This should have been here a long time ago. But there were the excuses. Perhaps you felt them too…
I don’t want to rock the boat.
I don’t want to be misunderstood.
I don’t want to hurt my relationship with insert name here.
I don’t want to affect my job.
I don’t know what to say.
However, silence speaks. Silence names that the status quo has more importance than what could be said. Silence is not neutral. This past week, on Sunday June 14th I shared a blog post within my sermon via our online worship that should have been posted here several years ago, reflecting on the death of Philando Castile and a visit to his memorial. The above excuses gave me pause from posting the blog when originally written, but now I realize what my silence says. I have included what I feel I should have been spoken, should have been posted, at the end of this post.
In the last two weeks, I have been to another memorial. The memorial to George Floyd. The location of his death was the black pavement of the street. The walk down to Chicago and 38th came after dropping donations at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church of SE Minneapolis, MN. The combination of these two experiences compels me to type. For two days, churches in our conference quickly collected donations and then caravanned north on I-35. Prior to our journey to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, I saw the pictures of broken windows and smoky buildings of the neighborhood in posts and newscasts. I heard the newscasters speak of boarded up shops and gutted grocery stores. But it is different when you see it. In the safety of my vehicle, I entered the line for drive-up donation drop-offs and my heart went to my throat. The lawn of Holy Trinity was filled with people, those quickly unloading cars in assembly line fashion – masked with physical distancing, those greeting people at tables, those lined up to what may be their only source for diapers, toilet paper, and their next meal. The need was so great. An organized but overwhelming sight. On the day, Friday June 5th, during this particular shift, I noticed the skin tones of those who were volunteering and those who were receiving and the disparity that we know is so very real and true was symptomatically visible. There are so many beautiful stories of people of all walks of life coming together in this moment, helping their community, embodying resiliency. I am also very aware of my ability to drive to the donation center and to drive away.
That is why this blog posts exists. Because it felt sickening to have the ability to just drive away to my intact, safe home and, once out of the Cities, past numerous well-stocked grocery stories and shops open with their shining glass windows. The reality of so many in Minneapolis right now is not my own. Yet the discrimination, the degrading of human life, the disparities, the acts that brought about such a crisis also exist where I live, where I serve, where I spend my time. What has silence done? In the last five years of my life I have become more aware of how I have benefited at the sake of others. I have benefitted from the degrading of other people. From the land on which I grew up, once occupied by Native peoples, to the products that are made cheaply due to the use of prison or underpaid labor, often by persons of color. The list goes on.
In the services I lead as a pastor, we routinely pray for peace and justice but the images of the past weeks force me to ask, “How active have I been to really evoke the change I pray for?” I am aware of the disparities in our criminal justice system in which persons of color are more likely to be incarcerated than whites for similar crimes. I am aware of the loophole in the 13th Amendment that allows slavery to continue in prison settings. I am aware of the privilege I have to choose whether or not to say something about racial disparities and discrimination when, in reality, it is the water in which each of us swim and we know some are more likely to drown in it.
And so I write, even with my missteps and mistakes to break my silence. With phrases I could have penned better or paragraphs that could have more nuance because I refuse to just drive away. I refuse to let this be a happening that fills the air and just settles to the ground. I have work to do in order to bear justice and peace. I have work to do in order to be a better human being to my fellow human beings. Seeing the memorial of George Floyd at the end of the block, I prayed as I did at the memorial of Philando Castile, but this time the prayer was for me. Let me be changed. Let me not be the same.In the coming weeks, I intend to do some intentional work on my own racist enabling and I invite you along. I am including an article with suggestions on this work. A list encouraging white people to do something. This is a hard list. This list will not work for everyone and there are other suggestions out there. There are things on this list I cannot yet do or support, but within it we may be able to find ways we can do our own work of understanding the systems that brought about the memorials and destructions we have witnessed. Perhaps through our own work we can bring about the answers to long-prayed prayers.
75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice:
I plan to watch the documentary 13th, to read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (a book yet untouched on my shelf), and to speak with local law enforcement to understand better their current training. I also wish to make a commitment to myself that when I hear something that degrades a fellow human being I will not be silent. I will do the messy work of trying to be a better human being. I will screw this up. I will make mistakes. I will have to apologize. But that means I am doing and saying something.
If you are interested in supporting community aid efforts in the Twin Cities there are many websites with updates and extensive lists including the homepage of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church of Minneapolis and The Current Twin Cities radio station.
May we all be better human beings to our fellow human beings.
Originally written in 2018 while at my Doctor of Ministry in Biblical Preaching Residency in St. Paul, MN:
Bring Your Flowers
My first week of residency, I posted a picture of the test plots of the University of Minnesota. The plots are a landmark around here and an easy way to describe the location of the Air BnB we are renting. However, I would like to mention another landmark, one which came into being in 2016, the memorial for Philando Castile. Philando, a man, who was African American, shot as a result of a traffic stop when he was pulled over. There was a four-year-old in the car when he was shot.
I will not get into the details of the incident or the case. But given our class Preaching Race and Reconciliation and the fact that I pass this memorial every day when I go to class and every day when I return it has become a touchpoint of my learning. I have to name it. This community continues to grieve the circumstances that brought about his death.
On Thursday of last week, our class took a field trip, and visited the memorial. Now this had been on schedule for several days. For me, as one who is still in the first year of grief for the loss of my sister, there was a sense of empathy in addition to what this event says about our relationship between human beings and the state of race relations in our country. There is a family who no longer has a brother, a son, a friend. I do not know their experience of American life and I am sure it is different than mine. But I am familiar with loss.
I wanted to bring flowers…
That is what my family does when we visit a cemetery and wish to remember someone. I really wanted to bring flowers…
But then, I got worried. Could I do that? Or would that be seen as some sort of bandage on a gaping wound? To have a white woman who never knew this man bring flowers when I was there as part of a class experience? I wanted to be respectful and wasn’t sure how.
I looked upon the memorial from the other side of the road during walks while here these past weeks. I have done so several times, never quite bringing myself to cross the road. It felt vulnerable to do so. Why? I’m not sure. Am I afraid I will look like the crowds photographed at lynchings over the years of history? As this is how Castile’s death has been described by some. I do not know the intricacies of the event but I was indeed curious about the memorial and wanted to see it. I was saddened by a death that did not need to happen. And I am aware of how it represents the fear and hesitancy with which we interact with so many human beings who share this world with us. It is a memorial to a brother who was killed. And it is a marker of how deeply entrenched assumptions about race are in our country.
So quietly, Thursday morning in class, I asked my classmate, a fellow doctoral student, who is African American, if, in her eyes in would be okay to bring flowers. She said yes.
So I skipped chapel and bought flowers. That afternoon I brought flowers. They were real flowers, they will wither and die. I am sure someone will eventually remove their dried petals from the grass at Larpenteur and Fry. But even if that memorial fades, there are some things that will be forever changed. Including me.
I hope you too, in a world that seems so divisive find a way to bring your flowers.