like being a N* again’? Most of us cannot understand that depth of hatred in these people; we had assumed that we had come pass that. Obviously, we have not.

swastikas-in-clintonville
Swastikas have been painted on synagogues and racial slurs like ‘kike’ and ‘Jesus killer’ have been shouted to people coming out of temple. And there is a row of swastikas on the bridge here in Clintonville. . . in our own city!

Latino children in Michigan were attacked by a hooligan gang of white kids, beaten up and told they were not welcome at school or in the country while chanting ‘build the wall’. I have a friend with a six year old boy, who, having heard Trump threaten to deport all Mexicans, asked his father the day after the election if his little Mexican buddy would be at school – children do not understand that campaign promises are not instantly implemented the day after an election.

We have a huge group of this melting pot we call America who now fear for their lives. The Muslim community, who live peacefully and contribute to our nation, are afraid. One of the Muslim students who provides sack lunches for In the Garden was verbally attacked on the bus by two men saying: “I can’t wait until Trump takes office and we can kill ‘all of them.” His friend said, “I can’t wait until we can take that scarf around her neck and strangle her.”

God is NOT a supporter of hatred, bigotry, sexism, homophobia. We must remember, that these people are also God’s children. We must respect their right to express themselves, whether they act in a civil or uncivil manner. It is possible to respect the dignity of every human being while refusing to participate in our own oppression.

We, as marginalized people, and I count myself among them, must rise above the gutter and show that we will not allow ourselves to be further pushed down by society. As Michelle Obama said: ‘If they take the low road, we must take the high road’. Remember, no one can make us feel inferior without our consent. We need to stiffen our backbone and stand tall and not let ourselves buy into their definition of who and what we are

As scripture says:

I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:39)

It is not going to be easy, but for most of us, life has never been easy. We must continue to persevere, wrapped in the knowledge that we are all children of God, beloved children of God. Jesus told us

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, (Matthew 5:11-12)

We can only pray that things will get better soon; that calmer and more civil heads will prevail. . . that Americans will return to the concept of being one united country. But until it does, we need to remember that we are not put on this earth to sow seeds of dissent, but to love one another and live our lives according to the teachings and example of Jesus. We are to

Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)

But we cannot sit passively by as injustice reigns. We can and must fight against the rhetoric and acts of injustice in peaceful ways. We need to be vigilant and stand firm and speak out against acts of verbal and physical violence. Find a group that you can join, and work to make America the inclusive melting pot we are supposed to be!

Let us pray:

Gracious Creator, we are hurting. I ask that you help us overcome the evil that enslaves us. The evil the promotes hate of all forms. Help us to see Christ in all people and accept Love over hate. Amen.
 
 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 13 November 2016

We ARE all the same!

Something pretty miraculous happened to me about a month ago, and I am still trying to process what it meant and its impact on me.

As many of you know, for the last almost nine years, I have been the Deacon-in-Charge of the In The Garden Ministry at Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square. This is part of the reason that I leave immediately after the second service to get downtown in time to coordinate the meals and worship service.

Over the years I have experienced the deep faith that some of these people have, in spite of their mental illnesses and rejection from the majority of society. They may not be educated in theology but they embrace and really try to live their daily lives following Jesus’ commandment:

Love thy neighbor as thyself (Mark 12:31)

No matter the situation and the alienation from the ‘normal’ or mainstream, they still are a closely-knit community that takes care of its own.

At the end of July, In the Garden hold their own version of Mass in the Grass, or as we call it “Mass in the Garden”. All the volunteers work together to provide a picnic in the garden space between Trinity and the Glimscher Building. This year we had over 160 people come and celebrate with us. And celebrate we did; for the fourth time in nine years, we celebrated Eucharist on the steps of Trinity Church. And the majority of the people lined up and received. Seeing the line for communion going from the church steps to almost State Street was a marvelous witness to God’s love for all his people.

But it was during the clean-up after the picnic that the biggest miracle happened. We always have a group of men and women who help us clean up after each of the meals. This allows all of us to get home a little earlier on Sunday afternoon.

Because we were outside, there were a lot of tables to be taken down and transported back to the undercroft. Some of the tables would be loaded into a Core Team member’s trunk. I was resting, leaning on a stack of tables, with two ‘regulars’ who had done a yeoman’s job of breaking down and stacking tables. These gentlemen were older than I, and had probably spend their entire lives in day labor or menial jobs. We were all resting, leaning on the tables with our hands in near proximity.

Suddenly, one of the men reached out and gently touched my hand. The other one started to pull his hand away and said ‘you can’t touch a white woman’s hands’. This took me back, but I did not move my hand. I told him it was okay, I didn’t mind. With all the tenderness one would use to caress a baby, he gently rubbed my hand and fingers with amazement in his eyes. In all my life, I don’t ever remember anyone touching and stroking my hands with this much respect. As he stroked my hand, he said

‘you feel just like me’, ‘we really ARE the same’.

I don’t know what kind of impact this small act had on the two men, but I know for me, until the end of my life, I will never forget that experience: someone who was so bound by social convention, that he had NEVER touched the skin (or person) of a ‘white woman’. And who, by this experience, discovered the universal truth, that

Diversity_and_UnityThere is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, black or white (Galatians 3:28)

WE ARE ALL THE SAME

Not only under the skin, but also in God’s eyes.
 
 

Written for Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church Worthington and Parts Adjacent, August 2016

Acknowledging ‘White Privilege’

privilege and racismThe words ‘white privilege’ have been bandied around by pundits, the media and in general conversation, and while many of us accept that it exists, we are not sure what it means. The best definition of ‘white privilege’ that I have found came from a class in women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts:

a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.

The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold are a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy.

White privilege is about not having to worry about being followed in a department store while shopping. It’s about thinking that your clothes, manner of speech, and behavior in general, are racially neutral, when, in fact, they are white. It’s seeing your image on television daily and knowing that you’re being represented. It’s people assuming that you lead a constructive life free from crime and off welfare. It’s about not having to assume your daily interactions with people have racial overtones.

White privilege is having the freedom and luxury to fight racism one day and ignore it the next. White privilege exists on an individual, cultural, and institutional level”.[1]

To quote African -American author, James Baldwin, “Being white means never having to think about it.

Many of us at Saint John’s benefit every day from our ‘white privilege’. We don’t even acknowledge that we have it, and indeed, enjoy a life that people of color can only dream of, but do not often attain. Life’s path is smoothed for us; the entire world is set up to give us every advantage, allow us to come out on the top. Moreover, we don’t want to talk about the fact that we are privileged, or even think that our privilege directly affects the lives of millions of people of color. We do not have to worry about whether our children will return safely as they walk home from school, or if they are driving, will they be stopped for the most minor of offenses and jailed. I have an African-American friend who does not drive in Bexley because the police consider ‘driving while black’ a reason to stop him. We don’t have that worry. And even if we are stopped by the police, we don’t fear that we will be assaulted or shot. We don’t have to teach our sons how to avoid harassment when they are doing nothing wrong. People don’t cross to the other side when we walk down the street, or hold tight to their purses when we pass by.

Racism is about much more than our feelings toward one another, or about differences that we can fix with talk of tolerance or color blindness. The story of race is an ideology of difference that shapes our understanding of ourselves, the world we inhabit, and the communities in which we live. Racial thinking assigns value to human beings who are grouped within artificial categories. We do not need to embrace contrived notions of racial differences, in the name of inclusion, but to examine to the depth of our hearts how we really feel about people of color. Tolerance is not acceptable; we must search until we can truly look at any other person as equal to ourselves. By minimalizing another person, we are dehumanizing not only them but ourselves.

In light of the murders and shootings of people of all colors in the past few months and most recently, we, may be appalled or anguished, but may not see these events are directly related to the long-standing racism in our nation stemming from slavery. Progress for people of color has been slow, and halting; cultural attitudes and habits have changed at a glacial pace. We think we have made progress, but we have become so used to the ‘racial divide’ in our nation, that in many cases, we do not even realize it is there! The sad and shocking thing is, these killings will continue. Too much of white America doesn’t see the problem. Many subconsciously believe that the shooting victim(s) “deserved it”!

None of this means the situation can’t change. However, until the white people in America can see clearly this injustice occurring, and realize the freedoms and values that we as Americans believe in are not available to everyone, it will continue. Until it tugs at our own sense of fairness and justice, a lot of white people in America will remain unmoved to act. Denying the impact of white privilege on this country’s judicial system creates more injustice, more inflamed rhetoric, more grief, more rage. . . and more deaths!

I saw a sign held by protester at a rally that said: ‘White Silence is Violence’.

Truly, if you do not listen to others who are not like you, keep silent when disparaging words are spoken, don’t hold people accountable for their discriminatory conduct, you are just as complicit in racism as those who hold a gun or burn a cross or lynch a man.

White people are in a position of power in this country because of a long-standing power structure that they control. In the opinion of many, much of the political unrest that we are now experiencing stems from the fact that we fear we are losing that control. Are we brave enough to use our ‘white privilege’ to correct that system or power structure? Are we, as white people, willing to do what it takes to stop the systemic murder of young black men, the institutionalized school-to-prison pipeline, the deep, bleeding wound that is racism in America. It is a hard pill to swallow that, in many ways, white people are the source of the problem and only we can change it! People of color may yell, scream, cry, plead or demand justice, but until we are willing to get really uncomfortable with our own participation in a racist society, nothing will change.

Don’t delude yourself that you do not have the power. You may say ‘I’m not racist — I have black friends! I’m a good person!” You may not be rich and you may truly struggle with daily aspects of your life. You probably are a good person, and you may have black friends. BUT, you still benefit from institutionalized racism.

Andrew Rosenthal, a writer for The New York Times, stated:

“The point of the “Black Lives Matter” movement is not that the lives of African Americans matter more than those of White Americans, but that they matter equally, and that historically they have been treated as if they do not.[2]

Speak with people of color, listen, to learn — or perhaps more appropriately, unlearn the racism that has been instilled in us by our country. . . and our churches.

It’s time for white people in America — especially the white American church — to start putting action behind our prayerful social media memes. The unfortunate reality is that America has a really big race problem, and it is white people must take the leadership to fix it. We, who call ourselves followers of Jesus, should be leading the charge, not arguing about the semantics of whose lives’ matter’.

I call on ALL congregations, but especially white congregations, to unite in protest, to refuse to stand in silence, to speak out against racial injustice, to examine our individual lives and attitudes until we understand our participation in racism, and wipe it from our lives!

We must build a society where we no longer see people of color bloodied and broken. . . or dead, due to racial violence.

We must ensure that our children do not take on the racial attitudes and habits that we were so subtly taught.

Join me in acknowledging, understanding and shedding the mantle of our ‘white privilege’.
 
 
[1]      The Social Construction of Whiteness and Women, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

[2]      Andrew Rosenthal, “The Real Story of Race and Police Killings“, The New York Times; September 4, 2015

 
Written for the Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 18 July 2016