Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Covering our Buts

The inability to hear my own discriminatory language
comes automatically with white privilege.

I've been blessed
by my parents, teachers, friends, and aquaintances
who have taken the time to
call me on my own racist speech
across my lifetime.

I've internalized what they've told me,
and now I try to prescreen
what comes out of my mouth.

Too often there is still
a cognitive step
between the garbage I think
and what I actually say.

While I've lost most of my fear
of the potential of living with dementia
in my later years,
I'm aware that one of my lingering fears
of cognitive decline
comes in the fear
that I will lose that cognitive step,
that inner filter,
and say things that spring forth
from the racial tensions
and biases I've soaked in
my whole life
from the culture around me.

I'm struggling this week
with my responsibility
to address, not just the racism I say,
but the racism I hear
and don't address.

I've often failed to say anything
when people I love say things
that trouble me.
Because I love them,
because I know they are struggling
to be better than the culture around them,
because I know in certain regions
I call home
everyone talks like that.
And, let's face it,
because I don't want to stir up trouble,
or cause them to love me less.

But we need to start
holding one another accountable
to hear the things we say
that represent our inherited biases.

We need to continue to work
on our language,
and hope our hearts change as well.

So, a couple thoughts on
covering our buts.

If a sentence begins
with the phrase
"I don't want to sound racist, but..."
then the horse has already left the barn,
the chicken has already flown the coop.
Pretty much any sentence that begins with
"I don't want to sound racist, but....,"
well, that sentence already sounds racist.

And we wouldn't use that phrase if
somewhere in our hearts
we didn't think so, too.

So we need to listen for that phrase
and eliminate it.
And we need to think
about what we are saying after it,
and whether it needs to be said.
Why does it sound racist?
Maybe because it is?

The second place we can cover our buts:
Any sentence that includes
a positive description of someone
and the word "but."

She's black, but she's a good nurse.
He's gay, but he's a good neighbor.
 She's Mexican, but she's really smart.


We need to keep that "but"
and hear instead
the lesson that
people of all races, ethnicities, and persuasions
have gifts and challenges.

Noticing our language
gives us an opportunity
to hear the biases we've learned
whether we wanted to or not.

And so, I ask you,
even if we don't have the kind
of relationship where
we have a covenant
of mutual accountability,
even if we are barely
polite acquaintances,
tell me when my butt shows.
Tell me when I say things
that I don't even hear.
Tell me in love,
and help me battle
my own blindness and deafness
of privilege and bias.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

On Guns in Church

Few things have caused me as much inner turmoil
and reflection on society, prejudice, violence,
and my role in all of the above
as the recent murders of nine people
who had gathered for Bible study.

I've had time to reflect on the pervasive
and ongoing racism of our culture
and within my own worldview and being.
But that is another important ongoing conversation.

This morning I'm thinking about the well publicized
response of one member of the NRA,
who indicated that the deaths
were in part the fault of the pastor
for opposing guns in his church.

I wish all the people in that Bible Study were still living.
I wish their families were not faced with the grief of their loss
this morning and every morning to come.

But I don't wish that one of them had been carrying a gun,
I don't wish that one of them would have shot back.

I continue to wonder at the fact that
it was a florist with a phone
who led to the shooter's arrest.

I continue to hear echoing in my ears
the words of both loss and forgiveness that
grieving and devastated family members
shared at the shooter's bond hearing.

I think about the fact that the shooter
almost abandoned his plan,
telling police later that he
"almost didn't go through with it
because everyone was so nice to him."

I think about hearing ethicist Stanley Hauerwas
sharing his response a few years ago
when asked if he wouldn't abandon his
pacifist ways if someone threatened the lives of his children.
He responded,
"I want my children to know
that there are
more important things in life
than not dying."

I have strong opinions about gun laws,
but this is not a blog about that.

Many years ago
a youth in my church
expressed shock to hear
that I lived in Miami, FL
and did not own a gun.
He asked me about defending myself,
and I explained that you couldn't
use a gun like Wonder Woman's bracelets
to deflect bullets.
You could only use it to shoot someone else,
and I had chosen to not do that.

I do believe we
as a culture and a society
are called to shoot back.
We are to shoot back at pervasive racism,
by self awareness, brutal honesty, and social changes.
 We are called to battle,
to fight economic injustice,
voter suppression,
the undermining of public education.
We are called to fight back
against our own willful naivete
about the history and current practices
of overt and subtle racism in our country.

Our country needs redemptive action,
but not redemptive violence.

Our country has heard
the echo of the gunshots,
but have we heard the quiet power
of the love, the faith, and the grace
of the nine and their families?