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Last year, our church held a series of discussions based on the book Waking Up White by Debby Irving.  Irving sensed racial tensions in her relationships but as much as she wanted to do right, she worried about offending people.  She knew she was missing something, something that kept her from truly getting it.  The book is the story of how this all changed.

Trying to get people to come to a discussion about this book was brutal.  Most of them expected to be told that they had done something wrong.  At best, they had hurt someone’s feelings.  At worst, they had done actual damage.  Thank you but no thank you.  They just didn’t want the discomfort.

The reality that they missed?  We are all products of our past.  By discussing issues of race, we have the opportunity to learn how our upbringing effects what we see and how we interpret it.  These discussions allow us to be products but not prisoners.  We can see a new way ahead.

Not that we will ever be perfect.  Perfection belongs to God alone but God does give us opportunities to grow.

It’s up to us to take them but first we have to see them and recognize them for what they are.  Opportunities to leave behind something broken and replace it with something better.


Irony oh irony.  Miss Ruth’s post on prison and second chances had me shaking my head when I saw it this morning.

Yesterday, we had another meeting at church to discuss Waking Up White.  The book discusses one upper middle class white woman’s awakening to the racial issues and social injustice in the US.  One of the many things we discussed was the prison system.  The topic that led into this was whether or not the police deal with African-American youth fairly.

One of the women told us about her daughter and a group of friends being stopped by the police as they walked home. Yes, there had been a series of break-ins in the area so talking to the teens was in order.  But the police were noticeably aggressive with the one young many who also happens to be African-American.  Coincidence?  Hardly.  Add to this the fact that the suspects in the break-ins were white and . . . yes, they were white.  So treating that one teen differently than the rest makes even less sense.

It isn’t enough to notice when you are treated unfairly.  We need to wake up.  We need to see how those around us are treated.  And while we are at it we should share some second chances.  There’s no reason that those of us slowly awaking should get them all.


I’m still working my way through Waking Up White and one of the most interesting chapters so far was the one on the Robin Hood syndrome – riding in to fix a problem without actually communicating with anyone who will be affected.  The problem is that when you do this, you run the risk of “helping” in a way that disempowers.  You are telling someone that you know how to fix them without speaking to them.  Their input must be valueless.

The end of the chapter challenged readers to check their favorite charity.  Is the director someone from the community being helped?  Or are they a white person living in a tower far, far away?

I have to admit that I was more than a little nervous.  I had no clue who was in charge of Heifer International.  After doing a little poking around, I was relieved to see that the Board includes someone from every region within the program.  This doesn’t mean that things are perfect, but an effort is being made.

Finding out how someone really and truly needs our help is tough.  It will take more than just asking questions because people in need are often accustomed to being ignored or belittled.  Why respond? They aren’t going to hear me anyway.

The solution is to get to know people.  Walk among them.  Eat beside them.  Take their hands.  There’s a reason Christ spent so much time talking to the outcasts and not just telling the religious leaders what to do.  He was here to lead the way.


Sitting on my bedside table is a copy of Waking Up White by Debby Irving.  If you haven’t read it, Waking Up White is a memoir about race in which Irving discusses her own early misconceptions and how she eventually woke up.  As I was reading last night, it brought to mind the above quote from Lewis.

Race is a tricky thing.  It can take a long time to realize this if you’re white because you may not realize that your own race is baseline normal.  This means that anyone who isn’t white, or white enough, is abnormal. I can’t think of anyone who isn’t white who fails to understand this most likely because it is daily reality.

But if you’re white?  You can stumble along oblivious.

That almost makes it sound like I think races are separate and isolated but they aren’t.  How we see race is a function of different peoples bumping up against each other just like the rooms in a house.  Most houses have multiple rooms – kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms.  Together they make a building a house. Our racial issues are not the problems of black people, Asians or First Nations.  They took all of us, white people included, to come into being.

If you haven’t read Waking Up White, I recommend it.  I’m sure some of you have already come fully awake but if you have the book also contains talking points to help initiate discussions.




I’d love to be thinner.  And my house.  I want it to be neat.  Social justice?  The environment?  Yeah, I hope things get better there too.

But the problem is that I realize that change require more than hope.  It requires action and we just can’t act to fix everything.  It just isn’t possible.

So what does change really require?  Desire.  Drive.  Determination.  If we have these things, we will work to make change happen.

This means that my house will probably stay messy but I’ll keep working for social justice.  One of the things that I’m doing is reading a book – Waking Up White by Debby Irving.  As a start to facing racism head on, our presbytery has asked everyone to read this book. And each church needs to host a conversation of some kind.

What kind of event will we host?  I don’t know.  We haven’t gotten that far but we are determined to do something and four of us have started planning our event.  Desire.  We’ve definitely got that.  Fortunately with four of us working together we’ll keep each other moving forward.  We think we can.

Where are your desire, drive, and determination focused?



Have a Mary Little Christmas

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