Racism Love and Transformation
As I reach my mid 50’s in this time of the Covid 19 Pandemic and the aftermath of the lynching/ by strangulation by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis, I have been shaken...we all have been shaken by the challenges and threats to our collective welfare. A video replayed over and over of his horrific torture and murder with racial hatred at its core has brought to light the profound suffering for 400 years of black people in this country because of the cruel, murderous legacy of slavery, lynchings, police killings and racial hatred driven discrimination. We all have had to face this truth. In this case the videos and the internet seem to have encouraged a deeper transformation of our consciousness, that hopefully will bring about social justice and lasting political change. I love the phrase I keep seeing on signs.... an injustice for some is an injustice for all. We can substitute for injustice other words...like a problem for some is a problem for all. a financial problem, an environmental problem...a climate change problem......we are not separate...we are all in this together...we all share the same precious fragile world.
There are some revelations that are anchoring me right now....One is our interdependence...we need each other...we are not meant to be in tribes or isolated in our own homes....because of this I keep thinking of my rescuers. There have been so many times in my life I have been rescued by women with deeper richer skin tones than mine. At the time I did not know I was being rescued, but now I know that spiritually I have been graced by their love and care for me. Their spiritual gifts have kept me strong and positive and able to feel God.s abundant love within me. This also led me to think about remembering the contributions and gifts of women now and in the past, women in scripture, the female energy and spirit that has been left out and adding it back in. The third revelation is that during these times we all need rest, quiet, simple prayer, meditation. One of my close friends, Sandra has encouraged me in this direction. Sandra kept talking to me about the beauty of the Catholic rosary and how transformative it is spiritually. So I have started to slowly learn the rosary. I have started just with the short phrase Holy Mother Mary. It feels right to raise my consciousness about Mary, the mother of Jesus during these times. Who do we cry out to? Who do we want there with us spiritually in our moments of greatest need? The mothers of all black men and women have experienced 400 years of hurt and they are hurting right now. Their hurts are our hurts....White mothers....must share those hurts. Another revelatory question is which scriptures, moral values anchor me/ us most...I think about Christian, Jewish, Muslim faiths and that they all honor Moses, his Commandments .Exodus....Love your God, Love your neighbor as thyself.....When you ask scholars what the moral values are of all major religions ...it is loving kindness.....all else is corrupted religion....there is no place for judgment, hatred, discrimination, exclusion or coercion or violence.
So returning to the scripture of the Christian lectionary for this Sunday.... We have Genesis, a book which is part of Jewish and Islamic faith traditions in which Isaac and Rebekah have 2 sons, Esau the eldest and Jacob the younger. Jacob steals Esau’s birthright. This is treachery in the context of what is supposed to be a holy family. Esau, secure in the love of his father, does not take what is happening seriously. Then the seriousness of the situation hits him and he is devastated. He realizes he has been betrayed and abandoned by his family. At the core of this is deceit, and exclusion, ultimately it leads to generations of suffering for those on the losing side. There is a sense that God's grace and blessing is a scarce commodity and only doled to the favored ones. Arbitrary Grace?...
So the scripture says some tribes are predestined to suffer. I hold this up to Moses’s Commandments and I say we have evolved beyond a God who has favorites and slaves.
Some people today and their families seem to get stuck feeling the profound insecurity and fear of not being those of the chosen. I think this is the origin of racism and hatred. They have a sense of scarcity...that there is not enough God’s goodness to be shared by all. They feel shut off from God. They believe there are not enough jobs, not enough resources to sustain all the people. They feel abandoned and they lash out in hatred and violence. They were probably raised in families where they were told about the scarcity. The blacks and the recent immigrants were blamed. As individuals they live in fear and shame. they don’t feel good enough. On the other hand they can’t face the legacy of slavery and racism. They can’t face the suffering of others, or the suffering pain and vulnerabilities and feelings of powerlessness in their own lives.
In my family life growing up I never experienced this sense of instability or fear. My mother and father instilled in me values of respect and consideration for others (with no exceptions!) and they both enjoyed meeting people from diverse communities and other cultures. They did not speak the language of judgment or exclusion or racial prejudice. This allowed me to meet people with a natural attitude of openness, kindness and respect.
At this point I want to share the story of one of my beloved “rescuers” , Kirsten, because her story highlights some of the themes that I have been discussing . We met when I was 12 and she was 14 because we had a shared passion for the wild, high adventure, sport of slalom whitewater river kayaking. This sport involved a lot of courage, dedication, willingness to experience adversity and try -try again attitude. You developed character and grit in this sport. You had to fit yourself in a tippy small boat and you were held in tight with a rubber waist skirt. You wore a helmet and a sturdy lifejacket at all times.
For 10 years Kirsten and I trained together, traveled together, camped together at race sites all across the Eastern half of the country. Often in the early years of our racing we would comfort each other after experiencing the big blow outs of our first years of racing. Often one of the other of us would end up tipping over in the raging waters of a race course and come across the finish line as a swimmer instead of a boater. Off the water in the international community of racers Kirsten almost always had a big smile on her face. She loved the people drawn to this sport. Kirsten and the Italians. Kirsten and the Australians...laughing, playing and training together. Within our training group of 100 racers Kirsten was one of 2 black racers, but it never seemed to be an issue for her. We confided in each other a lot and she never expressed any issues with unkindness or racial cruelty.
Now why do I say Kirsten rescued me...Kirsten was kind and open hearted with me. She shared her vulnerabilities, her sadness with me. She suffered from unexplained depression and low energy at times. She was vegetarian because of her love for animals. I sometimes worried that this contributed to her not feeling well. I felt completely loved and accepted by her and supported by her. This was a challenging and at times lonely sport for the few teen age girls/ women that were in it. Kirsten was a safe, authentic person and friend. At so many important events of my young life Kirsten was there whether it was river related or not.
Kirsten had a brilliant mind and imagination and ended up at MIT. She always forged her own path...she did not end up doing math, science or engineering at MIT. She majored in political science! I think she must have had plans to get involved in politics and social justice but those plans never panned out. Early in college at MIT she met the love of her life Michael. They adored each other and were inseparable. He was from a white mid western family. Michael would travel all over including internationally to support Kirstin and her racing. After college they got married and the racing community was all invited to her wedding! It was a beautiful fun love- filled celebration.
When I stopped racing in 1986; I was 21 and Kirsten was 23. I lost touch with Kirsten for several years. She stuck with racing and was happily married for the years of her 20’s. She raced internationally many of those summers on very challenging scary raging white water rivers. The best race of her life was on one of the hardest dangerous race courses in Europe at a World Cup Race.....she won a silver medal in a 3 woman team race and shared the podium with a 2 time olympic medalist.
After Kirsten retired from racing, tragically, her life began to unravel. Kirsten and Michael wanted to start a family together. They were excited and happy about this. But something very ugly and spirit crushing happened to them. Michael’s Grandmother cruelly told Kirsten and Michael that she did not want a mixed race grandchild. Kirsten felt so profoundly hurt by Michael’s family rejection, that she decided she could not stay married to Michael.. Michael on the other hand wanted to separate from his family and reject them and stay married and have a family with Kirsten. It was so painful for both Michael and Kirsten. I am crying as I write this. Kirsten and Michael were around 30 when this occurred.
The rest of Kirsten’s story has been shared with me by her beloved sister Kecia. Kecia and I are birth sisters, we were both born in Sibley Hospital in NW DC on July 27, 1965. I got news of Kirsten’s death from cancer when I was 40...she would have been 42. I was devastated. I still am devastated. I miss her terribly and think of her every time I am on or near the rivers. I long to share my life with her and my times on the river with her again. I long to grow old with her.
Kirsten’s beloved paddling community gathered with her family for her memorial service...somehow I missed the event and found out about her death afterwards. I had not known she was sick. After retiring from racing and her marriage ended Kirsten suffered with debilitating depression. She was lost. She had no passion left for anything. She had a brilliant mind and imagination but she was crushed. I know in my heart that the cruel racial hatred killed her spirit. She must have profoundly missed Michael and his great love for her. She must have missed the love, acceptance and respect of her racing friends. She most likely felt too depressed and perhaps too much shame to keep up with those of us who adored her. When there were obvious signs that she had cancer she ignored them until it was too late.. Much to her families great pain and grief, she neglected herself to the point of death.. One comfort to me is that for her last year of life she was at home and cared for by her devoted mother, father and sister Kecia and they were supported by a caring church community.
I wanted to share this story out of love for my rescuer Kirsten, love for her family and out of grief for the profound harm that racism can do...a gentil grandmother,s quiet, subtle, hatred, killed the spirit of my friend Kirsten. I want to share this story on this Sunday when we are reading about Esau and Jacob. This was a supposed holy family with a cruel private family conflict that affected generations into the future.
In contrast we have the scripture from Matthew 13 which tells the parable of the good, fertile soil.
What does it mean to have good soil and to increase the crop’s yield a 1000 times in the context of that I have been discussing?
So how do we create fertile soil for All?
My personal experience has been over and over in my relationships that it is those people who have had to face their suffering, pain, and vulnerability who seem to have created for themselves the good, rich, fertile soil which fosters kindness, compassion, respect among all people.
How do we encourage transformation in people who seem to be stuck in hatred and prejudice and exclusion? It seems that some people are backing further into their own corners. This threatens the spiritual and physical welfare of all. We do live in existential times. We can no longer afford to be at war, scrambling for resources. We need to be at peace and work together to live more gently on our planet. Love thy neighbor as thyself. We need to create a rich soil that fosters kindness, compassion, respect among all people.
I have a vision of these racist, rageful people at the bottom of an abyss and we are trying to figure out how to rescue them. As I mentioned at the beginning I have been rescued many times. Maybe that is the answer, they have to want to be rescued. Somehow they must feel they are benefiting from remaining racist and rageful, staying where they are. They have to want to be healed. They have to want to be close to God. They have to want healing and transformation. They have to want to face the origins of this rage and they have to face the wrongs they have committed and those committed by the generations before them.
We are left with this question of how to encourage people to evolve beyond hate...This is a universal question for all times, peoples, faiths.
Derek Chauvin George Floyd’s killer
Michael’s gentil grandmother
the family that hangs effigies from a tree in their front yard in rural Maryland
they are drowning and suffocating in hatred
love and kindness is oxygen...for our spirit breath...it creates the fundamentals for fertile soil, the essentials for a Godly life
cruelty and hatred and terror suck the oxygen out of the air...they crush the spirit of the giver and the receiver....they are toxic to the soil...a barren waste land of earth...nothing is alive nothing can grow...
What is God saying to us? What messages do we get from the life and spirit of Christ, Holy Mother Mary, Moses, Muhammad, Buddha......
Keep showing up with kindness....acts of compassions to those drowning in hatred....
Be present, Be kind....pray for them as our Beloved friend William always encouraged us to do.....
In closing I want to honor William ....who lived this life of faith, kindness and compassion. He is the only member of our community to die during these past 3 months of the Covid Crisis. He passed away in early April. William was African American and he had been a Vietnam Veteran. After he got out of Vietnam, he ended up homeless for a while. Sadly He was brutally beaten and left for dead on the streets of DC It took him years to recover. His eyes were damaged, his body was physically damaged and he had difficulty walking. It took him years to recover from that harm. We knew William when he attended our church for 5 years, faithfully coming every Sunday, helping set up for the service and cleaning up afterwards
He was a prayer warrior. He ministered to the homeless living on the streets of DC. He was not afraid to go out on the streets where he had been so badly beaten. He had an amazing strong faith in God. He prayed for those people who persecuted others. He prayed for an end to the violence and killing. He prayed for the transformation of those who live in hatred. He made a point of praying for Trump.... that Trump would no longer talk of violence and hatred. He prayed for that every Sunday faithfully.
We pray for William’s beautiful spirit and we pray for an end of all this violence and hatred as William would.