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Yesterday, this image popped up in my feed.  Something beautiful coming out of darkness?  I just wasn’t feeling it.  Then I read Lori’s “Don’t Look Away.”

From the late 19th to the mid-20th century, Native American children were removed from their families.  They were put into boarding schools where they were punished for speaking their languages.  The purpose was the exterminate entire groups of people.

During World War II, Japanese American were herded into internment camps.  They were forced to live in dirty, substandard conditions.  Many lost the farms they had built on the West Coast.

Now we have children huddled in kennels.  If dogs were found in conditions like this, the Humane Society would come and get them.

Again, we are in darkness.  How can something beautiful come of it?

That’s up to me and to you.  We can decide that never again will the color of a person’s skin dictate their humanity.  We will look for that spark of Christ’s light in every person we see whether their eyes are blue, green or brown.  Like the Samaritan, we will decide that there are risks but the need to do right is so much greater.

The choice is ours, yours and mine.

–SueBE

We’ve been told and told — and still somehow don’t believe — that the only way to counter hate is love. Sure, it’s hard to hold love foremost in the face of evil. It’s hard to respond to the terrible atrocities of the last week or so with a loving heart and joyous words. And it is most difficult to love when all you want to do is shake people until their teeth rattle. But, Lord, I’m going to try.

Make of me, my God,
a new recipe: something sweet
and light, a flutter on the tongue,
butter-bright, subtly spiced.
When the bitter mouths bark, let me
flow in like honey, thick enough to
coat tongues and soothe aching throats.
May I be like bread baking,
like thick soup simmering on the stove,
a promise of warm contentment.
When you are done, may I spring up
in the pan, golden and fragrant,
impervious to anything
that is not an open hand reaching,
reaching to be filled.

You have to be open.  It’s just a fact.  No one wants to talk to you if you are certain that only your way is correct.

When I saw this quote, I knew it was right but how?  I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  And then I saw a video  (see below) by Robin DiAngelo, author of What Fragility.  She discussed how we use phrases like “I’ve been taught not to see race” to shut the conversation down.

I’m not racist.  Boom.  The door slams shut.

This is a big part of why race and racism aren’t discussed openly in our society.  Even those of us who work hard not to be racist have these catch-phrases.  All we have to do and the conversation, the multiracial conversation, shuts down.  Those who might have something to teach you aren’t interested in being told that their experiences didn’t happen like they remember.  They are the ones misinterpreting what was said, what was done, and how they felt.

Us?  We’re good.  Because we aren’t racist.

My church is hosting another talk at the end of the month.  It is the last one we have scheduled before the holiday season.  Me?  I hope it is only the beginning.  Racism doesn’t have to be intentional to be a big deal.  As much as I don’t enjoy these meetings, I’m glad we are doing them.  It is a discussion we need to have as a society and as a Church.

–SueBE

It’s all over the news. Social media, too. People screaming at one another, slapping, beating, threatening, harassing…and for what? For wearing the “wrong” T-shirt. For trying to go swimming at the local pool. For wearing a hijab. For being brown-skinned.

When all we can do is lash out at one another for being “different,” we are in the deepest of deep trouble. If interculturalism teaches us anything, it’s that no two of us are exactly the same. Unless we can deal with that, we are in for one heck of a free-for-all. And nobody is safe.

Forget about beating
swords into ploughshares;
let’s focus on the lightest
of legerdemain, on simple
manipulation of the bones.
Let us turn fists into flattened hands.
Let us bring to each other our brokenness,
our humility. Let us be weak. Mild. Silent.
Let us bow to the God in one another.
And if we cannot, we must lie down at once:
We are already dead.

This past week, my family and I took a trip to Gatlinburg, TN.  I jokingly referred to the trip as the Edwards Extravaganza because all four siblings ,their kids and the grandparents were along.  Needless to say, we didn’t do everything together.  Something about trying to coordinate sixteen people.  We met up for dinner and games each evening but spent the days out and about.

My husband, son and I trekked over the mountain to Cherokee, NC.  As treks go, it was tame since we were in our Jeep as we drove through the pass and onto the reservation.  It was more than a touch surreal.  Shop signs were in English but street signs?  Cherokee first, English second.

Near the TN/NC border.

Our destination was the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.  Before I made my way through the exhibits, I thought I knew something about Cherokee history.  The truth of the matter was that I knew the history we learn in Missouri – the Oklahoma history.  In this museum, I learned about the prehistory, the move to live more like whites, the debate about moving to Oklahoma, Andrew Jackson, the Trail of Tears, and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee.

The removal of the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears split a people in half.  In spite of this, the museum was marvelously even-handed.  Facts about the Cherokee and the other Civilized Tribes were simply presented.  No one was vilified – not Jackson, not the Cherokee who favored the move. The story of the Cherokee people was told in all it’s complexity.

Yet when I tell people here in Missouri where I went and all I learned, people are more than willing to assign blame. I have to understand why Jackson did what he did; he was from North Carolina.  That one really confuses me since the Cherokee were also from North Carolina. Those Cherokee need to get off the reservation so their children can have a good life. If the Cherokee would work to be more like the mainstream culture, things would be better for them. The Cherokee and other civilized tribes farmed and lived like the dominant culture but were still forced onto the Trail of Tears.  A veneer of white-ness didn’t save them or their homes.

What does it mean to be an American?  It is to be part of a society with a complex history. Do you walk among others as a brother or sister? Or do you expect the fish to fly and the birds to swim?  This museum was definitely something I needed to see and I thank God for putting me on this path.

–SueBE

 

When I read about missionaries overseas, I’m of two minds. Appreciative of anyone lending a hand to those in need, but ambivalent about the fact that it comes with a price tag. Listen to a sermon. Follow this religion. Do things our way.

To me, the essence of the gospel is outreach that makes a positive impact for someone in a negative circumstance and expects nothing in return. This church initiative in England that asks congregants to use an app to report slavery at car washes is a good example.

The phrase, “of two minds,” came to me again as I read about the cancellation of Roseanne Barr’s sitcom re-boot in the wake of her racist tweet. Several years ago, I wrote an article about the Secret, a new-age philosophy and film. I contacted celebrities who’d commented about it, one of whom was Roseanne.

“The Secret is based on Abrahamic meditations, and should be used only to bring peace and blessings to the mind, and NOT for material gain, which will make it backfire,” she said in an email. It wasn’t her agent or assistant, but Roseanne, responding to me directly. I noticed two things: she doesn’t have a handler and she has strong opinions. She’s of two minds. Seeker of spiritual truth. Spewer of hate speech.

I’m of two minds in terms of what to do with notable figures who go off the rails in this way. On the one hand, what they’ve done is inexcusable. On the other, isolating them in perpetuity won’t rehabilitate them, or make the issues go away. I really wish there were an app for that.

Yesterday I was interviewed by Henry Stone, the managing editor of the PC USA’s Unbound which focuses on social justice and social ministry.  First he asked me how I came to write Black Lives Matter and What Are Race and Racism.  I told him about being approached by the editor to write about the modern civil rights movement and police shootings.  We discussed how surreal it all feels to write about race and racism and to be told by teachers that you are having an impact and still . . .

You wake up the next morning and racism is still here.  The world is still broken.  People remain deeply flawed.

“Do you think racism will ever be fixed?  If not, why do you do what you do?”

As flawed as we are, the world does change.  Sometimes it changes for the better.  Slavery is illegal.  Families are no longer torn apart on the auction block.

Does that mean everything is well and good?  Of course not.  We see the legacy of slavery every day in racist policies and stereotypes and how we try to pigeon-hole people.  We can enact change but it is slow and it will take time for the ripples of the evil that went before to stop spreading.

This is the reality whether we are working to solve problems of race or rage or gun violence.  Change can come but legislation is not a fix-all.  We will have to look deep into our hearts and at what we value vs who we do not.

–SueBE

 

Prayer vs fearBetween Thanksgiving being just around the corner and the Senate vote to limit Middle Eastern refugees, I’m sure we’ve all been doing a lot of soul searching.  It’s hard to be grateful when people make unjust decisions.

I understand this better as an adult than I did as a child. In the mid-197s when I was in grade school, another school district folded into ours and the impact was huge. I’m not sure how many elementary schools there were or any of the stats.  That’s not why it was a big deal.  It was the makeup of the district.  That’s a nice sanitary way of saying race.

My district was largely working class Catholics.  My family was the minority because we were Protestant.  Do I need to point it out?  The vast majority of us were also white.

The new part of the district was also working class. I suspect there were more Protestants than Catholics, but they were black.  Plans were immediately put into place to desegregate the combined districts.  K-4 would be taught on my side of the district.  5 and 6 would be bussed to the new part.

What was the school board thinking? People reacted strongly to this plan. Many people moved away. This may have been the beginning of white flight although no one used that phrase.

My parents talked to me about their decision to stay.  “God made us all. The white ones and the brown ones. They’re just as scared as you are.”

I found that hard to believe.  I had heard more than once that as soon as I got off the bus OVER THERE, I would get knifed. It’s just how those people are.  I wanted to believe my parents.  I really did.  But people were moving.  They were putting their kids in new schools. What did they know that my parents didn’t?

I was terrified when I got off the bus that first day. I’d love to say that I immediately had an epiphany, but I don’t remember my first day. It must have been pretty normal. I got to know my fellow students. These were the girls who taught me to turn double dutch. They tried to teach me to jump. Don’t blame them for my two left feet. They honed my jacks game. They taught me to sled on a piece of cardboard in a trash bag (easier to bring to school than a sled). This was also the first time I saw somebody stand up to a bully. I still remember him strutting across the playground behind the teacher. Sure, he was in trouble too but he’d done the right thing and no one could convince him otherwise.

My parents had done the right thing too. It wasn’t an easy decision but I know they prayed about it.

Back to today.  I wish that our Senate had made the tough decision but they caved in to fear.  Fortunately, you and I can still make a different decision. There are bullies out there.

I’m just grateful my parents taught me to go with God even when that choice doesn’t look safe. All too often, the danger is the product of our fevered imaginations.

–SueBE

I confess; I wanted to open with a joke about how anyone who would burn down a church probably can’t read this. Admittedly, it was a cheap shot. But I can’t get past my dismay at the continuing tide of violence and bigotry in this country. I’d love to be able to dismiss church-burners as idiots, thugs and losers. Wouldn’t it be easier if they were? But some of them — and I include here those who don’t actually light the matches but think about it in their heart of hearts — are almost certainly our neighbors, people we see every day and think of as reasonable folks.

I imagine what church-burners are trying to destroy, ultimately, is hope. That, I can tell you, is impossible. Hope is made of impermeable material, tougher than Kevlar, bulletproof, flameproof. Furthermore, the people whose hope the church-burner wishes to extinguish have been living on hope for hundreds of years; hope is bread and butter, manna and sustenance to their communities. It has been, in all too many dark times, all they had.

I have never seen a church burn. But I have seen hate. When I was a kid, someone defaced the statue of Mary in our church’s courtyard. They cut off her hands and wrote words on the statue that my mother would not allow me to see. My mom also tells stories of how the Klan burned a cross on her parents’ lawn, how she herself was mocked, called “Cat-licker” and other unoriginal epithets by fellow schoolchildren. The aged nuns at my college alma mater still sit sentry, day and night, in case someone decides to burn down their church, as has been attempted in the past. The point is, those people, from the vandals to the name-callers, did nothing to our faith but strengthen it. Faith cannot be killed, not by the hottest hate or most scorching disdain.

Anyone who calls him or herself a Christian — or, indeed, a human being — owes it to the world to stand up against anyone who attacks a spiritual home or any of the people who hold the place dear. In the wake of this most recent spate of bigotry and racism, we need to make a louder noise. Taking down the Confederate flag is not enough. We need to make clear that this will not stand. Nobody who lives in this country must be treated as “other.”

Church-burners, and potential church-burners, if you are reading this, please knock it off. I know I’ve said a lot of harsh things, but you must feel very unloved to do what you are doing. Return to God’s loving and forgiving arms. All of us who stand with love are waiting for you.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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