Cara shared a list of books that would be helpful in educating ourselves in the ways of racial reconciliation. Here's that list:
Embrace: God's Radical Shalom for a Divided World – Leroy Barber
Roadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice – Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption – Bryan Stevenson
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – Michelle Alexander
November 13, 2016 / Becoming We Through Racial Reconciliation / Cara Meredith / Genesis 1:26-27
Every human life on this planet reflects the image of God. But in this broken world not all lives are treated equally. How can we honor others, offer and receive forgiveness, and see those whom Jesus sees as marginalized?
On Wednesday, perhaps like some of you, perhaps like many of you, I woke up in a state of shock. But, I went through the motions: I read my book. I put Sesame Street on television, I poured my coffee and I fed hungry mouths. And then, as happens most mornings, I went to the gym. Because, you know, I’m all about having a super toned and amazingly sculpted body – and there’s also childcare at the gym, so, you know, bonus! The gym that morning was eerily quiet, so quiet in fact, you could hear the breathing of the woman across the room. A few conversations were had, but then the conversation was had.
When my two sons and I hopped in the car to leave, we pulled up to parking garage attendant Kim. We call her Miss Kim, and she’s become our friend. We hung out with her and her three boys at a park once, so every morning when we leave the gym, we get to further that relationship. She always pulls out two little packets of fruit snacks, so much so that the boys have become accustomed to yelling “FRUIT SNACKS!!!!” out the window when we pull up, instead of calling her by name.
“How about you say hi to Miss Kim first, before expecting fruit snacks?”
“Hi Miss Kim! Hi Miss Kim! Do you have any fruit snacks for us?”
But that morning was different. When I pulled up, I asked her how she was doing, like really, actually doing. And she looked at me and replied, “You know what? I’ve had at least 10, maybe 15 people this morning alone apologize to me.” Her eyes began to fill with tears. “These were complete strangers, and they were all white people, too. But somehow, someway, they felt like they had to apologize to me on behalf of white people just like them.” She paused. “But you know what? I mean, I get what they’re apologizing for, but I don’t understand why I have to be so scared now. I don’t know what to be scared about, but I know that I’m supposed to be scared for something. And I don’t know what this means, for me, for my sons, for my husband – for your husband and for your sons, too. I’m scared but I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be scared about.”
Tears rolled down her face. Tears rolled down my face.
I didn’t know what to say and neither did she, but the pain of the unknown gripped both of us. The pain of fear, the pain of hate, the pain of not knowing if the people we love, the people whose skin looks like ours or happens to be a world of shades apart, grips at our insides and causes tears to roll down our cheeks.
Kim is black. Kim is married to an Africana. She has three sons, one of whom was born with Down Syndrome. And Kim is scared for her life.
What do we do?
So, what do we do with this? What do we do with the news of this last week, when it seems like the beliefs and words and actions of our President Elect, and even more so, of the voices of mostly white Americans, just like many of us across the country we’ve come to call our own, seem completely contradictory to inclusive, to acceptance, to diversity and to the teachings of Jesus himself. What do we do and how do we respond when we believe, from the bottom of our hearts, because it’s true no less, that all people, women and men, red and yellow, black and white, queer and straight, able-bodied and disabled, immigrant, refugee and citizen, those who have been the victims of sexual assault and abuse, and millions of others, just like us, feel like we’ve been slapped in the face?
What do we do? How do we respond, in and with the love of Christ? How do we step into justice and action? How do we rise up when they go low? How do we band together, educating ourselves and stepping into advocacy, following the cacophony of catalytic events this past week?
My story of race
“Yes. Yes, I am.” So, I told her, a Latina woman, a little bit of my story. I grew up in Oregon, a state known for, well, its whiteness and its racist roots. This is a picture of me in the 7th grade at Whiteaker Middle School. Rocking the Hypercolor t-shirt, rolled up jean shorts and Keds (of course), I didn’t think issues of race had anything to do with me. My teachers and my church and my parents taught us that we lived in a colorblind society: even if we saw people who didn’t look like us, we were to look beyond the color of our skin. We weren’t to see racial or cultural or ethnic differences. We were to be homogenous in our understanding of each other. I suppose we were past race, like many may call our country today: a post-racial nation.
I believed this was what I was supposed to believe about issues of race and how I was supposed to operate in the world. But the only problem was that when and as I encountered people who didn’t look like me, I didn’t know what to do. A black family would show up to church, and I’d just stare. Were they just like the Huxtables? Did the dad eat hoagies at midnight in the kitchen, and did the mama come in and reprimand him? Why did they raise their hands like that? What did their hair feel like? What were they like?
To me, it was like they were a different breed of humans altogether. I didn’t see how we could share anything in common, even though I was supposed to not be able to see differences in skin color. I was supposed to dismiss it. I was supposed to rise above it and just see the heart.
But truthfully, they were an anomaly I didn’t understand.
Truthfully, they – as in people of color – were the other.
Eventually, I graduated from high school and went to college, where I met Sara and Jason and some of you. In a mostly white enclave, I believed myself in the throes of diversity: we had athletes and musicians and nerds, Christians and non-Christians, partiers and druggies – we had it all! So, upon declaring my major, I decided upon education, so I could move to New York City, Harlem to be precise. I could be just like Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds, but I’d teach English, not math. But still, I’d save the children who most needed saved. I’d be their white savior.
And I did eventually become a teacher, but not in Harlem like I once dreamed. Instead, I became a high school English teacher in San Jose, California. But then something happened, and maybe it happens to all of us as we gain entrance and footing in our professional lives: I began to see and to realize that it wasn’t about me. My fourth year of teaching, I taught in a school in which 40 different languages were spoken – and embraced. And for the first time, I began to see the pride these students held in their racial, cultural and ethnic identities. Maybe I began to celebrate diversity, for the first time. Maybe I began to ‘get it’ for the first time. Maybe I began to see that it wasn’t about me.
Eventually, I left teaching. Eventually, I began a career in full-time ministry instead. And eventually I met my husband, who happens to be black, and his father, who happens to be an historical figure in the Civil Rights movement.
I remember one such trip, taking kids to camp. We’d taken a bus load of high school students to a remote camp in the Sierra Nevada mountains of northern California. At one point, I looked around to all 45 of us grouped together and realized that there were students and leaders of every nationality. I remember my eyes filling with tears, and I remember thinking to myself, Why does this matter? Does this matter? What does this mean about ministry and my heart?
And I remember going to one of my students quinncineras …I remember the food and I remember the dancing. I remember the music and I remember the tears that spilled down the faces of the parents and their 15 year old daughter. And I remember, at one point, looking around the room and noticing that I was the only white person in the room. Once again, I remember my eyes filling with tears, and I remember thinking to myself, Why does this matter? Does this even matter? What does this mean about ministry and what does this mean to my heart?
And I remember the first time I sat down in my future husband’s living room. “There’s something I have to tell you,” he said to me, and took down a stack of books off the shelf. “This is my father,” he said, opening them up, pointing to pictures of a man named James Meredith, the first black man to integrate into the University of Mississippi. There he stood beside Martin Luther King, Jr. There he stood, surrounded by the national guard. There he sat, all by himself in a classroom, as the rest of the white students walked out when they saw him enter, leaving him all alone.
“Wow,” I replied. “It looks like he’s kind of a big deal.” And he was. He is. He was someone I’d probably learned about in 11th grade American History class, but he’d gone in one ear and out the other. I didn’t have to know about him beyond the test on the Civil Rights chapter. In my privilege, I didn’t have to remember him and I didn’t have to be changed by him. It was my privilege – and my privilege as a white person – to not have to understood how his actions helped not only to change the lives of black people in the state of Mississippi and the United States as a whole and the world at large. It was my privilege to not know.
Eventually, (my) James and I married. Eventually, we had two little caramels, Canon and Theo, four and two years old, the same ones who yell FRUIT SNACKS out the window whenever we approach Miss Kim’s booth. And eventually, I came to understand, through my history, through marrying my husband, through becoming a Meredith myself and through having biracial children, the imago dei of God’s heart for every single human on this green earth.
and what he’s about becomes our uniform – which then leads us to the “then” statement. So, if this is true, then when it comes to conversations of racial healing, justice and reconciliation, a couple of things naturally happen:
First, we believe in the imago dei of every single individual. We believe that woman and man have been created in the image of God. We believe the words of Genesis 1:27, that “…God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female, he created them.” We say, YES, every single human has worth in God’s sight. Every single human has value in the eyes of GOD. And every single human, no matter the color of their skin, has been created equally and deserve equal dignity.
So, not only is this our starting point, but for many it’s the starting and ending point around issues of race: simply because not all lives have been given equal value in this system and in our world. Not all lives have been treated equally – and there has been a severe denial of Genesis 1, a denial of imago dei. Regardless of the color of our skin, we have intrinsic worth in the eyes of God, for we are his image bearers – male and female, he created them. In the image of God, he created them.
MORE ON IMAGO DEI!!!!
Maybe: John 4
In John 4, we have the well-known story of the Samaritan woman, or the woman at the well. We could spend weeks on these 25 verses alone, but what does it mean to look at through a lens of WHO Jesus saw, through the lens of seeing the poor and the marginalized?
For starters, it’s a story that involves racial tension: Jews purposefully did not go through Samaria but took longer routes around it because they did not associate with Samaritans. But, in fact, they hated them: Samaritans were considered racial and religious half-breeds, because they’d married outside the state and they’d given to idol worship.
But Jesus has a different response.
He goes straight through Samaria, to the place he wasn’t supposed to be at. He happened to arrive at high noon, and well, the dude was thirsty. When no one but the woman was there – because she, who’d been widowed or divorced five times before (and was now living with a man who wasn’t her husband) – had been ostracized from her community. So, she had to go at a time when the rest of the women wouldn’t be there, when the rest of those who had been her community, wouldn’t be there. She didn’t want to be talked about. She didn’t want to be the butt of their jokes.
But Jesus sees and speaks to she who’s been blacklisted from her community – by gender, by race and by religion. He sees her for who she really is, instead of who she’s not.
He loves her, not in spite of, but because of her gender, her race and her religion …because this is WHO HE IS, and this is how he sees.
It’s easy to love people who look like us, and act like us, and believe like us. But it’s a whole heck of a lot harder to love people who’ve managed to escape our peripheries.
So, again, what do we do + Efrem quote
So what would it look like for us to see as Jesus sees, both in our world and in scripture? What would it look like for us to see the marginalized and the oppressed, who are already among us? Take it one step further: what would it look like for us to SEE the paralysis and brokenness prevalent in our systems, in our communities, in individuals and in ourselves – just as Christ saw with the woman at the well - and respond as he would respond? What would it look like to say, YES, I desire for that which is broken to be made whole again – and there is brokenness in the world when it comes to issues of race. And I desire that THIS be made whole.
“All lives matter to God. But in this crazy, upside-down, broken and bizarre world, not all lives are treated equally. This is why we must say Black Lives Matter.”
Five points for entering in to the conversation of race:
1. Talk to God. Righteous anger: is it allowed? What is my role in this? How do you want me to fight for healing, hope and rebuilding? How can I love with justice in the center? Second paragraph of Lisa Sharon Harper’s prayer.
2. Own your story. “We’re all confined to our experiences.” Own your privilege. Own your own racist history, and the way you’ve “othered” people. Own the systematic racism you see around you, a racism that is not limited to individuals, but effects entire communities, states and nations. Own the way you’ve contributed to racism by just standing by as an innocent bystander. Own the way you’ve tried to be understood instead of understand. (Prayer of St. Francis?)
3. Get educated – show picture of Dr. Brenda’s Roadmap to Reconciliation. Perhaps this last week was the chaos and what she calls a catalytic event. Perhaps, for the first time, you decide not to continue in preservation but you decide to enter into reconciliation. Read her book. Read Lisa Sharon Harper’s new book. Read Embrace (Leroy Barber), the last couple chapters of which are worth reading for its practical application. Read America’s Original Sin (Jim Wallis). Read Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women and Queer Christians are Changing Evangelicalism. Read just Mercy (Bryan Stevenson). Obviously, I read a lot, and that’s one of the ways I’ve been changed – but I’ve also had to intentionally read books I wouldn’t normally gravitate toward. (Christian white women memoirists, reading books only by black authors this past February for Black History Month, etc).
4. Notice the marginalized who are already among you. LaCrae last month: “ I need somebody who doesn’t look like me. My pain becomes your pain. Stories like the Good Samaritan are fleshed out.” Who’ve you seen hurting this last week? Who among you is feeling the effects of Tuesday’s vote? Who among you is a woman, a person of color, someone with disabilities, a friend in the LGBTQ community, a refugee or an immigrant, a victim of sexual assault or abuse – who among you have you not noticed, who’s scared, who’s in pain, who’s hurting, who’s already among you?
5. Get proximate. “I see something injust and I am taking a stand.” I not only keep the peace, but I actively participate in making the peace. Bryan Stevenson. (Look up Abby Perry’s list, quote from Deborah Jian Lee).
“Who’s that?” my oldest son, then three, asked, pointing at a homeless woman perched on the corner.
“That’s a person.”
“Who’s that?” he asked again, pointing at a young man with pink hair.
“That’s a person, too.”
“Well, because persons are humans.”
“Well, because humans matter, buddy. You and me, we matter, even if we look different from each other. And every single person on this earth, they’re humans. They matter just because they’re humans.”
This is the truth we want our children to know and pass on to the world. This is the truth we want them to model and invite others into. This is the truth we want them to live into, for even in our differences, a greater truth is embedded within our humanity because we are God’s own.