The Church of What’s Happening Now

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For all its beauty and civic pride, Winston-Salem, North Carolina – the city I love to call home – is really no better than any other southern town and in many ways is much worse. Why? Because we tie a pretty bow around our ugly inequities. The wealth in our town is extremely high, but take a closer look. In a town this flush (and we are flush), why do our citizens of color continue to suffer? Why does the serious financial power still belong mostly to white people, especially to white men and their white families? Why are most of our city’s critical decisions made by and in favor of the haves rather than the have-nots?

We schedule workshops and meetings to discuss the same old, tired disparities with the same old, tired (but well-meaning and kindhearted) people riffing on the same old, tired tune. Very little of real value changes, but we smile and pat ourselves on the back because we joined in the conversation. Plus we donated last year’s clothes to Goodwill and six cans of black beans to Second Harvest.

Make no mistake: systemic racism is right at home here in Camel City. So are hungry children; unfathomable poverty; financial inequity so deep it carries the stench of rot and greed; and blatant injustice, including the latest cover-up of Mr. John Neville’s murder by the hands of his jailers and a jail nurse.

All this and the novel Coronavirus, too.

Have you had enough? If it’s new leadership we need, then step up and make your platform known. If you have more money than you can spend in this lifetime, step up and fund a grocery store in one of our (or your) city’s many food deserts. Step up and help feed people by making a tithe worthy of Jesus; it’s not like the need is hidden from you or your children or your church or your bank or your neighbor. A short bit of research will lead you down the path of righteous knowledge.

My favorite Winston-Salem food project is SHARE Cooperative and Harvest Market.

Please. Look up from your life. We are in crisis here. Your help is so desperately needed. Every single one of us is in this cesspool together, and nobody gets out until everybody gets out. Come on, let’s get real. It’s time to get real.

Go ahead, let your light shine. Taking the bushel off your lamp won’t hurt but a minute and isn’t nearly as painful as going to school or work or bed hungry, or to live in fear for your life or the life of someone you love. Every. Single. Night. Can you imagine? No. You cannot. Those shoes don’t fit you.

Whether we go willingly or kicking and screaming, we are all being directed to mask up and take a seat in The Church of What’s Happening Now. We are being asked to search our hearts, find our humanity, and join up. My hurting town of Winston-Salem needs all the soulshine it can get these days and most likely yours does, too.

 

White People, We Have Work to Do

0602201331a~2(1)Why am I talking?

First born children are said to be natural leaders with a bent toward the bossy and authoritarian side – not my favorite personality traits, but I own them. Now that I’m entering the Crone Age, I no longer crave the attention that comes from being out front. My turn is over.

For a Type A person like me, it took a few years and several missteps before I accepted the “your turn is over” message. But the physical discomfort and emotional rigidity that accompanied my fear of losing control disappeared when I loosened my grip. It’s like my psyche finally had enough and said, “Relax. It’s somebody else’s turn,” and my body melted in relief.

Participating as a witness, shining my little light in the dark corners and helping hold the safety net for others feels solid and desirable. These are my senior super powers.

During this time of brutal chaos and change, thoughts about stepping back (when with all my might I want to step forward) and figuring out how best to help purge the pustular infection of systemic racism and heal our country’s deep, ugly wound led to the memory of a powerful lesson in awareness. Last year, a friend and co-worker turned me on to the acronym WAYT, meaning “Why Are You Talking?” She was frustrated because during a seminar, white women were dominating a discussion about race in the workplace rather than listening to the experiences of Black women, all of whom were co-workers in the very same office. White women, taking the lead on black issues.

Blind racism. White privilege. Do we really know better than they? Have we ever walked a mile? I’ll be blunt. The answer is NO.

There has never been a better time for us white people to recognize our own racist shortcomings and do the work with eyes wide open. This is absolutely the right time to use our white privilege for the benefit and protection of our Black and brown family.

More important is that we listen, really listen right now to what Black people are saying, what they are asking us to do. It’s not the first time we’ve been asked to be allies. After turning a blind eye to over four hundred years of oppression topped by decades of apathy, white people aren’t the most trustworthy collective on the planet. Good news: there’s nowhere for us to go but up.

It is not our turn to lead right now; it is our turn to listen. Please understand this.

Hush. Hear what is being asked of us. Maybe the most basic thing we’re being asked to do is to really understand what these three words mean: Black Lives Matter. Maybe it’s time we repeat those words as a mantra until they become part of our heart’s peace.  Can you say it and mean it? Black Lives Matter.  If your knee-jerk response is “well, all lives matter,” please read this article which explains why you need to stop saying that.

Maybe we’re being asked to share the history of George Floyd and the Dominoes of Racial Injustice across oceans and mountains, through valleys, up sidewalks, on corners, and down alleys. If you’re asking yourself if you have time to watch this video, the answer is yes. (Thank you, Trevor Noah.)

Today I imagined I was part of a posse of old Black and brown and white women, granny-boobed women with thin hair, arthritic hands and sore feet, standing firm and holding the line between protestors and policemen, handing out homemade cookies to both sides and asking everyone to sit down and eat together, which they do. Then everyone has a little rest while Mavis leads us in the singalong version of “I’ll Take You There” at which time we old women begin to collect all the shields and guns, all the words and blood and breath of the dead and angry and oppressed and weave a story quilt from them; a story quilt of national mourning that is large enough to cover all of us with so much comfort, safety and love that we choose to believe in our ability to really love one another, to thrive with shared purpose and justice for all. My imagination is innocent.

What can we do, white people? We can start by truly understanding what the words Black Lives Matter mean. Maybe say them aloud in front of a mirror so you see how beautiful you look when tears of understanding well up in your eyes. Witness and speak out to other white people. Practice compassion in action. Shine your little light. Hold the safety net.

Remember: they lead, we support. They talk, we listen.

I’m through talking now. It’s time to listen.