Elizabeth L. Windsor, DMin. June 14, 2020 The Third Sunday after Pentecost Ephesians 6:10-17 Luke 10:30-37
In a blog post this week, the author Annie Lamott tells this story, “When my son was five or six, we were visiting my friends in the city, when all of a sudden we heard a tiny distressed voice. . . Sam had managed to get his head stuck in the slats of a chair he had been clamoring on. He stared at us like a dwarf in the stocks of Salem. He said, “I need help with me.”
“I need help with me.” Exactly. The combination of Covid-19 lethality - especially in communities of color, the harassment of black folks for nothing more than going about their daily lives, the murder of George Floyd, the tumult of the protests, the cruelty of police all overwhelm me. I am outraged. I am appalled. I am sick to my soul.
“I need help with me.” Not because my feelings deserve attention in order to make me feel better – I want to be VERY clear about that. “I need help with me” because what is wrong in policing, our educational system, our health care system, our economic policies, our housing crisis, is also wrong with me. By virtue of my skin color, I benefit from these structures of injustice, whether I want to or not, and no matter my intentions. My life has had its share of bruises and soul-crushing experiences, but NONE of them had anything to do with my skin color.
In seminary, the first of my field education placements was in an after-school program in the South End. Run by the Society of St. John the Evangelist, those we tutored were poor, black and Latino boys and girls. I helped with math problems and vocabulary words, and made snacks –these kids were always hungry; but I could do nothing to change the structures in which these children of God were caught. Unsafe housing, family difficulties, incarceration, unemployment and little medical care were their life experiences. Their daily reality taught them they were NOT valuable human beings made in the image of God. Rather they were disposable. It was heart-wrenching. I drove home most days in tears. And on one of those drives, I realized I could LEAVE. Returning to my warm home and family, I could choose what we ate for dinner, with no concern about having clean clothes for the next day, never fearing for our physical safety. I could choose to look away and never go back. These children could not.
“I needed help with me” and I was part of a community that did just that in seminary. Wise folks helped me to reflect on my experiences so that I could name and know the oppressive structures of which I was a part. They held me accountable, so that I could not choose to forget the systemic oppression I had witnessed. In community, I learned that “justice is what love looks like in public” as Dr. Cornel West still reminds us.
Racism is a sickness of our souls that leads to a sickness in the systems in which we all live. Eliot is a congregation of mostly white folks. Good white folks – we give generously, we volunteer in food pantries, march for many causes, serve our neighbors across lines of color and social-status. We vote. We do our best to mitigate the consequences of the unjust systems in which we live –all good, necessary and faithful responses. But do we recognize the structures that create the oppression our black siblings live – and die- with each day? How do we even begin to challenge injustice if we can’t? “We need help with us.”
In our baptismal vows, and as a community of disciples, we vow “to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice.” Our baptism requires us to identify and confront systemic racism in our social structures. And we must confront how we have internalized these structures if we are going to be faithful disciples of Jesus. In her book “The New Jim Crow,” Michelle Alexander challenges us: We must do what is required of all liberation struggles; educate ourselves and others, speak unpopular truths, provide support for those who have been harmed, and organize against the systems that seek to oppress, control and divide us.” If we are going be faithful to our baptismal promises, this is work we white folks need to continue doing at Eliot. It is our sacred obligation to understand and recognize how we have internalized the unjust structures of racism, individually and as a community of faith. It is hard work. It is essential work. It is painful work. And we need each other to do it.
Rev. Rick and I invite you to join us for some in-depth learning this summer. Please watch the movie “Just Mercy” based on Bryan Stevenson’s book of the same name. It is free on all platforms during the month of June. On the “Adult Education” page of our website, there are a wide variety of resources to help us wrestle more deeply with racism. There are also materials to share with our children. Stay tuned to TWEC and our website for times for us to gather via Zoom and share our learnings.
Annie Lamott ends her blog post with this: “I need help. We all do and it is how it should be . . . [our] country will need millions of people joining together for justice and reconciliation. We need help with us. It is the prayer of the miserable and scared and very stuck, who still against all odds believe that we can be changed and freed. It is my prayer for us now.” It is also my prayer – and I hope it will be yours too. Amen.