Our Church Council voted in August to support a multi-year effort to understand race, racism and white privilege in our congregation and broader community through sacred study, conversation, community building and worship. It’s an effort that reminds me of our church’s effort 25 years ago to understand sexual orientation and become an open and affirming congregation. That work changed our congregation and it changed lives including my own.
Although looking honestly with care at my own prejudices, assumptions and fears is challenging and at times overwhelming, I am also grateful to be invited into work with others that helps me look more deeply at myself so that I can be more fully present with others. Together, I hope and pray that in these conversations to come we all may open our hearts, risk sharing our stories and show a way of life where none of us need be afraid.
On the Night that Philandro Was Killed
On the night that Philandro was killed
and the night after Alton was killed
in a terrible, terrible week of so many such weeks and months and years,
On the night that Philandro was killed
after being pulled over by the police when his tail light was out,
she tells me about the time two weeks ago when she was pulled over.
She tells me she didn’t know why, what she had done wrong.
Tells me it is scary to be a black woman alone in a car with two white officers approaching.
Tells me she texted her friend and told her where she was and what was going on so someone could tell her mom in case something happened.
She tells me she was shaking.
She tells me as they approached the car one of the officers had his hand by his gun.
Tells me the officers asked for her registration and she said it is in my glove compartment and I need to reach across to the glove compartment and take it out is that alright, can I do that?
Tells me that the officers asked for her driver’s license and she said it is in the backpack in the back seat and I need to reach for it. She asked if that would be alright to do that, to reach for her bag.
She tells me she kept one hand on the wheel so that they could see her hands at all times.
She tells me she moved slowly, very slowly.
Tells me she tried to keep breathing.
Tells me she was so afraid.
She tells me she shakes still remembering that day.
She tells me about being afraid of things I have never been afraid of, worries about things I never worry about, thinks about things I have never thought about.
Tells me she crosses the sidewalk when people that look like me come walking down the street, afraid of what they might do to her.
Tells me her mom calls and texts and calls her again if she is not home when she was supposed to get home.
She tells me that her mom asks if she is safe and tells her to be careful – to be careful of people that look like me.
She tells me she is afraid.
Tells me she is afraid to go out at night.
Tells me she is afraid that her outspoken ways may get her in trouble.
She tells me she has learned to keep herself in check – her Spirt, her forthrightness, her anger, her truth, her Spirit.
I have known her since she was a little girl.
Loved her spunk and drive, her forthrightness and Spirit.
Feel sad and angry thinking of her alone and afraid, tired and worn out, locked in her home because she is afraid to go out – afraid of people that look like me.
I try to understand. I tell her that I want to.
I throw her words like Courage and Hope, Love and Understanding but they all fall flat,
fall down like birds that cannot fly, cannot catch wind and help her to soar beyond this fear, this despair, this weariness and aloneness.
I don’t know what to do.
I ask her what I can do.
I tell her I will check in with her again soon.
Today, this new morning, I remember our call.
I wonder how my life in ways I have not reflected on and have not wanted to see are keeping her down.
I wonder if I cannot give Hope until my life shows Hope,
Cannot speak of change until my life shows change,
Cannot run to console until I seek to understand.
Cannot praise a future opening into joy, into light and delight, into freedom and blessing and gift until I do the work that ensures she can be safe and walk again, unafraid.
Cannot find a way until I pick up the phone, check in, begin the conversation again.