On Sunday a friend of mine told me the story of a time she went down to South Carolina to visit some of her people. They took her to a forest thick with trees; and as she walked toward the edge of them, she said, she just felt like something wasn’t right – like something bad had happened there. My friend isn’t particularly clairvoyant that I know of, but she said she just felt…off. She asked her hosts what the story was with the forest, and they told her to look up to the higher branches. When she did, she saw the remnants of chains – the trees had grown around them over the last 50 years, but they were still there – chains from old lynchings. To be honest, my first thought was about why they hadn’t cut the trees down. I then stopped myself and realized that there are some memories that are so painful, some versions of ourselves so ugly, that to try and cut them down is to try and forget something that should not be forgotten, to cover something up that needs to be revealed if it’s ever going to be healed.
I’ve been reading a lot lately in the news that makes me think about the ways people keep trying to keep hidden the dark underbelly of racism that is still very much a part of our national identity. This is something that people of color know about every day – deal with every day. Every day. As a white person, I don’t have to think about it if I don’t want to, because the system is set up for people who look like me, by people who look like me, and was built on the backs of men, women, and children whom people claimed they had the right to own. I keep trying to find a nice way to say that we white people are foolish to even begin to tell ourselves that we do not live in a racist society; but, I don’t think things like that can or should be said in a nice way – as in, not in a way that cleans it up, or in a way that allows us to sweep it under the rug. Only if we can start to be honest about the things that make us most ashamed, about the things that scare us the most, can we begin the process of healing.
The poem below, “What Kind of Times are These” was written by the poet and activist Adrienne Rich, who died today at the age of 82.
We are all in this together, my friends. I know that it may seem easier to only love people who look or act or dress like us, but I don’t think God works that way (and….come on, that gets kinda boring, doesn’t it?). Open yourself up to the opportunity to be amazed by the power of the Spirit moving through you and connecting all of us. Let yourself be opened up. Be honest. Say what scares you. Say what gives you hope. Say what makes no sense to you – ask questions. Listen when people talk – try to hear them, even if what they say makes no sense to you. Recognize their humanity. Know that they are a beloved child of God. Know that you are, too.