Confronting racism, seeking hope (Published in Living Lutheran)
Life in the present moment feels a little unsure, less stable and scarier than ever before. The wound that Charleston has left feels too open, too gaping and too big to try to fill with words. With all that has been going on in our country and the world, all the attacks on black bodies and black people, words seem like a luxury. Action seems like a better use of time. But here I sit writing, offering my thoughts and praying that my honesty may help others make sense of it all. It is what my faith is calling me to do.
Lately my Christianity has felt as heavy as my blackness, a weight I can’t take off and don’t actually want to carry. Everywhere I go, even on social media, my circle is a cross between politically conscious people of color who may or may not be religious and those who are Christian. The former share analysis and things about Christians (black ones in particular) subscribing to their own oppression, which hurts. The latter share Scripture regularly and often see the world through a passive lens, which also hurts. Those two extremes have been unsettling because they represent the tension in which I perpetually find myself.
I am a contradiction: I am black, I am woman, I am community organizer, I am lover of black people, I am poet, I am Christian and I am also Lutheran.
I was raised in a small black congregation where my aunt and uncle were the pastors. It houses some of my first memories and first friends. It was there that I learned how powerful and important it was to believe in something bigger than you, to see the best in people and in your community.
And then Charleston happens. A young man walks into a church, sits and participates in a Bible study and is welcomed in a manner that I imagine was similar to how Jesus teaches us to welcome the stranger. Then the man attacks. He launches into hateful rhetoric that — while we pretend it is offensive — we have all heard. It is the same hateful speech that causes us to laugh at the expense of another culture, to be so concerned with protecting our own way of life and church tradition that we won’t even recognize the humanness of other people.
Again I was reminded that I live in two worlds: the black one of my work and upbringing and the white one I choose to engage through my participation in the ELCA. I live where believers allow their feelings and their theology to paralyze them and I live where organizers and activists launch into political analysis before they feel anything at all.
I don’t want to exist in two worlds. Today, my side is picked. It is the side that calls us to confront the ways in which racism has distorted our world both at a macro- and micro-level, in policies that discriminate and in the tainted ways in which we see each other. It is the side that requires us to confront what it means to stand for justice and not just use the language of faith to let us off the hook. It is the side that leads us to boldly declare #blacklivesmatter because until we understand that, we will just be clanging symbols. It is the side that pleads us to be bold enough to be hurt and vulnerable. It is the side that says love is great but love is not enough to heal the choices we have made as a nation.
And yet there is still hope. There is comfort in knowing that our lives are more than the collection of accolades and events, that our lives can spark awareness and action and movement. There is hope in knowing I am part of a people who has always been resilient and claimed its humanity even when society wouldn’t recognize it. I am part of a people whom God loves, who have always emerged from the ashes scarred but not broken.
Today I pray that the weariness that people feel may be the fuel for new paradigms and new worlds to be created.