Racism is a problem in this country. Systemic and personal animus toward black and brown people in this nation has been a problem since our founding. Have we made progress? Yes, but there is still a long way to go before we live up to the creed that is supposed to define who we are in the United States of America: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
As I write this we have experienced yet another week in which an unarmed black man was the victim of violence inflicted by police officers. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back. Mr. Blake was shot in front of his children, and he is paralyzed from his wounds. In response to the shooting, professional sports teams in the NBA, WNBA, MLB, MLS, and NHL cancelled or postponed games, the NFL cancelled practices, and a top professional tennis player pulled out of a match in solidarity with the protestors and to make a statement that we must do better.
I was saddened but deeply impressed with the words of Doc Rivers, head coach of the L.A. Clippers, an African American man, who made a statement following the game cancellations. With tears welling up in his eyes, Coach Rivers said, “We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that are denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. All you do is keep hearing about fear ... It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back, it’s just really so sad. Like, I should just be a coach. I’m so often reminded of my color. It’s just really sad. We got to do better. We have to demand better.”
Our congregation is beginning to think together about what we can do to be a stronger force for good and equality in our community. We started this process on August 26 with a conversation on the book My Vanishing Country, by Bakari Sellers. Our discussion was open, and many of us expressed our sense of coming to awareness of our deep-seated racial fears. Bakari Sellers, toward the end of his book, posed this question:
So what do I want? And then he answered his question with this:
I want the same thing my father wanted. I want what all my “aunts” and “uncles” who were part of the civil rights movement wanted.
I want freedom.
What does it look like? Freedom from discrimination, including the ballot box. Freedom from violence — from the domestic terrorism that took Clem Pinckney [senior pastor of Mother Emmanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina, killed by a shooter during prayer service] to the violence at the hands of police, who killed unarmed black folk like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Keith Lamont Scott, and Walter Scott. Freedom to live in communities where our children are not drinking water that contains lead, communities that have hospitals and safe neighborhoods. I want us to live up to our potential, which means equal schools, economic opportunity, and entrepreneurship …
I want this country I love to atone for slavery, for Jim Crow, for the prison-industrial complex, and for the attitude of ambivalence toward state violence against unarmed black men …
Like my father, and his father, and — I don’t doubt — his father too: we all deserve to be free and equal ( p.217).
My hope and my prayer for us all is that we will be on the side of actively helping to build a more perfect union in our nation and in our community.
To this end we will continue the conversation we started with our first book discussion. I am planning a six-week online conversation on race that will begin at 5:00 pm on Wednesday, September 23. (I will open a Zoom meeting at 4:45 pm for informal conversation and then move to the serious work at 5:00 pm). We will meet via Zoom each Wednesday at the same time for the ensuing five weeks (September 30 and October 7, 14, 21, and 28).
The first book we will engage is How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi. We will spend at least two weeks on this book and then decide together what will be next. I hope by the end of the six-week engagement that we will have fashioned some action steps for ourselves as individuals and for our congregation.
I will begin the list of participants with those people who opted to take part in the last conversation. (Let me know if you would like your name to be removed from that list.) If you would like your name to be added, please send me an email request to be included in the Zoom invitation for the upcoming conversations. You do not have to read the book or books we will use. I will offer a summary and raise issues that we will then discuss.
Please keep our nation in your prayers. Here are two prayers from our Book of Common Worship that might be helpful for us during these next few months.
At the Time of an Election
Under your law we live, great God,
and by your will we govern ourselves.
Help us as good citizens
to respect neighbors whose views differ from ours,
so that without partisan anger,
we may work out issues that divide us,
and elect candidates to serve the common welfare;
through Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.
For Racial and Cultural Diversity
O God, you created all people in your image.
We thank you for the astonishing variety
of races and cultures in this world.
Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of friendship,
and show us your presence
in those who differ most from us,
until our knowledge of your love is made perfect
in our love for all your children;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Grace and peace,