Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I Fell Out of a Nightmare & Into a Dream....

The Sunday morning after the massacre at AME Emmanuel in Charleston

How much more surreal can it be than to spend Saturday morning talking with the minister of our local AME church in NJ,  sharing grief over the killings in Charleston, making sure she would be there when the flowers our congregation sent were delivered, and then to board a plane that evening and end up in Portland, Oregon? All I saw upon deplaning  were people with beards, sandals, flannel shirts, backpacks... you get the picture. Portland(ia). I only watched part of the show, once, and I'll admit, it annoyed me a bit. And I've only been here once before, a good 8 or 9 years ago, and I will tell you, the city is doing it's best to live up to the stereotype the show has created. I did not see a person of color until the following day, and even then, they were few. And no one mentioned the Charleston shootings. No one.

The view of Mt. Hood. We saw almost this view from the University.

I got lucky, and the host of the Airbnb I'm staying in is a tour guide as well; she was taking folks on a bike tour and she invited me along. I was not sure I'd be able to keep up. I do ride a bike, but not fast, not far, and not in a city.

I needn't have worried. The others on the tour were about my age, and the bikes were electric.  So, anytime I got tired of peddling, I just turned the throttle and the bike sped ahead beneath me. The city closes off streets on Sundays in various sections of town, so that families can ride freely, and we did most of the tour of the North East, stopping for lunch, and to talk with people. What we had been told would be a two hour ride turned out to be six. I was fine with that. I felt that I had a very thorough experience of what it might be like to be a person about my age, educated, progressive, living in Portland. My host even told me that I got an insider experience, because the other folks were friends or acquaintances, and evidently every one was comfortable enough to stop at intervals and vape some of Mother nature's finest. I declined, because it has been decades, and because I was riding a very expensive electric bike that did not belong to me.

I saw a LOT of these kind of people. Some were on unicycles.

All of this gave me a great deal of material to muse upon, and muse I did: while riding the bus to and from downtown for Ministry Days, while people watching and listening to folks chat as I sat alone at this or that cafe. People, I think it is safe to assume, come to Portland (those who aren't already here) to be a part of something that they see as really unique and counter cultural and maybe even revolutionary. And, in some ways, it is. They seems to be doing good things, with a LEED certified convention center, lots of public transportation, and probably tons more that I don't even pretend to know about.  But the uniqueness thing is out the window. They ALL LOOK THE SAME! Or, perhaps to sound a bit less like an old fart, I will say that they are all variations on a theme, which is fine!

I saw this video:  Click here
  And THIS one:  Click here

So I began to understand that this whole thing is about a dream, and it's an escape in some ways, like a dream is, but it's also a dream in the sense that people feel that they are making a dream come true. As in "I have a dream...."

Or, "Dream big...."

or, "Dream makers...."

And the only problem is that, evidently, what I picked up from my one day day of observations as an "insider" in Portland was pretty accurate. People of color, especially brown and black people, are still getting misplaced by gentrification, still not getting a fair shake in lots of ways, both in Portland and in Oregon, and no one IS really talking about it (including, I guess, we ministers here at GA). Oregon has a hideous racist past, and was FULL of sundown towns. 

Yet, while talking at lunch, a woman who was sitting next to me, a woman who is from Texas but moved to Portland, that people are nice here, and then she said, well, the white people.

But I did something different than I might have done in the past. Instead of thinking that I would never have to see her again or that I would pretend I didn't hear it, I asked her to repeat herself, and then I went on to talk about what I saw around me, and to disagree with some of her judgments. We didn't have an argument, (it's PORTLAND!) and she was still smiling and happy, but I felt a sea change in me.

I'm finished with ever, ever, letting another remark go by unanswered. The real nightmare for me is the world in which people smile on the outside while they hate on the inside. My dream is a world of honesty and a world where we finally strip away the masks of racism that people have been hiding behind. It starts now.