Friday, February 19, 2016

Takeaways from The Voices Project

This Monday a friend of mine and I attended The VoicesProject in Atlanta. Technically it wasn’t for us but Amena Brown Owen was there and she had told us it was okay, so we did. It was a profound experience on several levels.
I am thoroughly convinced that in the work of racial reconciliation and bridge building white people need to be quiet and listen to people of color. And that doesn’t mean interrupting them to whitesplain, clear up our guilt or try to diminish their feelings. Whether you agree with their perception or not, you can not diminish their pain because you don’t understand their experiences.

Apologies...not the best picture but that is from l. to r.: Rudy Rasmus, Leroy Barber, Amena Brown Owen, Lisa Sharon Harper and Jonathan Brooks. As Katie said, I could have sat and listened to them talk forever
I-unfortunately-cannot remember who said it but near the beginning of the panel, one of the speakers talked about the disciples. He said they were writing scriptures with their everyday lives and linked that to the stories we are writing in our everyday lives.  Because of the musical Hamilton (I’m obsessed ya’ll), I have been reading biographies on the Founding Fathers lately and I was struck how all of them were aware they were making history.

While we may never end up in a history book (and certainly not the Bible), collectively we need to be aware that our actions create history. We shape not only the now but the future. And because we refuse to be uncomfortable, because we would rather be the teacher than the learner, because we hate to be wrong…we are screwing this up.
Pastor Jonathan Brooks (aka Pastor J) answered a question regarding the place of forgiveness in racial reconciliation by saying that the problem isn’t with forgiveness…it’s a refusal to lament. As Christians, forgiveness is not actually a choice, we are called to forgive those who hurt us, who oppress us. But there must also be a time of lamentation. Pastor J described what that looked like as an acknowledgement of what has happened, asking for forgiveness when it is appropriate, and a time of sitting beside someone grieving with them. I was reminded of the Jewish custom of covering oneself in ashes and sitting beside someone as they mourn. As Pastor J said “It is a journey. Not something to be swept under the rug.”

My father died four years ago. The anniversary of his death is coming up. These days I don’t mourn as often but this time frame always makes me sad. I have never had someone say “It’s been four years, get over it.” If they think it, they don’t say it out loud. My friends recognize the complexity of the relationship I had with my father and even if they don’t understand it, they are there for me. And yet, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone tell a person of color “it was so long ago, get over it” The reality of the situation is that slavery didn’t end with the end of the Civil War and that the systemic injustice faced by black people in this country went on far longer than that. This chart might help you understand…

Disclaimer: there are some I talk to that believe the yellow should stretch another decade and I tend to agree with them. Whoever created this ended segregation when the Supreme Court ruled against the Board of Education of Topeka therefore making school segregation illegal. But the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts would not be signed until 1964 and 1965.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking moment of the night was when one young man stood up and asked “Why is this happening?” Leroy Barber answered “Injustice happens when we fail to honor the image of God in others.” Racism has existed through the centuries. It is true that the we did not start it but we have perpetuated the process. It is inherent at this point. And I fear, will continue to be so unless we take methodical steps to repent and restore the brokenness.  Lisa Sharon Harper said that we must believe in the power of the Cross to transform our society but that we must also break mindsets. She says that we change those by deliberately looking people in the eye and seeing them as images of God and recognizing their power of dominion. If we recognize their power of dominion, then they are not ours to subjugate. We see them as humans. We see them as equals. This, like all disciplines, is something that we must do deliberately; often reminding ourselves to do, but that comes easier with time. And like spiritual disciplines…it becomes easier, part of us, and it brings us closer to God and others.