A dishonor and a privilege

I was in the waiting room of an urgent care this morning when I saw him. He was adorable. Vacillating between heartmeltingly thoughtful and thoughtlessly distracted and studiously disobedient, like any four year old. He was running around carrying a cup of water, and his mom seemed torn between letting him have his independence and keeping him from spilling it on the floor, like any mom of a preschooler.

My heart ached as I watched him, because I knew that on some day in the next six to twelve years, he would cross a line created by my people, by white U.S. people – the line between adorable and menacing. He would be the same little boy, but other people – white people – would stop seeing a little boy and see a threat – they would fear him with the visceral fear of a people whose wealth was stolen generations ago from the people of that little boy – a violent theft of labor, life, and dignity. They would fear him because, deep down, they would know that if they were dealt the hand he was dealt, they would feel entirely justified in violently breaking out against their oppressors. And so they would come to expect that outbreak, to project it onto him, so that one day, when he reaches into his pocket for a stick of gum (just like any teenager), some fearful white person might just shoot him. Just in case.

I do not have to worry about the day when my white daughter will be shot by a police officer. And I confess that that is a relief to me. I have never been scared of more than a bump in my insurance rates when a police officer has pulled me over. Or, when I was younger, that the officer might call my Dad, and my Dad would be disappointed in me. I am white, and my husband is white, and my child is white. My sister and brother are white, and their spouses and children are white. I haven’t had to think about police violence, or vigilante violence, or Klan violence.

That’s a big part of what “privilege” means – it means not having to think about difficult things because of who you are. I have to think about being a woman – being a woman is a dangerous thing in this world – but I can choose whether to think about being white.

White friends, if you haven’t thought about it, think about it now. Think about what it means to be white. If you are parents of white children, think about that. Think about all of the things that you don’t have to think about. Like not having to worry about whether your child will grow up to be shot by a police officer, and have the whole police department mobilize to cover it up. Like not having to worry about whether some vigilante will confront and then shoot your unarmed kid, and then be acquitted because it was “self-defense.” Like not having to worry about how your child will carry on after you are killed by white folks who tied you to the back of a truck and dragged you down a road for sport. Like not having to worry about whether you will be choked by a police officer in front of your young child for using your grill on the sidewalk in front of your house. Or being killed because your wife, the mother of your son, does not have the same skin color as you do.

“Who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asked Jesus. Jesus told him a story that flipped the question – we are to BE neighbors – to choose to care for anyone who is being knocked down and beat up and having everything taken from them. To anyone who is being shot in the street.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus discouraged the lawyer from limiting the scope of what “neighbor” might mean. For all of us white folks, who are grateful for the privilege of not having to fear violence for ourselves and our families based on what we look like, loving our neighbor as ourselves means wanting that sense of security for everyone.

Mothers know that their children are adorable no matter how old they are. They are precious. I am praying for all of the mothers tonight, especially for the mothers of black children, who knew long before Mike Brown was shot how dangerous their children’s lives are – how fragile their existence is in this country that fears them furiously and violently. Lord, may it not ever be so. May these mothers one night sleep a peaceful night’s sleep, because their children are finally free to walk in the world as safely as my own white child. Amen.

The Good Samaritan: Dramatis Personae

Just in time for this Sunday’s lectionary gospel reading, the General Board of Discipleship of the UMC has published my newest set of sermon series helps: On the Road.  The series spends four weeks with the Good Samaritan story, examining it from the point of view of the injured man, the thieves, the priest and Levite, and the innkeeper.  So – if you want to check it out, you can find not one, but four different approaches to preparing your sermon for this Sunday!

On the Road: From Jerusalem to Jericho

May you find that you are blessed in your preparation of God’s message for this Sunday – blessed to be a blessing!

“Give up something for Lent”

That was the comment left by a friend on Facebook, after she had read my last blog entry.  Her words made me realize that I had not been as transparent in that entry as I had hoped to be:  I am giving something up for Lent – as a consequence of the lesser (and perhaps shorter than Lent) losses of giving up my ability to think clearly, my ability to stay awake during daylight hours, my ability to drive, and my ability to lift a child or a bag of groceries, I am giving up any idea of myself as necessary.

I have mixed feelings about the modern embodiments of “Lenten discipline” – especially when “giving something up for Lent” seems to have become almost a cultural norm rather than a religious one.  For instance, a friend of mine told me about a colleague who hasn’t identified himself as Christian since childhood, yet he gives up alcohol for Lent every year – “to prove to himself that he is not an alcoholic.”  Setting aside what is problematic in that method for establishing one’s dependence (or not) on alcohol, it illustrates nicely how divorced from spiritual ends giving something up “for Lent” has become.  At the same time, I don’t think that the case against it is as cut and dried as blogger Landon Whitsitt recently suggested (awesome article, though – check it out.)  Understanding one’s own motives goes a long way when it comes to this now widely accepted practice.

In any case, I did not choose my fast this year.  Honestly, having missed Ash Wednesday worship this year, I initially felt alienated from any concrete expression of the season.  Instead, as another  friend suggested to me in the last days before the season began (but did not sink in until later) – the Spirit drove me into this wilderness.  I am being given a window into a world without me in it, or at least without me being able to do many of the things which feel essential to my understanding of myself.  I am discovering how inessential I am.  Dust I am, and to dust I will return.

I could never have chosen to give up being necessary for Lent – or (more truly) given up my idea that I am necessary.  And tonight, it took me some time to settle into being even a little bit grateful for the gift of this insight.  But as with any spiritual discipline – any lesson God would teach us – learning that the world goes on without me is indeed a precious gift, and I hope over this wilderness season to find the strength to stop worrying about so many things, and instead to embrace fully the lesson that only God is necessary.