This is a conversation almost no one ever wants to have. I know that. I’ve avoided it plenty of times myself.
Talking about race and racism, about judging others – or being judged – based on skin color (or accent or food or music preferences) can be mighty uncomfortable. We’re afraid we’re accidentally going to say something that will offend someone else, or will open us to ridicule. We’re afraid we won’t be politically correct enough, or too politically correct. We see such conversations easily going off the rails and resulting in hurt feelings, becoming enmeshed in politics and winding up with disharmony that, frankly, we don’t need.
And for what? I’m certain not one soul at St. James is an out-and-out racist. I’m equally certain we’d all prefer to live in a colorblind world. So why even raise the topic, let alone devote four Sundays to it? Better to play it safe and say nothing at all, right?
We MUST talk about it because we are the church. And the church simply cannot be silent on this. We cannot be silent at a time when Nazis and Klan members feel emboldened to march down the streets spewing their vile hatred. We cannot be silent when families are being torn apart by our immigration policies. We cannot be silent when people of color fear that a simple traffic stop will end in their death.
But before we can be an effective witness for the Gospel of Christ in our nation and in our community, we have to figure out how to talk about these things. They can be personal. They can be subconscious. They can be painful. I know. I’m still brought to tears every time I recall a certain swimming pool incident from my childhood. We all carry baggage.
And we all have stories to share. During Lent, we have an opportunity to share them. And we have the chance to listen to others’ stories.
Let me encourage everyone to take part in our Coffee Hour classes, beginning about 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 18 and 25 and March 11 and 18. (We won’t have class on March 4, the Sunday of the Bishop’s Visitation. We’ll instead spend class time with him, over breakfast.) Even if you don’t normally participate in Christian Formation classes, please, please plan to join us for these sessions.
We’re calling the class “Becoming the Beloved Community: Sacred Conversations about Race, Ethnicity, Culture and the Church.” I mean it when I say these conversations will be sacred. We’re inviting people to open themselves up and share their stories. Some stories may not be pretty. Some may be hard to tell. But we’re going to listen without judgment, and be to each other the supportive, loving family we’re always telling visitors that we are. And maybe we’ll all learn a thing or two about biases we never realized we had, and about privileges we never realized others lacked,.
Know that St. James is not alone in this endeavor. At the 2015 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, a resolution was passed encouraging ALL Episcopal churches to begin this work. “We made a commitment to live into being the Jesus Movement by committing to evangelism and the work of reconciliation — beginning with racial reconciliation … across the borders and boundaries that divide the human family of God,” says our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. “This is difficult work. But we can do it. It’s about listening and sharing. It’s about God.”
This coming Sunday, we’re privileged to have Lelanda Lee as our guest preacher and facilitator for our first class. Lelanda, a parishioner at St. Stephen’s in Longmont, is a former member of the National Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, and she has been a longtime advocate for racial justice. Lelanda is a dear friend, and she has taught me many, many things, always in her gentle, encouraging way.
The following Sunday, Feb. 25, we’ll have Bishop Curry himself. Not in person, I’m afraid. But he has recorded a video class, “Spirituality and Racial Justice.” The format involves short video snippets of Bishop Curry discussing various aspects of spirituality and racial justice, then we’ll break into small groups for guided discussions.
In subsequent weeks. the format will be similar, with video presentations by the Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, an Episcopal priest and professor; and Duke University professor Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. These presentations will be grounded in scripture and prayer.
During Lent, we are invited to carry out the disciplines of fasting, prayer and works of love. I urge you to let this engagement with a difficult, scary topic become one of the disciplines you take on during his holy season. With effort, we can take something scary and make it sacred.