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Seeing Not Pretty Things

Seeing Not Pretty Things

It’s hard to believe it is June already. The year is moving toward being halfway over. Winter has given way to summer, at least here in Arizona. It was 114° here the other day but is going down a little bit for the next few days. Thanks be to God. Flowers are blooming, the grass needs mowing, and in a typical year, kids would be getting out of school, and families would be planning vacations. Unfortunately, this is not an average year by any stretch.

 

Things seemed bad enough when the COVID-19 virus came along, and people underwent quarantine to try to prevent the spread of the disease. Some chose not to obey the restrictions, feeling it was an infringement of their God-given rights to go where they wanted and do what they wanted any time. They were upset at stores and restaurants were closed (although a number of those establishments had a pickup or delivery service available). Many folks, though, tried to comply with the regulations, if not solely to prevent illness for themselves and their families, but to help keep others safe. People worked from home, and pets were quite quizzical for the first few days and weeks, seeing that their pet-parents were home all the time. 

 

The year got continually worse with increased police actions against protesters (many of whom were peaceful) and an increase in police violence against Blacks. It seems like every week, if not more frequently, there are news reports of yet another young man being shot or somehow winding up dead as a result of police action. Many victims were entirely innocent, in their own yard, or only doing something like jogging. One man I read about liked to walk his dog in his neighborhood. Now he is terrified to do it because of the chance of being stopped and questioned, roughed up, or arrested for no apparent reason. Luckily, that gentleman has found about 75 neighbors who walk with him every day, for which I am sure he is grateful. But in his own neighborhood and merely walking his dog, he should not have to feel terrified simply because he is Black, and therefore is a possible target. 

 

Please note that I am not accusing any police entity as a whole, but admit that not all police are fair in their treatment of others, just as many are courteous, kind, helpful, and polite. Or is that just to me?

 

Recently we have had a significant escalation of protests against police actions that have resulted in the deaths of several Black people without what seemed to be a good reason. This isn’t a new situation; racism has raised its ugly head since the first Africans were transported to the colonies to work in the fields, homes, and factories of the white people who had settled and begun to expand their holdings in the North as well as the South. Even after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery continued. There are many places in this country today where people of color can’t truly feel free because they are constantly under suspicion of being criminals, guilty of welfare fraud, or up to no good. Black men are much more likely to be stopped for a minor traffic infraction, hassled, searched, and potentially arrested than a white person, man or woman. Just being nervous about being stopped by a police car is often enough to result in being questioned. A minor traffic stop could be a potential death sentence if the one being stopped is Black.

 

This week protests have been going on all over the country. Blacks began the protests, but they have been joined by members of other races to call attention to the number and methods by which police have killed Blacks over the past several months. Looting has occurred in some places, but many of those initiating the action appear to be young white men who want to escalate conflicts into a race war. Buildings have been looted or defaced, and churches have been burned or desecrated.  

 

What has bothered me a lot this week is the incident the other evening at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington DC.  Clergy and members of the congregation had been peacefully handing out water and snacks to the peaceful protesters who stopped by. Some protesters asked for prayers or just to talk to someone about their concerns. St. John’s has been serving the community since colonial times and was continuing its mission using the hands of those who took their ministry of Christian service to others very seriously. Imagine the shock suddenly to find themselves in a maelstrom of people fleeing, clouds of teargas or similar irritant and flash-bang grenades lobbed in their direction, and rubber bullets being shot at them, sometimes even hitting them. 

 

People of all colors who were practicing what Jesus taught them to do, were being chased away from their church and the work they were attempting to do in Jesus’ name by police and others, and for what? So a president, a privileged white man, could walk over from the White House, stand in front of the church sign, hold up a Bible, and not offer any words of comfort, or even much idea of what was in the book he was examining as if he had never seen it before. That’s what I saw from the video bytes recorded on various media, and it made me sick. Next to him was the church sign that said that St. James was open to all, meaning all people regardless of their age, color, orientation, status, or religious affiliation (or no affiliation). That is what Jesus taught us to do, not just to use the Bible as a prop for some unknown purpose. 

 

How can we learn to have peace together if we continuously have people stirring the pot to keep us separated? How can we begin to understand the message of Jesus if we don’t hear the stories of others who are different from us? How can I, as a white person, learn to overcome any sense of white privilege I have and to help others to identify it in themselves if I never talk about the difficult subjects of race and faith with those who know what being of another race or creed is like?

 

As a Southerner, I grew up with segregation. I accepted it because I didn’t know any better. It’s taken me years even to begin to come to grips with white privilege and how I have benefitted from it. I’m still learning and have a long way to go. Now I have to learn how to open difficult conversations with people from whom I would like to learn. I pray God will give me the way to broach these—and to learn from them.

 

God bless, and stay safe, but not too safe. Too safe means that nothing gets done.

 

Photo by Katie Crampton (WMUK) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90942271

 

Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter.

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Mary Zabawa Taylor

Instead of expecting others to educate you and to open difficult conversations, why not begin by educating yourself? Austin Channing Brown is carrying on an educational regime for white folks and it's very good. It's a place to start to open your eyes without placing the burden on people of color.

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