Dear Friend | Racism, Outrage, Resistance, and Faith

Today’s post features a letter to a friend in response to a Facebook post. Initially, I was going to ignore her post, but after much prayer and consideration, I felt obliged to respond. Why here instead of Facebook? Because the views I express in this post require a larger audience than one, and though I would love to share with you all the prettiness and light I’d planned to share last week on the blog, common decency will not allow me to ignore the very present atrocities occurring in the United States. I would ask you to forgive the length, but the original was twice as long. 


Dear Friend,

I want you to know I love you. You are my sister-in-Christ. You are my friend. I hope you will receive this with the love with which it was written.

After a very difficult week, I went on Facebook a few days ago for a bit of mindless respite. At the top of my newsfeed was your post:

Black vs White. Racism needs to stop on both sides. When I look at you I see a person. I am white. I am tired of getting a label because of what some “evil” person did to another. It is an issue of GOOD vs EVIL that we need to be talking about! There are good and bad whites. There are good and bad blacks. I sat in the dirt and played right along with black kids growing up. I am not the same as you, but I am no different. I love me some black people, lots of them. I did not enslave your ancestors either. Someone way back, before I was born did that. I was molested, beaten, slandered and used when I was growing up too. I had to make a choice to move on. I had to make a choice to make it better. Jesus saved my heart. We live in a broken world full of good and evil people. Let us good people get on our knees and pray for the evil ones, the unjust ones, and let’s stop this racism. Jesus said pray for your enemies. If the law is broken someone deserves jail, white or black. These bandwagons and riots to stir everything up aren’t helping the problem to go away. Did you pray about it first? Can we just show some love? Can we just be kind? Pray for the police commissioner when an officer does something wrong. Pray for the judges. Pray for justice, but don’t do it because of black and white, please!! Do it because good is better than evil. Do it because Love is better than hate.  –L.K.

On the surface this seems like sound, good counsel. I agree with many of your points. However, it misses the mark in some ways. It fails to realize the complexity of human experience in general and of Black experience  in particular. It fails to recognize the unique circumstances of African Americans and all people with brown skin who live in this “land of the free.”

A lot of people misuse the word “racism.” They use it as if it is synonymous with prejudice, but it is not. Racism is “prejudice, bigotry, stereotypes, and discrimination that is systematically enforced by people with more institutional power, authority, and resources than others to the advantage of that group over others” [Patti DeRosa, ChangeWorks Consulting]. To be racist one has to have access to institutional power—the kind of power that affords one the benefits of all the systems in place [almost] without question. The kind of power that presumes one is indeed innocent until proven guilty and is at least entitled to a fair trial. The kind of power that allows one to be treated humanely and even make it to the prison cell alive and not have one’s life weighed in the balance by trigger-happy police officers and emboldened citizens taking “the law” into their hands. Black people can hold prejudices, but we cannot be racist. Why? Simply because we lack access to institutional power. This was the case even when the President of the U.S. was Black.

While it might be a question of good and evil in the spiritual realm, in these United States no matter how good a Black person is, in interactions with “the Law” and in the court of media and society, he or she is considered evil. Indeed, within a few short moments of the revelation of the unequivocal guilt of a white person in the murder of a Black person, media outlets go far and beyond to uncover some stain in the victim’s character or record that serves to justify the brutal murder. In the cases of the murder of Black men, women, children at the hands of white men or the word of white women, too many feel the need to vilify the victim to make the heinous act less villainous.

Have you noticed how the trials of murderers of Black people are entitled against the victim and not the assailant—e.g. the Travon Martin Murder Trial??? As if the dead victim committed the crime and is indeed on trial?

I’m not sure how slavery entered this particular conversation, but since it has, we need to recognize slavery as America’s deep, dark, wide-open secret. We are in this particular situation because [as a nation] we don’t want to go to the place of our original wound and really have the dialogue about the horrors of that system and about its consequences some 155 years after its purported end. The fact of America’s defective past is very much part of its present. It is not, then, that Black people can’t “move beyond” slavery; that horrific past is very much a part of our present in this nation. The abuse Black people suffer did not end with slavery. It is ongoing–continual.

I’m incredibly sorry about the pain and abuse you experienced as a child. That was horrible, but please, please, please be careful not to assume that because the two situations are alike in one way, they are alike in all ways and must be met with the same antidote. This is a logical fallacy, a “false analogy,” to be exact. Private, individual pain—though horrific—cannot compare to 400 years [and counting] of ritualized, systemic abuse of an entire body of people because of the color of their skin.

Imagine experiencing the abuse you suffered as a child every day of your life. Imagine all of your progeny for generation after generation experiencing what you went through every single day because of a genetic trait.

You decry the idea of people making assumptions about you based on the color of your skin. Imagine walking with assumptions every waking minute of your day. Imagine the danger of those assumptions when you are Black in America.

Recent events give many, many examples of the dangers of those assumptions—Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man out for a jog murdered by white men based on an assumption; a white woman using the fact of state-sanctioned murder of Black bodies as a weapon against Christian Cooper,  a Black man bird-watching; George Floyd, a Black man smothered to death in plain sight of others by a police officer who was comfortable enough with the status quo that he murdered an already incapacitated man with the same carelessness with which one would swat a fly. No remorse. Whatsoever.

Because of such assumptions, Black people are not safe. No matter where we are—in our homes sleeping like Breonna Taylor or playing video games like Atatiana Jefferson; walking home from the store like Trayvon Martin; driving in our cars like Philando Castile and Sandra Bland; playing as any little boy would with a toy gun like Tamir Rice; sitting in our grandmother’s backyards like Stephon Clark. I’m not sure we’ve ever been safe while sitting in church.

We breathe with the knowledge that someone, somewhere at any moment of the day can decide that we don’t matter, that our lives don’t matter. We. are. not. safe.

While your pain was/is real, it is not the same. At some point, you were able to extricate yourself from your abusive situation. To make a choice. To pray. To heal. To give your family a better, healthier experience. Black people have little to no control over what happens when other people’s racist attitudes and behaviors clash with our will and right to live healthy, whole lives. No matter how good our beautiful sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, nephews, nieces, cousins, friends are, no matter the right choices they make, no matter their prayers, someone can still decide they don’t matter. Their lives don’t matter.

So please be careful, my friend, how you hold the conversation with those of us who are racially oppressed. If you are to be an ally and exercise the kindness and compassion you advocate, be careful to release any inclination to counsel oppressed people on how to respond to oppression.

It seems to be a trend to fling the nice and easy words of Martin Luther King, Jr. into the faces of Black people in times like these. He was far more radical than the pacifist many believe he was. I invite you to look at a fuller selection of his body of work. Riots may not be the answer, but they are what happens when people are in complete despair and have run out of capacity for the overwhelming stress and emotion. All of the exhaustion, anger, sadness, weariness, and powerlessness spill over and there is no other response to the steady blows of trauma. King spoke about that too.

As a Bible-believing, fervent-praying Christian, you will get no disagreement from me about the power of prayer, but I’m compelled to remind you, in the face of injustice, scripture doesn’t tell us to pray. Scripture directs us to act:

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. –Isaiah 1:17

It is because I know Jesus Christ—He who is at once the Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah—that I am compelled to pray and act.

Sympathy and prayer are not enough. Protests are useful but not enough. Termination of the officers is a start but not enough. Arrest of the murderers is a beginning but not nearly enough. It is time to “turn over some [figurative] tables” and do more than ask, “Can we all just get along?” It’s time to do the hard work of undoing what centuries of social conditioning have done to convince far too many that Black people are only like real people—a little less human than the rest. It’s time for our nation—individually and collectively—to muster the courage and have the excruciating conversation so these atrocities can stop repeating and we can finally heal.

Yes, ultimately, we are involved in a war of good versus evil, but good is already defeated if we keep losing the battles to racism, injustice, and the like.

If you and I are to meet on the other side of Jordan, then we are to do exactly what God requires of us—

to be just, and to love [and to diligently practice] kindness (compassion), And to walk humbly with [our] God [setting aside any overblown sense of importance or self-righteousness]. –Micah 6:8 AMP

Love to you as we march onward…together.

“Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church”

Please note:  WordPress coding is misbehaving, so forgive me if the line breaks are rather random and ill-placed in this post. I’ve followed all the rules, but I get a different result each time. :-/

Chapel of Peace, Whippoorwill Academy and Village, Ferguson, North Carolina. 2012

Emily Dickinson’s Poem 236, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church,” is appropriate for our Corona times. We tune into virtual services, but they’re not the same. After all, we attend services for reasons beyond a sermon and a song.

If you’re missing fellowship with other believers, try spending time with God in nature. “All the earth worships [Him] and sings praises to [Him]” (Psalm 66:4), so you will not be in fellowship alone. Maybe, you’ll find that you’ve needed this type of worship also.

Emily Dickinson

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church (Poem 236)

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.


About the image: The “Chapel of Peace” is an older image. It was featured on the blog about seven years ago.

The Gift of the Resurrection | “The Blessing of the Morning Light”

As usual, around this time of year, I have been thinking about the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ—about what it means for humanity but also what it means in other ways. Scripture says that Christ came that we might have life abundantly—not a life of material riches, but a life richly transformed by the power of Christ, one which, despite the vagaries of human life, rest in the joy and strength of His presence.

This is also a gift of the resurrection of Christ.

We have been learning over these few weeks of sheltering-in-place that, generally, we have been living shadow lives, chasing the entrapments of what others consider a good life. We’ve also been learning that we can actually live without much of the clutter and noise, that—no matter how much we want to be out and doing with the throngs—we are content with our simpler, streamlined lives.

We have time for thought. For listening. For embracing joy and sorrow outside the rush of our normal everyday existence.

We are experiencing a mass removal of “masks” that unfortunately cannot be handed over to health professionals. This presents us with an amazing opportunity to grapple with the messiness of our experiences in ways that lead to authentic connection with ourselves and others.

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of listening to David Whyte read one of his poems, “The Blessing of Morning Light,” during session 1 of his workshop, The Courage in Poetry. The words coincided so intensely with my thoughts over the last couple of weeks that I almost exited the live workshop just to sit and process those few moments.

We have a genuine opportunity through this global travesty to allow Light to illuminate the dark places so that we may rise to morning light.

[The poem was written one Easter morning (2015) in memory of his friend John O’Donohue].

THE BLESSING OF THE MORNING LIGHT (Or, “Easter Blessing”)
David Whyte

The blessing of the morning light to you,
may it find you even in your invisible
appearances, may you be seen to have risen
from some other place you know and have known
in the darkness and that that carries all you need.
May you see what is hidden in you
as a place of hospitality and shadowed shelter,
may that hidden darkness be your gift to give,
may you hold that shadow to the light
and the silence of that shelter to the word of the light,
may you join all of your previous disappearances
with this new appearance, this new morning,
this being seen again, new and newly alive.

From the David Whyte, The Bell and the Blackbird (2018).

All Wrapped Up in Joy

I woke up this morning with all the “things to do” on my mind and all the uninvited annoyances that entered my sphere days earlier nagging my heart. Before jumping out of bed in a frenzied rush–15 minutes later than I’d intended and an hour later than I should have–I paused and convinced myself to spend my usual first moments of the day in meditation.

I thought about my blogging friend Rev Russ’s query in his post “It’s All Hard”: Is life hard or have we become wimps [not exactly his words]?

I mused for a moment about just how difficult it can be to navigate all the “stuff” that comes our way from day to day, just how hard it is to push past the everyday slights and disappointments, how hard it is to [always?] act and speak with prudence, how hard it is to accept [not tolerate] difficult people, how hard it is to forgive repeat offenders, how hard it is to love ourselves, flaws and all.

The thought of it all made rising from bed a bit challenging, so I asked God, “How can I face the day when I wake up bone-tired? Weary?”

He immediately answered with three doses of His Word, so I wrote them in my journal and determined to let them direct my day.

When things were said or done that had the potential to unsettle me–A person whose desires rest on You, You preserve in perfect peace because [she] trusts in You (Isaiah 26:3).

When a sense of my very present vulnerabilities threatened to overthrow me–My grace is enough for you, for My power is brought to perfection in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

When I felt like the tasks were unmanageable, too much, impossible–I can do all things through Him who gives me power (Philippians 4:13). 

Despite the disappointments, the distractions, the conflicting personalities, the tedious work, the “must get done” list, my step was a little lighter today; my mind at ease; my spirit unencumbered.

As I wrote the last scripture in my journal this morning and click-closed the pen, God whispered one more word into my heart–The joy of the Adonai is [my] strength (Nehemiah 8:10). The peace, the grace, the power–all wrapped up in His joy.


Forgive me for the wordy #WordlessWednesday. The image above is an edit of a fallen hyacinth flower. I visited my family in New Orleans last weekend, and the gorgeous and über aromatic hyacinth plant stole the show in my mother’s garden.

All scripture from the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB).

Crucifixion: The Hard Part

[…]crucifixion was not the hard part
for Christ. Incarnation was.
How to squeeze all of that
all-of-that into a body.
Alison Hawthorne Deming, “Resurrection”

They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they compelled him to carry the cross. –-Matthew 27:30-32

This moment in the scriptural account of Christ’s crucifixion moves me. It depicts Jesus at one of his most human moments. With the literal weight of the world on His shoulders, He succumbs to the weariness of all this humanity and simply needs help carrying the cross from which He will soon hang.

Paradoxically, it took divine strength to walk that path of humility. It took every bit of His divinity to remain fully human and achieve for all humanity the ultimate victory over the enemy of our souls.

12 Days of Christmas Postcards | Day 11

My friend David P posted a Facebook status Christmas morning that poignantly expressed the meaning of Christmas. We spend so much time on the circumstances and the miracle of the virgin birth that we often miss the reason Christ came to earth—God so loved the world. Christ came not just to be born of a virgin and perform miracles but to rescue us through His shed blood at Calvary. He came because of His inexplicably deep love for humanity. It’s just as simple–and complex–as that.

David wrote:

We Christians believe Jesus was sent to Earth because God loved the world. To me, that means all of us: Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and Hindus; those who practice Santería, Vodou, the Yoruba religion and other African-based beliefs; pagans, Wiccans and yes, even Satanists; .agnostics and atheists, too. And those of any other belief, or of no belief at all. God’s love is a big patchwork blanket of grace that covers all of us, no matter what state we are in, no matter how we perceive or don’t perceive God.

This is the good news: God loves us lavishly, unconditionally and relentlessly. So we who believe can relax, enjoy the relationship, and grow in it. And we can trust that for our loved ones who don’t believe or aren’t sure, God doesn’t pout or hold grudges. God loves them, and courts and cares for them night and day. In fact, God’s love for them far exceeds our own. So don’t worry. They are in good hands, just as we are. Happy Holidays to all…and to my fellow believers, Merry Christmas!

David’s words align with the sentiment of the image I shot for our holiday card this year: Christmas is about love for humanity, and that love is always in season.

“He Comes Walking”

During my prayer and meditation period this morning, I ran across a Sheila Walsh quote printed in my Women of Faith Study Bible, a couple of pages away from the psalm I was studying. I am moved to share it here:

When emotions beat against our souls like wave after wave in the worst of a storm, there is nowhere to turn but to Christ. As I sit for a while and think about Him, I hear the loneliest words in the world: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). On that brutal tree Christ embraced total isolation so that you and I never have to be alone. I am learning that doesn’t mean that life will be free of pain; it means that in the midst of the darkest night, He comes walking. Along the bleakest hospital corridors, He comes walking. When you think the world has left you all alone, listen closely. He comes walking. –Sheila Walsh

It is natural for us to feel alone when we’re struggling with everything that comes against us, when we’re desperately seeking answers that make sense. Rest assured. Things are not as hellish as they seem. We are not alone. Christ our Strength is walking with us, standing us upright, carrying us through.

I hope Walsh’s words rest deep within your soul. I hope when you are in the darkest places of human loneliness–where it seems no one knows or understands–you will remember Christ. He is well acquainted with human suffering. His light penetrates. His love and comfort reach even there.

He comes walking…

If We Love Each Other…

I read something this morning that nearly brought me to tears–a comment written in response to a blog post about God’s love for us. The post, written nearly two years ago, had few comments, but one comment in particular caught my attention. It was written by a man who for several years dealt with a series of really bad circumstances and came to the conclusion–after a lifetime of belief–that God does not love him. The saddest thing, however, is that the comment sat beneath the blog post with no response for a full year before another “random person” stumbled upon the post and read the comment.

A full year.

Even after the “random person’s” response, neither the author of the post nor the Christian organization that hosts the site responded. In nearly two years.

If it hurt me, imagine how much it affected the man who so bravely and desperately cried out. He needed an answer. He needed a virtual hug and assurance of God’s intimate concern and love for him.

He got crickets.

The thing that keeps me sane and walking upright in this world is knowing that God absolutely loves me, but I first experienced God’s love through others.

It is God’s love for and in us that allows us to love sincerely and deeply; it is His love that permeates our being and generates love action. It’s nearly impossible to experience or “possess” Divine Love and not be transformed.

Loving God and understanding His love for humanity results in reaching out to hurting people, living out His presence in our lives, and showing the world who He is–through acts of love.

Without human manifestation of God’s love, His love is simply theory.

The Fortunate One: St. Josephine Bakhita

Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself, ‘Who could be the Master of these beautiful things?’ I felt a great desire to see him, to know him and to pay him homage.    –St. Josephine Bakhita

Today’s “Focus on Black” post comes because I was a little surprised to learn that many people I spoke with could not name one Black saint, though even if not Catholic, they knew the names of European saints. Indeed, the only individuals I spoke to who knew about Black saints were two students who attended Catholic primary and secondary schools.

So, though there are many Black saints, today I’m introducing you to St. Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947), Patron Saint of the Sudan.

Saint Josephine Bakhita, 2003. Oil on canvas. Artist, Janet McKenzie

We know very little about Bakhita’s early life, but she was born into a prominent family in the western Darfur region of Sudan. Her path to sainthood began with terror:

She and a friend were walking through a field in her native Sudan when she was abducted by armed slave traders.  She was so terrified upon capture that she forgot her name. The slavers called her “Bakhita,” which means fortunate.

Bakhita endured terrible cruelty at the hands of a succession of owners. Her fortunes truly changed when she was

purchased by Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who treated her with kindness and respect. Legani left her with a friend, Augusto Michieli, and his wife in Italy.  Bakhita served as caretaker of their newborn daughter, Mimmina.  When business required the Michielis to travel, they entrusted the girls to the Canossia Sisters of the Institute of the Catechumens in Venice. There, Bakhita came to understand the God who had given her the fortitude to overcome the hardships of slavery. After several months, she received the sacraments of initiation and was given the name Josephine. She remained with the Sisters and served as a nun for the rest of her life, beloved for her kindness to children and visitors to the Institute.  When she died her body was displayed for several days as thousands came to pay their respects. –from 365 Days of Black History, I Only Know the Story

St. Josephine Bakhita, the first saint of Sudan, was canonized–made a saint–on October 1, 2000.

At her canonization ceremony, Pope John II said of her:

In today’s world, countless women continue to be victimized, even in developed modern societies. In St. Josephine Bakhita we find a shining advocate of genuine emancipation. The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence, and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights.

To learn more, see:

For more black saints, see:

Until next time…

 

Divine Rest…

Closed Bridge at Ditto Landing

Closed Bridge at Ditto Landing, Huntsville, Alabama, 2016.

The whole love of the “Law” has been lavished on and has cherished the Sabbath. As the day of rest, it gives life its balance and rhythm; it sustains the week. Rest is something entirely different from a mere recess, from a mere interruption of work, from not working. A recess is something essentially physical, part of the earthly everyday sphere. Rest, on the other hand, is essentially religious, part of the atmosphere of the divine; it leads us to the mystery, to the depth from which all commandments come, too. It is that which re-creates and reconciles, the recreation in which the soul, as it were, creates itself again and catches the breath of life–that in life which is sabbatical.”
― Leo Baeck, Judaism and Christianity