Guest Blogger Kate Maynard

[Note: Kate Maynard and I went to high school together in Chapel Hill and I’ve invited her to share the poem she wrote this week.]

Double Sawbuck

They claim it started with a twenty-dollar bill

like the one in my hand. 

My note has ML 84304239 H,  

Legal Tender, Series 2013 stamped right on it. 

I assume it’s real. It says it is.

 

Andrew Jackson gazes out at me, 

lips pursed, unruffled despite the swirl in his hair, 

probably because he is backed by the White House

broadly etched on the other side, 

words about trusting God arching overhead.

 

This paper weighs nothing in my hand,

not worth much, just enough for few sandwiches, 

some small kitchen gadgets, a child’s toy,

or perhaps a pack of cigarettes, 

with change to spare. 

 

Counterfeit bills circulate, I know, 

but to my unpracticed eye 

mine seems real enough, but who the hell 

studies their money anyway, I just grab 

my change, rush off to my next errand.

 

But after this week’s events I think, 

I must be wrong, it must be worth so much more 

for someone to think a man’s cries I can’t breathe 

worth absolutely nothing in contrast, 

nothing Legal or Tender about it. 

 

Katherine H Maynard  6-1-2020

White People: Walking on Eggshells

“I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing.” 

This is what White People tell me sometimes in terms of “How to Talk with People of Color.”  (Reminder: I am a White Person myself.)

  • What if I say the wrong thing?
  • What if I unintentionally say something racist?
  • What if I make it worse?

We will.  We will use the wrong prepositions:

I am angry for you” instead of “I am angry with you.”

We will erroneously expect Black and Brown People to be our teachers.

“Would you please show me how to be anti-racist?” 

We will say profoundly stupid things.

“Can I touch your hair?”

We will expect People of Color to be sensitive to our shame and regret.

(Ugly Crying) “I’m so sorry my ancestors had slaves.”

So . . . here’s the thing:  it’s not the responsibility of our Brown and Black and Golden siblings to dry our tears, hear our sad stories, be our new best friends, instruct us on U.S. history and policy, or carry our burdens.

It’s our responsibility to educate ourselves, grapple with our own racial biases, listen more than talk, and use our privilege for good.

It might feel like walking on eggshells.  But at least we are moving when we walk.  At least we are not waiting for cultural transformation to magically happen without putting any skin in the game.

A friend shared with me last week that most White People will not care until White bodies are on the line.  I believe this is true.

Becoming anti-racist is something I’m trying to work on.  It’s exhausting work, but it’s not nearly as exhausting as it is to live in Black or Brown or Golden skin.  I am trying to pay attention.  I am remembering and asking others to remember personal stories of systemic racism and white supremacy.  I am trying to school myself.  I am trying to value friends with whom I disagree.

I will make mistakes.  So will you.  And we have no choice but to continue to walk forward.  As we walk, there will be fewer and fewer eggshells.

 

White People: As We Talk About Race Together

If you happen to be in a culture or congregation or family that is not talking about race in America right now, this post is not for you – except that I ask, “Why?”  If we are not talking about race now, when will we ever talk about race?

If your life context and culture and community is indeed talking about race right now, things are complex and fraught with factors that will undermine the conversations.  Can we avoid . . .

  • Making these conversations about ourselves?  This is not the time to seek personal glory for being woke.
  • Making these conversations about competition?  I cannot compare what I’m feeling as a White person to what Black and Brown people are feeling.  I have no idea what it feels like to be a Person of Color.  How dare we – White People – say, “I know how you feel” to a Brown or Black person.
  • Making excuses?  This is an excellent time to refrain from “whataboutisms.”
  • White-splaining?  Enough said.

White People: This is a good time to consider race.  Talk about it amongst yourselves with an emphasis on listening to people with whom we disagree.  That’s the beginning.

And here (again) is a resource to take the 21 Day Challenge.  Please.

Image from the June 2, 2020 protest in the Myers Park neighborhood of Charlotte, NC. 

Everyday White Supremacy

Most White Supremacists don’t wear white hoods.  Most look more like me.

As a faith leader with a platform and privilege, I’ve been trying to convince the White Church that “White Supremacy” is important for us to acknowledge.  Some of my colleagues – Black, Brown, and White – prefer “Racial Injustice” or “Systemic Racism” or “White Privilege.”  I’m more interested – at this time of my life – to name what’s really going on now and for the past 400 years: White Supremacy.

Yes, there is Racial Injustice. (I believe most people who look like me would acknowledge this.)

Yes, there is Systemic Racism. (I believe that fewer White people might agree with this, but students of U.S. history and politics would have a hard time denying it.)

Yes, there is White Privilege. (I often hear White friends say, “I worked hard for all I have.” And the truth is that even the poorest, least advantaged person with White skin enjoys privileges in this country that people with Brown or Black skin do not.)

And yet – White Supremacy is the culture, the legacy, and the norm of our nation.  It shows up every day, every time someone makes assumptions based on a person’s skin color.  Here’s what every day White Supremacy looks like when practiced by “good White people.”

  • A distinguished Black man is in the elevator of a prestigious building and we assume he is the elevator man, when actually he is a Supreme Court Justice.
  • A Black man dressed in casual clothing because he’s working in the yard is approached by a White woman driving by who asks how much he charges by the hour to do lawn work.  “I don’t charge anything,” he says to the woman.  “But the lady of the house lets me sleep with her.”  (He’s not the yard man.  He’s the owner of the house and was once my neighbor in IL.)
  • A White Mom calls her second grader’s school over the summer to ask that her son be in Mrs. Z’s class this fall.  She fully expects the principal to grant her wish because . . . well, just because she’s always been granted these requests.  And so have her friends. (This mom is a friend of mine.)
  • There are four Black boys in Mrs. T’s first grade and she places all four of them in the Turtle Group (which is – not so subtly – for “slower” students.)  As it turns out, three of the four boys test at advanced reading and math levels, but she had assumed that they’d grown up without enrichment opportunities. (One of their moms is a friend of mine.)
  • A college student is riding her bike on the “wrong side of the road” near the campus of Oregon State University and she is arrested by two police officers who handcuffed her and pinned her to the ground because she wouldn’t show her ID to them.  Picture this happening to a white coed.  (It wouldn’t.)
  • A 12 year old Black boy was playing with a toy gun at a playground with his sister and others.  Someone called 911 to report that there was someone pointing a gun in the park.  Twice the caller said it was probably a toy gun and the caller even mentioned that the person with a gun “was probably a juvenile.”  But that information was not shared with the two policemen who drove up to the park and shot the boy within seconds of parking their car. Imagine that happening to a 12 year old White boy.
  • Two Black seminarians are in a public high school parking lot near their campus.  One is teaching the other to drive a stick shift.  A police officer approaches them, asks for their IDs and arrests both of them for trespassing.  (They were seminary classmates of mine.)

Every. Single. Day. It’s assumed in countless places that Black and Brown people do not belong in the places where they actually live, work, shop, and play.  It’s assumed that Black and Brown people are not worth as much as White people and that they are more dangerous, less intelligent, less law-abiding, less disciplined than White people.

This is the sin that continues to tear our nation apart.  White People: we need to acknowledge that White Supremacy is our problem.  Once acknowledging it, we need to learn about it, talk about it, dismantle it.

Here’s one place to start.

May the Spirit move us – for the love of God – to do more than talk.

Code Words

“I felt threatened” and “he resisted” and “she did not comply” and “he matched the description” and “I was afraid for my life” are modern-day code words that give white supremacy a secure, reliable foothold in this generation, free of all accountability and justice. Tweet by Jen Hatmaker on May 26, 2020

Some code words are used for propaganda (e.g. “Anti-Racist is code for Anti-White” has been used by White Supremacist groups.)  Politicians use code words all the time:

  • Inner City” means Black Impoverished Desperation (and is used to scare/warn White People)
  • Urban Renewal” was used in the mid-20th Century by developers concerned about White Flight to the suburbs.  The purported reasoning was that “urban blight” was being destroyed to bring in new development.  The actual reasoning was to displace even prosperous African American neighbors to accomodate the dominant culture.  (See Brooklyn Village, Charlotte.)

Words not only help us plainly communicate to each other.  They also reveal our own biases – even if we do not realize it.  All of us use code words – Black, Brown, White, Old, Young, Straight, Gay.

Karen” has become a code word for clueless White Woman.  (And I suspect that “Amy Cooper” will become the clueless White Woman who calls 911.)

Serena” has been used meaning  Black female shopper in at least one high end store.

Pro-Life” and “Pro-Choice” are code words used to counter each other, as if being “Pro-Life” and “Pro-Choice” are mutually exclusive.  Being “Pro-Life” – as we have seen politically over the past few years – can mean “Anti-Abortion” without regard for the lives of immigrants, refugees, and the poor.

Evangelical” has long been a code word for something Jesus would not recognize.  The politicization of that word surely makes Jesus weep.

Becoming aware of the words we use is not about political corrrectness.  It’s about how we share misinformation and racial bias.  Speaking words that convey what’s authentic and true is a spiritual practice that I need to work on.  Maybe we all do.

Image of a high frequency dog whistle.

What Are You On Fire About?

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. Acts of the Apostles 2:3

Please tell me that you are on fire to do more than return to the gym or get a mani-pedi.

Although many of us are Zoom-weary and have Politics Fatigue, there are fires everywhere that deserve our attention.  My hope as a Christian is that those of us who take Jesus seriously are on fire ourselves: burning hearts, flaming tongues.  This is the imagery of Pentecost.

Pentecost Sunday is ignored by many devout Christians and I’m not sure why.  Our culture doesn’t recognize it as a Hallmark Holiday.  A quick review of upcoming sermons at the largest independent churches near me seem to indicate that Acts 2 will not be the lesson for this Sunday in spite of the liturgical calendar (because those churches are not particularly liturgical?)

The world is on fire, so why aren’t we?

Where I live there are plans to discuss voter rights in a weekend Zoom Call.  There is a virtual interfaith vigil on Monday to lament, mourn, and honor the 100,000+ who have died from COVID-19.  There are online gatherings to confess the sins of systemic racism as demonstrated most recently by the death of George Floyd and the 911 call by Amy Cooper.

And then there’s Pentecost Sunday.  Can we who claim to be followers of Jesus go about our usual schedules without stopping to consider why or why not we are experiencing the fire of the Holy Spirit?

What are we on fire about today?  The release of new music?  The Dow? The unemployment rate?  Ahmaud Arbery?  The 2020 election?  Running out of flour?

God has called each of us to love our neighbors.  Which neighbors are we on fire to love today?  And how will we love them?

It’s not a rhetorical question.

Two Videos

Yesterday, my colleague Rev. Alex Porter made a recorded video response to another video taken by Darnella Frazier who witnessed what would become the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.  Please make yourself watch both of them.

I could try to recount all the black and brown people who have been accused of something nefarious while napping, bird-watching, playing in a playground, or jogging.  Some of these people were murdered.

It doesn’t matter if Mr. Floyd was carrying a weapon.  (Early reports say he wasn’t.)

It doesn’t matter if Mr. Floyd was intoxicated or high. (Early reports say he wasn’t.)

It doesn’t even matter if Mr. Floyd committed a vicious crime. (Early reports say he hadn’t.)

Nobody deserves to be treated this way.

Mr. Floyd’s boss said this:

(He was) the kind of employee who would go out of his way to help a customer, offering a safe ride home to those who had too much to drink and once helping a woman who locked her keys in her car.

Until we eradicate systemic racism in this country, we cannot call ourselves Great.  We cannot call ourselves Good.  We certainly cannot call ourselves Christian.

White Supremacy is evil.  We are all party to it.  We need Divine help to overcome it.

Ways to Help: Support the Chaplains

Many of my friends and colleagues are chaplains.  They work in hospitals, retirement communities, colleges and universities.  They serve hospice patients and the military wounded.

And they also serve the overworked staffs in those hospitals, retirement communities, colleges, universities, hospices and military bases.

When I was a hospital chaplain after seminary, I spent about half my time with NICU and pediatric cancer patients and their parents, and the other half with exhausted medical professionals who watched their tiny patients die on a regular basis.

Today we need to support our chaplains.  Like parish pastors chaplains tend both to their own congregations and to the surrounding community.  Here’s how we can help:

  1. If you know any chaplains personally, send them a gift card for carry-out food or send them a note reminding them that they are amazing.
  2. If you do not know any chaplains personally, write Thank You notes (preferably with gift cards inside) and address to Campus Ministry on your local campus or to The Department of Pastoral Care in your local hospital or to The Chaplain’s Office in your local retirement community or hospice center.
  3. Write notes to people in assisted living and health care units in your local retirement community.  Who cares if you don’t know them by name?  Write a cheery note.  Send a photo of something beautiful.  Remind them that they are not forgotten even in quarantine. Tell them you will pray for them and then pray for them.  (This also supports their overwhelmed chaplains who find comfort in knowing there are others who care.)
  4. Contact the administration office of your local retirement community and find out what you can do for the low wage workers who clean and cook. Order pizza for the housekeeping department.  Be creative while being cognizant of social distancing.  (Believe me, this will help the chaplains who work alongside them.)
  5. For children and those who live/work with children: draw pictures to send to those in isolation in nursing homes and retirement communities.  You can address them to the chaplain or pastoral care office and somebody will deliver them for you.

More businesses and recreational sites might be open now that Memorial Day weekend has come and gone.  But where I live, the outbreaks continue and – in some places – are increasing.

Our chaplains are on the front lines with doctors, nurses, and therapists.  This is a good day to thank them.  It’s more productive than eating a package of Oreos or downing a bottle of wine.

Image source.

Who Is the Closest Person You’ve Lost in an American War?

Memorial Day is our annual sacred remembrance of those who’ve died in an American war.  We often confuse it with Veterans’ Day or even the Fourth of July.  Some call it the unofficial beginning of summer.  Others take advantage of car sales.

But it is indeed a sacred day.  I asked HH if he knew anyone personally who had actually died in an American war and the closest he could come up with was the older brother of a high school friend who died in Vietnam.

As for me, I know many veterans who have fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and even World Ward II (Thank you Uncle John.)  But the closest thing I have to a personal relative or friend – or even the relative of a friend – who died in war was Samuel Edmiston who died at Antietam and he wasn’t even fighting for the Americans. Needless to say, I didn’t know him personally.

Who is the closest person you’ve lost in an American war?  What’s their first and last name?

I wonder if one of the many divides in our nation – the divide between military families and non-military families – has to do with privilege.  Enlisted people tend to have high school school diplomas and some college, but “fewer than one-in-ten enlisted personnel (7%) have a bachelor’s degree, compared with 19% of all adults ages 18 to 44” according to this 2017 Pew study.

Both officers and enlisted people die in war of course, but enlisted personnel are more likely to die because their lack of education gives them fewer opportunities to serve away from the front lines.  This article claims that military recruiters specifically target poor and middle class high school students for enlistment, going to so far to say that “the Military views poor kids as fodder for its forever wars.

Most of my family and friends are well-educated, financially comfortable White people.  We are dripping with all kinds of priviledge.  And I wonder if there is a correlation between this fact and the fact that I have not known a single person who died in a U.S. war.

How about you?

We thank God today for the honorable sacrifices that so many have made defending the United States.  One of those sacrifices was made by Army Private First Class Dan Bullock who died at the age of 15 in Vietnam.  He wanted to join the Army so badly that he altered his birth records.  He was born in Goldsboro, N.C.  Our hearts are filled as we remember these people today whether we know them by name or not.

 

What If Working From Home Lasts Forever?

Twitter has informed their employees that they can work from home “forever.”  Google and Facebook are saying that their employees will not return to the office until this fall or next year.  My own office is definitely closed until July 6th but I’m assuming that date will be extended.  You can read more here in this article by Juliette Kayyem for The Atlantic.

In spite of the justified complaints about working from home, there are also countless benefits.  We can do a load of laundry between meetings.  We can bake brownies while reading emails.  The dog is happy to have more walks during the day.  We can wear sweats with a professional shirt.

Obviously, there are countless careers/jobs that cannot be done from home.  I wonder if one of the systemic shifts post-pandemic will be that we increasingly choose our occupations based on the ability to work from home.

NOTE:  This whole conversation reeks of privilege.  We who are Privileged have lots of choices.  The poor do not and it’s always been true that the poor do jobs that many of us would not do because we don’t have to: sanitation workers, delivery people, ditch diggers.  We must be mindful of this reality.

There is a meme going around about Ascension Day (May 21, 2020) – the holy day that when Christians acknowledge Jesus being lifted into heaven after the resurrection:

Today is the feast of the Ascension marking the day when Jesus started to work from home.”

Working from home is just the tip of the iceberg.

The layers of shifting the culture because of COVID-19 are countless and complicated.  Is corporate culture over?  Will most meetings stay virtual?  Is residential architecture going to become more working-from-home friendly?  Will Trauma Informed Care become part of the curriculum for training teachers and child care workers?  Will liability laws change?  Will technology improve to allow most medical professionals to work from home while adhering to HIPPA laws?

The Church is also going to be changing in dramatic ways that we cannot yet imagine.  But the notion of Jesus “working from home” while the Holy Spirit is with us wherever we go assures me that all will be well.

Happy Ascension Day.