Lectionary Ranting – Genesis 29

As some of you know, I’ve been putting the lectionary passages from Genesis into a series for the past few weeks. I’ve been going pretty heavy on the angle of “Look, these are human beings, in a very different culture but with a lot of the same basic needs and wants and problems we have.” My congregation is very strong on social justice, so I haven’t been talking as much about the justice/injustice aspects of these stories; instead I’ve been emphasizing how we find God in the gritty, messy, seemingly secular details of our lives.

BUT. This week and this passage have me in a frothing rage. The Senate has opened up the possibility of stripping millions of Americans of their health care, and removing protections for people who have pre-existing conditions (like me, and like basically everyone I know, because mortal life is a pre-existing condition). This morning, Trump arbitrarily declared a ban on trans people in the military, never mind the thousands who already serve. Here in Cincinnati, we still wait for justice for the murder of Sam DuBose. The death penalty is about to be administered not far from here despite much protest of the method in particular and the death penalty more broadly. Yet another seminary that claims to affirm women has invited an anti-woman lecturer onto their campus, clearly having learned nothing from the Princeton debacle, and supposedly egalitarian men are busy telling women that this is not a problem, that we need to hear all points of view. Perhaps they need to hear one more time that women have no business in pulpits, but I have heard it more than enough. These events are not equal in their egregiousness, but they’re all on my list of things that are filling me with fury.

On a related note: please stop telling people they need to sit back and listen to the perspectives that say they are inferior, intolerable, or abominable. Those who are categorized as “less than” already know the perspective well.

What does this have to do with Jacob and Leah and Rachel (and Zilpah, slipped in there for good measure), you ask?

Well, take a gander at Jacob and Rachel’s first encounter. Does anything about this seem odd to you? Familiar, perhaps? A man comes upon a woman he thinks is beautiful, and just runs up and kisses her. Sound like anyone else whose name and ongoing atrocities we can’t escape?

This passage is just full of men making decisions about women’s relationships and bodies. Everything is seen from the male gaze: Rachel is SO BEAUTIFUL. Did you catch that she’s really really beautiful? And Leah is…not. Not at all. She’s super ugly. Oh, and Zilpah, who just gets shuffled along as an accessory, but none of them really have any choice in this situation. They are objects for the pleasure and benefit of men, and my rage about this cannot be contained, because this still happens every day. Not just with women, but with all kinds of people, who are made objects for the use of someone with more power. Americans with limited resources are objects for a government that plays us like pawns in their game to one-up each other. Trans people are objects waved around to keep a certain part of the population convinced that Trump cares about “family values.” Sam DuBose was an object; the value of his life could be weighed and discarded in a moment by Ray Tensing for nothing. Prisoners are objects whose crimes make it acceptable to abuse and even kill them. Women are objects who are allowed by men to preach, maybe, as long as we don’t inconvenience the men by asking them to choose speakers who don’t tell us we are a lesser class of human. Oh, and by the way, be pretty like Rachel, so you get the love story with Jacob instead of being snuck into the deal, because ugly women aren’t worthy of love.

By Sunday, all of this will turn into some kind of sermon. In the meantime, I have some other Scripture to quote: “Arise, O Lord, in anger! Stand up against the fury of my enemies! Wake up, my God, and bring justice!”

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A Sermon on Genesis 28:10-22

This week was less scripted than usual, so there is no transcript available for this sermon. However, I wanted to put up an outline for those who missed it and are trying to follow the series on Origin Stories. Hopefully soon we will have online access to our sound files so sermons like this one can be heard if they cannot be read. 

Celtic Christians borrowed a concept from their ancient pagan ancestors of “thin space.” Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, they say, but in thin spaces the distance is even shorter. They used the term to describe places like the island of Iona, or the peak of Croagh Patrick. They may be spaces that are beautiful, although not all beautiful spaces are thin, and not all thin spaces are beautiful; Cancun is stunning in its own way but usually doesn’t offer much of a window to heaven, and one of the thinnest spaces I’ve ever encountered was a hospice ward in South Africa. Thin spaces may be tranquil – Iona in its windswept isolation certainly is that – but it’s equally likely that a thin space will not relax you at all, that it will disorient you and knock you out of your normal path into something entirely new.

That’s the thing about thin spaces. They’re not just pleasant spaces. They’re spaces that transform us, that let us in on realities that are usually hidden. They are places where we become more essentially ourselves.

(Share stories of thin spaces in groups of 3-5)

Jacob on the run wanders into a thin space, and it changes his life – the heir of God’s promise actually shifts from being a trickster and basically self-interested person to living like someone who is the heir of God’s promise.

What does Jacob’s story have to do with us?

  1. We often bumble into thin space, not when we’re at our best, but when we’re at our worst. Jacob was not having his finest moment. In fact, his life up to this point was a series of not finest moments.
    If he was expecting God to show up, it was probably to give him hell for what he had done to his brother and his father. But Frederick Beuchner in Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who describes Jacob’s dream. He notes, “the words God spoke in the dream were not the chewing-out you might have expected, but something altogether different … It wasn’t Holy Hell that God gave him … but Holy Heaven, not to mention the marvelous lesson thrown in for good measure. The lesson was, needless to say, that even for a dyed-in-the-wool, double-barreled con artist like Jacob there are a few things in this world that you can’t get but only can be given, and one of these things is love in general, and another is the love of God in particular.”
    Nothing separates us from God, even ourselves.
  2. Jacob’s dream is not about the dream, it’s about the reality.
    It would have been really easy for him to become fixated on how God spoke to him in this dream, and to believe that was the totality of the experience. But the point of the dream is not the dream. The point of the dream is the window it gives him into reality. That picture of the angels going up and down on the stairway, delivering messages between heaven and earth, and that vision of God standing beside him – it’s telling him something important about the reality of how close the sacred and the secular really are. They are right there together.
    When Jacob wakes up, he realizes that God has been there all along, in the dust and the stones all around him. He realizes that it’s God who provides for him every day. And for someone who has been trying so hard his whole life to trick and plot his way into security, this is a serious epiphany.
  3. Thin space only matters if it changes us. It changes Jacob; he leaves the pillar in memory of his experience, but also begins to give a tenth of all he has.
    The reality of God’s presence changes how he sees the world, and it changes what he does.

Will it change us? Will our thin places transform us, and make us more ourselves? Or will we simply leave them there, a remembrance of something we glimpsed once, long ago?

 

(After a time of silence we shared something we carry with us from our “thin spaces,” or hope that we will.)

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Lectionary Blogging – Genesis 28:10-19

Or maybe 28:10-22. The lectionary cuts things off awkwardly, and I’m not sure Jacob’s response should be disconnected. Also, newsflash, Stewardship Sunday isn’t the only time we are allowed to talk about generous, grateful giving. Ahem.

Also, please read all the things between last week’s lectionary reading (Gen. 25:19-34) and this one. This family, y’all.

But now, the story narrows to Jacob, who is on his way to find a wife. Thanks to that nasty business about the birthright, he’s already the heir to Isaac’s estate. But God appears to him in a dream, speaking to him with similar language to that God used with Abraham about the multitude of their descendants and the passing of blessing through them. God makes it clear that Jacob is the heir of the covenant as well as the family holdings.

Jacob is a biblical figure who kind of irks me. He’s deceptive and sneaky and there’s an episode coming up with his wife to be, Rachel, that reminds me a bit too much of the current president. But God is forever displaying interesting choices in the people who play roles in her story, and most of the time I’m thankful for that.

Jacob’s dream of the angels going up and down on a stairway between earth and heaven is certainly an evocative image, and there’s something in it that is more than a dream. It suggests that what is being revealed to Jacob is the reality that is hidden most of the time – that there is an ongoing interaction between earth and heaven that is not seen by mortals. When Jacob wakes, it is with the realization that heaven is here, on the very ground he inhabits, particularly in the “thin space” he is currently occupying, but also in the very fiber of the world. The point of the vision isn’t the vision, the point is what it tells him about the waking world.

Well, this is proving to be a heck of a week, and this post which I started on Tuesday is still pretty sparse, but it’s what I have at the moment. Preachers, where are you going with this (please don’t come to me with that pillar and oil scene, ack)? Listeners, what do you see here? Where does the Jacob story intersect with your life?

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“Sibling Rivalry” A Sermon on Genesis 25:19-34

I often think the book of Genesis is like an extended soap opera. Every time you think things are sorted out and everyone is going to be okay, you flip the page and there is some new melodrama. We’ve had plenty of drama in the last couple of weeks’ passages, but now it seems like things should calm down a bit for Isaac and Rebekah. But that wouldn’t make a very interesting story, I guess.

We have to remember that Isaac is supposed to be the child of God’s promise to Abraham to make his descendants into a great nation, so one might assume that once Isaac meets Rebekah, they’re going to be prosperous in the offspring department. But time goes on, and on, and they don’t conceive a child. And finally after twenty years of hoping and praying and longing, Rebekah becomes pregnant. But her pregnancy is completely miserable. Even in the womb, her two sons struggle with each other. I picture them elbowing and kicking each other, jockeying for space. So she goes and talks to God about this – and wow, I wish we all got answers this clear, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the answer she would have wanted. God tells her that this is just the beginning. These two boys will struggle and be divided all their lives, and their offspring after them will be divided into two separate nations.

When her sons are born, they even look as though they came from two entirely different countries. The first was red, and his whole body was covered with hair, so much hair that they named him for it. The second was small and dark and came out clutching the heel of his brother as if he was already trying to supplant him. Esau grew up sturdy and steady, a physical sort of man who loved the outdoors and was a skilled hunter and provider. A typical man’s man, and loved by his father for it. But Jacob tended to stay close to home, the chef of the family rather than the hunter, and he was his mother’s favorite.

My sister is coming to visit in a few weeks, so don’t tell her I told you this, but we didn’t get along when we were kids. She was three years younger than me and I always thought she was terribly annoying. We were not good at the same things, and we didn’t like the same things, and when we did like the same things, we were always fighting over them, because God forbid we should like the same things. We were and are very different people, and being forced to live in a house together and share a room for several years just didn’t go very smoothly. And if you should ever put us in a car together…well. I cannot even tell you the number of times my parents pulled over because we were physically assaulting each other in the back seat. 

Fortunately, we grew up and got over most of that stuff when we no longer had to live in the same space, and we’re actually really close now. But even now, no one can push my buttons quite like my sister – except maybe my brothers. 

But even though I really like my siblings, I still catch myself falling into the same roles with them and with my parents that we did when we were children. Even though I now have a whole lot of education and therapy around how to be self-aware and not get sucked into my base reactions, being back around my family of origin can put me right back into old patterns, with the same old squabbles and the same ways of setting each other off.

In Esau and Jacob’s time, people didn’t usually grow up and move across the country; they stayed in the family system. So these two brothers never really grew out of their rivalry. They were just completely different people. They cared about different things.

Today, there has been lots of research on birth order, but it doesn’t matter in terms of legal roles and responsibilities. Back then, it mattered a lot. The oldest son would inherit the vast majority of his father’s wealth; any younger sons would have to divide up what was left. The oldest son would carry the legacy and name of his father, while the younger brothers’ lines would have less importance. Let’s not even talk about daughters, here. So at the beginning of this story, it’s Esau who is primed to be the patriarch of the family. It’s Esau who will be wealthy and comfortable. It’s Esau’s children who will continue on the primary line of the family. And because this isn’t just any family – this is Abraham’s family, the family of God’s promise – it’s Esau who is born to inherit the covenant with God. This isn’t just any birthright, it’s the birthright.

But frankly, Esau isn’t someone who cares a whole lot about any of those things. He kind of gets the raw deal in most sermons about this passage, but I just see him as a person of action and immediacy. He’s a simple guy, and his attention is on the moment. When he comes in from the fields, what he knows is that he needs to eat, or he’s going to die. That priority overrides everything else, even the birthright of all birthrights.

Jacob doesn’t strike me as someone who would put himself in situations where he would be starving, or who ever lets the current moment get in the way of seeing the long-term picture. There’s some suggestion in the passage that Jacob may even have been planning for this – that he knew his brother, better than anyone. Knew his patterns and priorities. Knew that the best time to catch him a little off his game would be when he was hungry and tired. And when Esau is weak and in danger, Jacob trades for the right of the firstborn.

Again, Esau usually gets ridiculed here for selling his inheritance for a bowl of stew, but what he actually traded for was his life, which seems less ridiculous.  

It’s kind of a weird story to show up in something that’s supposed to be holy scripture. I once had a woman start coming to church who had no background with the Bible at all, but she got really excited about her newfound faith and wanted to read the Bible with her daughters. So she bought a Bible with simplified language and illustrations for children, and started reading through it. Well, it took her about a week before she came back and said, “These are not children’s stories!” True fact. The Bible is full of stories that don’t have a simple good and bad, a hero and a villain. Jacob is actually the “hero” of this story arc in Genesis, but here he’s not such a great guy; he’s more of a trickster character than a conventional hero.

But that’s real life, right? Most of our lives are not purely good or bad. Our motivations and actions are a mix of positive intentions and selfish motives and subconscious desires and patterns that we don’t even notice or understand. Biblical figures are just people, trying to figure out where God is in the midst of their very normal lives, where they’re fighting with siblings and trying to get the attention of their parents and working out their relationships…just like we are. And that’s good news for us, that God is there, somehow, right in the middle of the mess, so much so that the mess shows up in scripture, in this book that helps us know who God is.

And speaking of mess, these two brothers are a mess. Esau is…possibly not all that bright. Jacob is kind of a cheater, not to mention that he’s ready to let his brother starve to get the inheritance he wants. This is not the only time Jacob tricks his brother; stay tuned. They never grow out of their sibling rivalry, and they spend their whole lives competing over their parents’ affection. These are not fully self-actualized adults. They cannot get it together. And yet, they are stars in part of God’s story; they have a purpose that goes beyond themselves, and that is not disrupted even when they’re not the best versions of themselves.

And that is actually really good news for us. We’re not perfect people. We also have screwy family dynamics and we go back to the same behavior patterns over and over, even when they’re not the healthiest patterns for us or anyone else. We’re not always kind or compassionate or loving, even to the people closest to us – sometimes especially to the people closest to us. Sometimes we might feel like we can’t get it together, like we’ll never get it together. And that’s probably true. But you know what? It’s okay. You are the star in a part of God’s story anyway. God doesn’t need us to be perfect. God has a long history with imperfect people. God doesn’t need us to be perfect. God just needs us to be willing.

 

 

 

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Stacey Explains It All #1: Capsule Cooking

During a recent conference, it was suggested to me that I start sharing my life skills with other young, single, women ministers (and maybe make them available to other people who might be interested, too) in a blog or video series called “Stacey Explains It All.” Those who know me well may immediately realize (and be amused/irritated at) how much this plays into my desire to be a generalized expert in all things, but the fact is, if I am an expert at anything it is living my own life. Sharing that knowledge here instead of dispensing it spontaneously and unsolicited seems a wise choice.

Eating healthy and delicious food when you are a single person with an extremely full and variable schedule is hard. People with spouses and children also have challenges, I know, so do not come for me with your competition over who has it hardest. I simply don’t know anything about feeding households full of people, so my blog isn’t about that. I’m confident you can find about a million that are. My diet, if I’m not careful, turns into a series of takeout and fast food, and having access to UberEats has not helped that in the least. That’s not good for my health or my wallet. The busy single person’s particular needs tend to be food that is quick or can be prepared in advance and reheated, and easy to either make in small portions or split into servings that can be used later. About 90% of this is having the right things on hand. Bonus points if meals require minimal planning or decision-making.

Blame my solidly Midwestern upbringing and my northern European heritage; unless I am making something very specific, I tend to think of meals in terms of a meat/protein, a starch, and a vegetable or blend thereof, followed by seasonings/sauces/condiments. The staples I keep in my house reflect that. Fortunately, this makes for the meal equivalent of a capsule wardrobe: capsule cooking. Few decisions, and everything matches.

In my freezer:
– An assortment of meats in single and double portions. When I find a good sale, I like to order Omaha Steaks packages, which send beef, chicken, pork, and fish packaged as single servings. Alternately, I buy large packages of chicken breasts or thighs, chops, etc., and then split them by twos into quart freezer bags.
– If I have time immediately after shopping, I cook 4 chicken breasts, split it into two portions, and season each batch differently – usually one with a fajita seasoning, and the other with Italian spices or a more general blend of salt, pepper, and rosemary/thyme/paprika/whatever I have on hand. Then I put them in quart bags and freeze them. When I want a meal with chicken, it only takes a few minutes to thaw it and mix it together with vegetables, put it over rice or pasta, or throw it on a tortilla or sandwich.
– Frozen vegetables. I’d love to rely more on fresh, but my schedule makes buying fresh produce an exercise in throwing away money. I’ve basically given up on buying it unless I know exactly what I am making and when. I particularly like blends like these:

Microwave, mix with chicken, pour on rice or pasta, eat. With the sauced varieties, there’s no need for additional seasoning.

In my cupboard:
Ah, apartment living. I used to have a full pantry; now I have a single cupboard for non-perishables. But I always try to have in it:
– 2-3 types of pasta,
– A variety of rice (brown, jasmine), some in microwaveable packets for when I’m especially rushed,
– Assorted other grains/starches; I usually have some combination of quinoa that I forget to eat, grits, polenta, and potatoes,
– Beans, both dried and canned (dried are cheaper, canned are faster…you know which gets used more in this house).
– Olive oil for cooking things.

In the fridge:
– Eggs. I use eggs constantly, and have panic attacks when I run out. Like right now, I have no eggs, and it feels like I have NO FOOD, even though I have all the other things I just listed. In a later episode of Stacey Explains It All, I will share with you my quest to perfect every possible egg preparation.
– Milk.
– Butter. The real stuff. It lasts a long time and margarine is terrible.
– Cheese – almost always Parmesan, cheddar, and Colby-jack, usually some fancier kinds too.
– Duck fat. What? Okay, you aren’t required to have this, but I highly recommend it.

Seasonings:
Basically, to feed yourself things that taste good, you only need salt and pepper. None of your food will taste good without these things.
– Garlic in some form that is usable to you is a big plus. I usually use fresh, whole cloves, but even for me this is sometimes too much work. Thus I also have a jar of already peeled cloves, and another jar of minced garlic, and garlic powder, and garlic salt.
– I usually have an onion or two around, but once you get into chopping and sautéing things, then you’re Actually Cooking, and this is just about what to keep around so you can make things with minimal effort. I’ll cover Actual Cooking later.
– I also have a drawer full of spices and blends, and a window of herbs. You don’t have to do that, but if you’re inspired to have these things, it makes it easy to zip up your meals a bit and feel like you’re being fancy even if it actually took you five minutes. Chives are super easy to grow and snip up over your food, and suddenly it looks like you “plated your dish.” Magic.

Single Secret
I don’t actually have all these things at all times.

But it doesn’t matter in the least.

Everything matches. Even if you only have one thing from each of these categories, you can still make a delicious and reasonably healthy meal.

On Friday, I was a jet lagged mess who was trying to pull together a sermon and catch up on all the work I missed while I was away at a conference. Technically I had time to cook, but the energy was lacking. So: chicken breast with fajita seasoning, brown rice, fiesta vegetable mix. For the first meal, I layered it, melted cheese over the top, poured on some salsa, and called it a fiesta bowl. That was so good I ate it for two meals. Today the mixture went into a tortilla and became a burrito. There’s kind of an awkward amount left – not quite enough for a meal, too much to give to the dog – so tomorrow I’ll scramble it with an egg for breakfast. If you have greens, it’s also good as a salad.

This works for almost any combination.

Steak/pork/chicken, Asian vegetable mix, rice? Stir fry! (or faux fry)

Chicken (or ground beef, or pork, or sausage), peas, angel hair? With some butter and parmesan, a pasta dish strongly resembling those I had in Sicily. No chicken? Get your protein by mixing an egg into the hot pasta, or throw in some white beans.

Mix it with an egg, it’s a scramble. Put some broth or stock in it, it’s a soup. Chop it up with some lettuce, it’s a salad.

Basically any meat/starch/veg combination can be either served like a traditional meal with the elements separate, or mixed together and served as a bowl or stew. Usually a mix of two portions of meat, a bag of frozen vegetables, and a microwaveable packet of rice or similar amount of starch make 3-4 meals, which I portion out into plastic containers and either eat throughout the week, or freeze for a fast meal option later.

The capsule cooking approach is also really easy to adapt for Actual Cooking by using more fresh ingredients and interesting seasoning combinations, but its real strength is that you can have everything on hand to prepare satisfying, nutritious food in about ten minutes, with leftovers for lunches ready in three minutes. I like to cook, but when time is tight, capsule cooking gets me by on many days.

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Lectionary Blogging – Genesis 24

After last week, the lectionary passage for Sunday is quite the relief. Abraham is not being a jerk. God is not giving any unreasonable commands. A woman gets to make her own, more or less autonomous choice about her future, which is a rarity in that time. Despite this being an arranged marriage, Isaac and Rebekah appear to like each other right from the outset. Isaac receives some comfort in the midst of his grief over his mother’s death.

There are many things I want to know about this narrative that the Bible does not tell me. How long was it between the binding of Isaac and Sarah’s death? How are things with Isaac and Abraham at this point? Why does this text see fit to tell me how many camels the servant took with him to Nahor, but not whether Isaac and Abraham are even speaking?

And to the lectionary decision makers, why have you given me the recounting of the events to Laban, instead of the story as it happens? And why have you chopped it up into bits and pieces and cut out some of the verses? I will not be taking your advice on Sunday.

Right now I am focusing on two parts of this passage. First, Rebekah’s unusual amount of autonomy. She offers a drink to the servant. She chooses to draw extra water for the camels. She extends the hospitality of her home. She makes the decision to travel to a far off land and marry a stranger, and to do so immediately, not in a number of days. She is named and she speaks, in a book full of anonymous and silent women.

Second, the comfort that is offered to Isaac through relationship. His relationships with his father and with God are tense, if not broken. His remaining good relationship, with his mother, comes to an end. But still there is comfort to be had in the midst of grief. Sometimes this comes through romantic partnership, as it does for Isaac; sometimes it comes through friendship, or other family, or a community. But the way that both God and Abraham try to repair the breach is to offer the comfort of relationship – if not with them, with another. God cares about our grief, our comfort, and our relationships with other people.

Preachers, where are you going with this text? Non-preachers, what questions or thoughts do you have about Isaac and Rebekah?

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Waking Up White Lesson Plan

My congregation has been holding a group study of Waking Up White by Debby Irving. I led the final session, and had some requests to put the lesson plan online for those who missed the discussion or wanted to look back at some of the resources. This work is not to be used in part or in whole for anything other than individual study without my permission.

Waking Up White Lesson Plan – Session 4

Opening Prayer

Rapid-fire Question: “If we finish this session without discussing this, I will be disappointed.”

Goal: To intentionally grow in courage and comfort in discussing race and confronting racism.

Small group scenarios

As individuals, please reflect on and share your answers to the following questions:

  • What are the key issues involved?
  • How would I feel in this scenario?
  • What might I normally do in this situation?
  • How do I hope I would respond in this situation, given what I have learned?

As a small group, explain to the whole group your scenario and your best consensus about what you hope your response would be.

Scenario 1

In conversation with a friend who is a black woman, you compliment her on how well-read and articulate she is. Instead of being flattered, she is insulted and claims that you are being racist.

Scenario 2

It’s graduation day for the public high school, but the theater doesn’t have space for all the friends and family who have come to celebrate. Frustrations are running high, and suddenly there is an altercation between people trying to enter the theater and the police who are acting as security. You don’t see how it starts, but you do witness as one white police officer restrains a black man while another white officer punches him in the face multiple times before they handcuff him and take him away in a squad car.

Scenario 3

You are at a family reunion and overhear your aunt complaining about her new neighbors. “They’re bringing down the property values for the whole neighborhood, and now I have to make sure to lock my doors at night. They have two teenage boys, and you never know what young black men will be up to.” she says. You notice that none of her criticisms relate to disruptive things they have done; the only thing wrong with their presence is who they are.

Scenario 4

You are a member of the board for a local non-profit. As the board has become conscious that most of your clients are non-white, you have decided to commit to anti-racist practices. You hold a special meeting of the board and some of the staff to create policies, and you call in an expert to inform your decisions about how you can best advocate for the people of color you serve. You go home at the end of the night feeling productive about all the good work you have done in combatting racism, but as you go to sleep, it occurs to you that every member of the board, and the expert activist, are all white.

Sharing Our Responses

  • What other responses might be helpful?
  • On a scale of 1-5, how able do you feel to respond in the way you think is best?
  • What would make you feel more able to respond in that way?

Next Steps – Internal and external work is involved in combatting racism

Check Yourself

My experience is not the sole or defining experience of racism (or anything else). I perceive and speak from a position of privilege in ways that keep me from clearly seeing the perspective of those who are marginalized. So, when someone tells me I am wrong or acting in harmful ways, my first responsibility is to listen and validate the experiences of those who experience racism (or other marginalization). My responsibility is to notice when I am having racially motivated feelings, and to deal with them. My responsibility is to practice empathy, particularly around power and privilege.

Educate Yourself –

I will not enslave people of color for my education.

People of color have produced many wonderful resources to help white people like us understand their experiences and perspectives, and when you buy those resources or access them legally through their websites, people are compensated for their hard work. If I am committed to understanding and confronting racism in myself and others, I will commit to the work of educating myself by reading authors of color, watching films by and about people of color, listening to music composed and performed by people of color, exploring art created by people of color, etc. I will read Twitter, which is a free treasure trove of grassroots, up to the minute social activism. I will pay attention to Black Lives Matter and other local groups dealing with racism, so I can learn about the effects of racism where I live and participate in anti-racist events.

De-Center Yourself

Most of our reactions are self-centered. I feel so bad. I should do something. I should solve this problem. Well-meaning white people like to show up and take charge. This can be disempowering to marginalized people, and besides, we don’t necessarily know what they actually want. Showing up to the Black Lives Matter march? Yes, definitely. Taking the megaphone and leading the chants? Probably not unless you are explicitly asked. Telling black protestors that they need to be calmer or stop blocking traffic because their methods are making you uncomfortable? Absolutely not. Often the best thing we can do with our privilege is shut up and stand there and be supportive while someone else speaks and leads.

A note about white tears:

Another thing well-meaning white people like to do is talk a lot about how bad we feel when it is pointed out to us that we are racist, do racist things, swim in the racist pond, and benefit from racism. This is about wanting to feel good about ourselves and make sure everyone knows we are still good people. However, it is not at all about how we have hurt people of color, and it does nothing to dismantle racism. We’re turning the responsibility of the conversation onto the person of color, who is now supposed to comfort us and tell us we are okay.

We also like to appeal to politeness whenever we’re uncomfortable. So whenever someone has inconvenienced us or brought up unpleasant thoughts about ourselves, we say things like, “If you want people to listen to you, you should speak to them in less inflammatory ways. Blocking their morning commute just makes people mad. People don’t like it when you’re so angry.” This is about you wanting to encounter racism in a way that is safe and non-threatening to you. It is not at all about the experience of people of color, and it ignores the hundreds of years of attempts to ask for liberation in more palatable ways. We’re putting the responsibility for both their liberation and our continued privilege on the shoulders of people of color. These things are not mutually possible.

Both of these reactions are sometimes described as “white tears.” They are the additional burden we place on people of color who we claim to be helping. Don’t do this. If you sense yourself having white tears, take them home and cry them to other white people who are similarly committed to confronting racism, and we can assure each other that we’re still good people who also still need to be challenged in our own racism.

Move Yourself

Change your behavior to do intentionally anti-racist things.

  • Cross the racial divide and greet people warmly.
  • See something, say something.
  • Participate in anti-racist programming.
  • Contact your representatives about ending racist practices in law enforcement, the justice system, education, and the media.
  • Advocate for legislation that criminalizes racist police practices, like the Michael Brown Law.
  • Join movement for reparations (check out the Movement for Black Lives).
  • Support Affirmative Action and diversity policies that go beyond tokenism in education and the workplace.
  • Vote for candidates who support anti-racism measures and/or are people of color.

What next steps will you take individually?

What next steps will we take collectively?

How will we be accountable for doing so?

Is there anything we have not covered? How might we pursue it?

Closing Prayer

Suggested Resources

  • The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander
  • Dear White Christians – Jennifer Harvey
  • God of the Oppressed; The Cross and the Lynching Tree – James Cone
  • Sisters in the Wilderness – Delores Williams
  • Our Lives Matter – Pamela Lightsey
  • Mujerista Theology – Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz
  • “White People” – Jose Antonio Vargas (video)

 

 

 

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