Saturday, June 20, 2015
I last wrote on Monday evening.
On Tuesday, our anti-racism Task Force had its second meeting, and agreed to order our Black Lives Matter banner, post it by the road, and have a ceremonial event when we do so, on September 6th.
Wednesday, I finished my office hours, and had some time before the Board meeting, so I drove over to Mizpah. It was different than I'd expected, a much larger community, and very wooded. Clearly it sits far away from the Mays Landing town proper, and has its own Fire Company, a few churches, and perhaps a building that had been a school at one time. I didn't see a lot of people, and as I drove around, I wondered: how do you go about asking questions of folks about the history of racism in their town? Do you just jump in, or get someone to introduce you? Is it just taking advantage of people, using them to satisfy my curiosity, unless I do something with it?
That night, we were leaving the Board meeting around nine o'clock and talking about Mizpah, and how it had been a Jewish settlement, and then had been sold to Blacks, and then I got into my car, and started the drive home, thinking about the place, and wondering.... and while I was musing, a white man was murdering nine Black church members in their church in South Carolina.
I didn't know until the morning. I checked facebook before I left for Atlantic City to volunteer at the Food Pantry. There I saw the horror. I listened to NPR en route, so by the time I arrived, I knew the worst: these were AME church members. Including the pastor. I know these people, and I can easily imagine how warmly and kindly they embraced and welcomed the tyrant who then murdered them. I have never entered a Black church where I have not felt this genuine heartfelt love and kindness. So it is compounded. I can barely let my mind go to the events as they must have occurred. Because I know that almost nothing in this world since the day of the bombings in Birmingham could have been so horrific as this.
This is going to take some time.
I've had nothing to say for many days now. The usual proclamations and exhortations sound weak and empty.
I just preached last Sunday on Sundown Towns. I opened with a poem called Bikini Care Instructions by Parneshia Jones, written in response to the McKinney pool incident. I then said, "Does this make you feel uncomfortable? I hope so. Because we are here to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable." We say that, a lot. But it has weighed on me this week.
I've read all the passionate, brilliant, morally grounded pronouncements from the pundits and proclaimers... we must, we must never, we shall, we have to, and I have nothing of that sort to offer.
I dedicated my ministry to anti-racism almost 20 years ago, during ministry days, when we were asked to stand up by our presenter, Lee Mun Wah. I then, that year, went to Alabama to help rebuild a church burned by racists with the UUSC. The next year, I went to Dillon, South Carolina. I've taken part in every committee, workshop, Board, protest, rally, you-name-it, and tried, and mostly failed, to bring my congregation(s) along. I have preached on racial justice so often that people complain about it. I would say some people are glad to be rid of me and my racial justice preaching.
And when I was faced with what happened this week, I cried. Walking into the Food Pantry, the folks waiting in line (most of them are POC) always greet me. This morning, after Charleston, they looked away from me. I didn't imagine it. I worked on registrations with an African American woman about my age, and we got acquainted. She told me about her work as a dealer in the casinos (she's retired) and we finally got around to the shootings when I saw on my phone that the killer was captured. We talked about it all. I told her that sometimes I feel so ashamed of some white people that I just hate my own race. She said she felt the same way sometimes because sometimes she feels that Black people are their own worst enemy and she gets mad at those who do dumb things too. We both cried. We hugged. We bonded, talking about our grown kids and their troubles.
But when I heard the voices of the families speak to the murderer and forgive him, pray for him, I could not stop my tears. That is the heart of righteousness. That right there is why I am afflicted.
I will remain afflicted until I can rise above my own fear of looking foolish, sounding silly, being awkward, and just start doing everything that occurs to me.
Thursday, I had the urge (or you might say the call) to go to an AME congregation, so I looked up the nearest one. The pastor wasn't there but a kind young lady gave me her card, so I called and left a message to tell her that I knew how we felt when there was a shooting in one of our congregations, and I just wanted to reach out, and ask if we might send flowers. She called me back the next morning. We've agreed to meet for lunch.
The flowers were delivered today. "From the Unitarian Universalist Congreagtion of the South Jersey Shore. In Love & Faith." I hope they were pretty.