Like many of you I have watched in horror as scenes of police brutality have crossed my various screens. I have stood with my mouth gaping as I have listened to white male leaders deny the reality of racism, or use the Bible and a church backdrop as a prop to goad peaceful protestors to ramp up their resistance, in order to justify accelerated police violence.
This week I have heard colleagues of colour weep… recall the trauma of racism within our Canadian context and our beloved UCC… call others in leadership to be prophetic voices for God’s truth… Jesus’ call for justice. I have listened to Rev Anthony Bailey (Parkdale UC, Ottawa) speak of a racially-motivated encounter he had with white men that ended in the stabbing death of his brother as they went for an evening walk.
And Anthony reminded me that “race” was invented in the 17th century by white European philosophers, who came up with the notion of creating a hierarchy… elevating educated white men above others, thereby granting them the right and authority to abuse those who were beneath them; deemed lesser than by their colour, station, class, abilities, knowledge. Until this time, people were set apart from one another by language… by their culture NOT by the pigment of one’s skin. You were French or Greek. You were not seen as black or red… yellow or brown…
How different this is from the reality I lived while serving in Brampton, where I witnessed racism day after day. I remember my shock as a Black man (around 60) was accosted by police who were looking for a black man in his 20s who had committed a crime. This man had grey hair… he did not remotely look anywhere near 20! When asked where he was going and why he was out, he explained that he had just had heart surgery and part of his recovery was to go for regular walks. When he went to open his shirt to show them the scar from his operation, they drew their guns, assuming he was drawing a weapon… and then they handcuffed him, slamming his head on the cruiser… and with each plea of his innocence, they pushed a little harder. This happened 2 blocks from the church where I served. And this was not a one-off event.
I also remember vividly the day I co-presided at the funeral of a 9 year-old girl who died from brain cancer. You can imagine, how horrific the death of a sweet, beautiful, funny, loving, kind little girl was and how large the gathering was going to be. So the local funeral home rented out an evangelical church in Mississauga that would hold the mourners… the friends from soccer and school… the teachers and teammates… the friends and co-workers of the parents, their faith community, their cultural community. It was going to be HUGE!
I remember arriving at this “place of worship” with a heavy heart… which immediately boiled over into anger, as I was accused of “tricking and lying” to the people of the church so that they would rent the space to us for the service. I was vilified for taking part in a service with an Imam (Dad is Christian, Mom is Muslim) and the fact this family hailed from Sierra Leone and were Black… THIS was the ultimate trickery and deceit! “If we had only known”, I was told, “we never would have said yes!”
So as a church that professes Jesus, lover of all, welcomer of all, cheerleader and justice seeker for all, why was the colour of one’s skin or the God they profess more important than faithfully living out the command to love one another? To welcome all with the love of Jesus? To care for and share in the grief of a family mourning the loss of their beloved daughter… a 9 year old? Why was a different colour… a different understanding… a different community than our own the barriers raised… the reasons not to serve, welcome, embrace, love the other in the Way of Jesus? I will never understand.
After quelling the anger… and the threats to throw us on the streets, we honoured 2 traditions, we sang songs from 2 cultures, we heard sacred texts from 2 understandings, we prayed in ways that spoke to both communities, I proclaimed the love of Jesus, and the grieving mother lifted up a passage from the Koran that was so profoundly wise and beautiful. And the Spirit moved in all present; blessing us, encouraging us, comforting and sustaining us for the days to come.
I can close my eyes and see it all, as the tiny coffin made its way from the platform, I waited… and once the Imam was beside me, we walked side-by-side behind the coffin… making a clear statement to all present, the one-ness of Jesus, the one-ness of Allah, the one-ness of humanity we are called to… is to model inclusive love, mutual love, just (like in justice, not merely) love, honouring love, life-giving love…
As I watch the anger arising throughout North America, my heart breaks… and I am numbed by the ignorance and insensitivity of many. No wonder my Black brothers and sisters are tired. They are tired of nicely asking to be seen and heard (taking a knee, letter writing and petition signing, voting — only to have ballots get discounted or lost). They are tired of being treated as suspects and trying to justify why they were doing everyday activities we so often take for-granted… shopping, walking our dogs, sleeping in our own beds without incidence. They are tired of lives being lost with no change in sight. They are tired of living within systems that historically produce data that says if you have a white sounding name you are more likely to get a job callback than if you have a foreign sounding name… if you have a white sounding name you will more likely get into certain universities (UofT & Queens have a documented history of this practice)… more able to buy a home, get a mortgage, get insurance, get paid better wages…
It’s been a long week… week 12, and I am tired. Yet in my tiredness I must continue… we must continue… for the sake of the man wrongfully accused and accosted… for the little girl whose funeral almost didn’t happen… for the ones who have been murdered in front of us, and all who have been killed and covered up… for all who continue to be marginalized by the current systems… and all who have been enslaved by a notion that was taught since the 17th century that some are more worthy, have more value than others. Not in God’s eyes.
If you need/want resources, they are available. If you want/need to talk, contact me.
And know you are not alone in your heaviness, sadness, grief, anger,
your overwhelming pondering of what to do next…
May the One who created all and is in all, be with us all and especially all who are peacefully protesting, calling an end to the deaths, the discrimination, the racism that for too long has pitted us one against the other… rather than proclaiming the unity God desires for all.
Anti-Racism Resources: http://bit.ly/ANTIRACISMRESOURCES
For your listening pleasure: a NYC Virtual Choir offering a rendition of VU-716
How Can I Keep from Singing
COVID-19 links from The United Church of Canada:
From the National Church
This Sunday we will look at the United Church Crest and the history of our denomination as we honour The United Church of Canada’s 95th Anniversary! On June 21st we will celebrate Aboriginal Sunday (the Sunday closest to National Aboriginal Day)! On June 28th we will honour Pride Sunday! And we are looking forward to a Hymn Sing Sunday in July!! Please let Sue know your favourite hymns (and perhaps why they are your favourites) and she will craft as many as she can into a service of worship!
Here is the weekly link to on-line worship experiences from across Canada (404 and counting)!
This week’s prayer for the journey – a Franciscan Blessing
May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.
And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator, Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our Saviour, and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide, be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore.
Following the Way of Jesus demands we do not become complacent and that we continue to grow in Love’s likeness.
And in all things, may we “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression” (Isaiah 1:17)
Carlisle-Kilbride United Churches