Today I Saw God
The following blog posting is Based on the May 16, 2018 Devotion in the Floris UMC Racial Reconciliation Group Meeting:
In his Dissent of Plessy V. Ferguson, 1896, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote,
“The White race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is, in prestige, in achievement, in education, in wealth, and in power…But in view of the constitution, in the eyes of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens….The destinies of the two races, in this country, are indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that the common government of all shall not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law."
There’s a lot here to unpack here, but for this moment, let’s focus just on the portion, “The destinies of the two races, in this country, are indissolubly linked together.” Do we really believe this, and if we do and we weren’t hypocrites, how would it manifest in our daily lives?
Many racial groups in our community live side by side with other racial groups but rarely do their lives cross paths other than when traveling along the same roadways. Whites, in particular, sometimes think that they can conduct themselves most of their days within their own world without any need or interest in interacting with any other racial group. This can make them indifferent to those groups, and in some cases, dismissive of those groups needs and interests, or of great value found when racial groups interact in meaningful ways. The irony of white privilege here, that any group other than whites can imagine actually living most of their daily lives without the constant influence of another group’s values and position, doesn’t escape me.There’s still value to the question, however: Pushing back on racial insularity, how is the positive destiny of white people directly linked to the positive destiny of people of color? Alternatively, how are the races so linked that as one rises, the other does, too, or as one falls, the other one does as well? Could each race be considered the canary in the coal mine for the other?
I’m struck by one of the biggest reasons I’m a part of a racial reconciliation group – none of us is free until all of us are free. My white race is not whole in its humanity nor in its faith and relationship with God until it is reconciled with each race, and it has done the hard work of becoming aware and proactive in ending racism, doing much more than a quick click on the, “Like,” button on a random anti-racism tweet.
This is a scary thing, though. It requires candor, and it’s just easier to keep living one’s life without rocking the boat or losing friends in uneven efforts at blunt honesty. Suddenly there it is, though: Watch how we inadvertently perpetuate racism either systemically or personally by not saying anything, not getting educated about racism’s very real presence and our roles in ending it.
We need models of courage to ignite our own moral outrage and displace our unrecognized complacency. New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu made a stunning speech in May 2017 just before workers removed a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, the fourth Confederate monument to be dismantled in New Orleans in the past few weeks at the time. The speech went viral on YouTube and Landrieu has since written a book about it and his personal commitment to an anti-racist south. Here’s a portion of the speech:
“There are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture. America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp."
“So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth. And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.
So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it. For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth.
History cannot be changed. It cannot be moved like a statue. What is done is done. The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost and we are better for it. Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to acknowledge that the cause of the Confederacy was wrong."
And in the second decade of the 21st century, asking African Americans — or anyone else — to drive by property that they own; occupied by reverential statues of men who fought to destroy the country and deny that person’s humanity seems perverse and absurd.”
Conviction means we hold firmly to belief, we stand resolute. There is great courage – the kind needed for racial reconciliation and reparation - that comes from Christian conviction, in particular. How do any us demonstrate the courage of Christian conviction in today’s world? Will they know we are Christians by our love alone? And how many times in our lives have we needed to demonstrate the courage of Christian conviction, but it just wasn’t in us, and had we the opportunity to do it over again with such courage, we would have handled it very differently? ‘A plentitude.' Please, Lord, let these things agitate us and call us forward!
I love song mash-ups where DJ’s, singers, and others mix portions of favorite songs into a new composition and in doing so, create something with a power all its own, separate from the effect of the individual songs themselves, strong though they may be. Let me do that here with verses from the Biblical books of Genesis, Colossians, Revelation, John, 1 John, and James related to race, unity, and our common roots in Christ. Let’s read collectively as a summons to find the courage of Christian conviction to participate in the hard, sometimes uncomfortable work of racial reconciliation in God’s world:
So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them… And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all…After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…[Declaring] Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness…[So,] A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
Please, Holy Redeemer, let these moments in scripture grant us courage of conviction as we facilitate racial reconciliation in our personal lives and the larger community. We know that if we speak up for respectful conversations, whites becoming informed of the issues, racial reconciliation and equity in all elements of secular and spiritual living, we may lose friends, family members, and colleagues for a while…or longer. Walk with us, Lord. Help us with forgiveness, too -- for ourselves and others. We will make mistakes in these conversations, including inexact wording, unintended stereotypes, muddled thinking, and outright offensive acts or words. They WILL happen. How we respond thoughtfully to these gaffes, imperfections, and the pain we cause others is a clear and courageous expression of our Christian conviction and God’s grace. Lord, grant us the receptiveness to hear you, the humility to recognize the error, and the fortitude to make amends. And noting your direct commands in the Scripture above, Lord, your call could not be more clear. Carrying the lantern so, we see the way ahead.