11 June 2020

"The devil doesn't like it but it's down in my heart."

It may be a hard and uncomfortable time to be a white Christian. But it is time for the church of Jesus Christ to sit with that discomfort–maybe even to kneel in it–knowing how much more “uncomfortable” it is to be a person of color in this country; and recognizing that the Church has played a role in the violence of inequality.
-- Rev. Erin Wathen, "Truth and Transformation: Can The Church Survive Confronting Racism?"

I attended the regular monthly meeting of Camas Friends Church's Peace and Social Concerns Committee. We had invited anyone in the church interested in our agenda to attend (via videoconference), so we had excellent participation. The agenda included questions about how to observe Juneteenth (June 19) or participate in community events dedicated to this occasion. The agenda was posted before the most recent global whirlwind caused by the extrajudicial killing of George Floyd in full view of the whole world, so the concern for wholehearted attention to racial realities was close to all our hearts.

I don't feel free to go into great public detail about what we said to each other, so I just want to make a general point: it is not easy for a majority-white church congregation to take our hunger for justice, our frustration with the world and sometimes with ourselves, and our sense of urgency, and translate all that into concrete action.

Furthermore, it is also hard to confront embedded racism in majority-white churches and meetings without inadvertently making the people of color among us seem invisible or marginal to the conversation -- or giving them the task of fixing us.

(Referring back to Erin Wathen's article, one thing that does not happen at Camas Friends Church is any complaining that we are "being too political.")

It's been my experience with race-related conversations with other white people, starting with my high school years in the late 1960's, that we're desperate for "resources." We want to know what to read or watch to educate ourselves. This can have the effect, as Lauren Michele Jackson pointed out in her visit to the Slate Culture Gabfest, of choosing great writers such as James Baldwin and Toni Morrison for their utility in our self-improvement rather than opening ourselves to a full, direct encounter with their works. Not surprisingly, books and seminars on race for anxious whites are also doing a brisk trade.

As I try to contribute to these conversations, I don't want to be preoccupied with my motives, slaloming between the hazards of self-flagellation and virtue-signalling. I want to learn how to "dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord...," and to see that beauty in all my fellow creatures made in the image and likeness of God, and share that dwelling with them, delighting in the joy of reconciliation.

And I want to know what gets in my way.

"What gets in our way" ... there's the rub! I remember Little Richard's version of "Joy In My Heart" where the second verse goes like this: "The devil doesn't like it but it's down in my heart, down in my heart...." When we look at the past, we can and should trace the destruction caused by racism, not flinching to look at the full picture, not avoiding the lament and repentance involved, not overly concerned with our own fastidiousness but acknowledging the reality of our own limitations, addictions, vested interests, denials. The devil won't like it, but here's the best part: when we turn around and look into the future, there is joy awaiting us in that dwelling place, a joy that is made complete when every system of exclusion is torn down. Yes, that's political, but it's also biblical. Can we go there together?



Illinois State Psychiatric Institute. Source.  
During the Christmas season of 1969, I was home alone. One sister was in the Illinois State Psychiatric Institute in Chicago; the other was in Germany with my parents, tending to my mother's parents, who were in fragile health. On Sunday, December 14, my neighbors invited me to attend the Christmas party at Evanston's enormous Protestant cathedral, the First United Methodist Church, where my neighbors introduced me to their legendary minister Dow Kirkpatrick.

The party began with a dramatic presentation on racial justice. Ten days earlier, Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark had been killed in a hail of gunfire from a combined city/county/FBI force, the official cover-up was in full swing, and emotions were high all around. The whole country was also still reeling from the My Lai Massacre revelations. I had never been to a church event of any kind before (at least not since my Lutheran baptism as an infant in Norway), so my eyes and ears were wide open. However, my hosts were twitching with impatience during the presentation. "Come on, let's get to Christmas," said one of them.

The problem is, we can't really get to Jesus without an encounter with truth.



Reality check: Radley Balko presents his updated evidence of racial bias in the police system. (If you can't access this because of the paywall, contact me for a PDF version.)

Richard Ostling: resources for journalists trying to explain Donald Trump's Bible-brandishing photo op.

Meet the artist who painted the George Floyd murals on the Israeli separation wall.

Igor Yakovenko introduces us to "ordinary racism" in Russia, and how recent events in the USA brought it into the daylight.

Ethan Zuckerman on why video recordings of police violence are not the accountability tools we had hoped they'd be. (Thanks to Oregonlive for the link.)
The institutions that protect police officers from facing legal consequences for their actions—internal affairs divisions, civil service job protections, police unions, "reasonable fear"—work far better than the institutions that hold them responsible for abuses.
Lauren Michele Jackson asks what an anti-racist reading list is for.



Jean-Rene Ella-Menye is back!


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