Whose lives matter?

Right now we’re seeing and hearing a lot of “Black lives matter.” Absolutely!

There’s also a lot of pushback…”All lives matter.” Also, absolutely!

But right now, in our country, it’s clear that all lives don’t matter.

Those of us who are white have not yet been willing to come to grips with how institutional racism has impacted economic equality…housing possibilities…access to health care…relationships with police…and a myriad of other daily activities for people of color.

Saying “Black lives matter” doesn’t mean that others don’t. It simply means that we need to put a focus on the concerns and issues that black people face every day. When those issues are truly addressed, then we can move on to other issues…including other people whose lives are still seen as “less than”…

Many of you know that I am a follower of Jesus. Why am I saying that now? Because Jesus’ ministry made some very specific points. He often went out of his way to meet with and minister to the marginalized, the oppressed, those not generally accepted by the society he was part of.

  • When he met the Samaritan woman at the well, he told her that “Samaritan lives matter.”
  • When the disciples tried to tell parents not to bother Jesus with their children, he said, “Children’s lives matter.”
  • When a Roman officer asked Jesus for help for his servant, Jesus said, “Gentile lives matter.”
  • When he was confronted by a woman taken in adultery, Jesus said, “Women’s lives matter.”
  • When lepers asked him for healing, he said, “Lepers’ lives matter.”

Our world is complex and solutions are not going to be easy. But we have to face those challenges and not rely on easy platitudes.

It’s only when we recognize that the lives of specific groups of people who have been marginalized and oppressed matter that we can then legitimately and honestly say “All lives matter.”

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Worth of all persons

My faith tradition does not have a formal creed. However, we do have what we refer to as Enduring Principles. Our website identifies them this way: “Our Enduring Principles define the essence, heart, and soul of our faith community. They describe the personality of our church as expressed throughout the world.”

These principles provide flexibility in how they are implemented in congregations in various countries throughout the world…but they are basic to who we are.

There are nine of them:

  • Grace and Generosity
  • Sacredness of Creation
  • Continuing Revelation
  • Worth of All Persons
  • All Are Called
  • Responsible Choices
  • Pursuit of Peace (Shalom)
  • Unity in Diversity
  • Blessings of Community

While I think all of them are important, one that has been standing out to me over the last few weeks is “Worth of All Persons.” ALL persons.

It doesn’t matter race…age…ethnicity…culture…sexual orientation…gender identity…political stance…vocation… ALL persons.

I have been deeply disappointed and shocked by comments I’ve seen from individuals as we have been struggling with the issues surrounding the relationships between police and their communities.

I’ve been deeply disappointed and shocked by some of the responses to this administration’s decision to rollback healthcare protections for transgender individuals.

ALL people are of worth. That means all. It doesn’t depend on whether we agree with someone or not.

You don’t have to be part of my faith tradition to believe in these principles. In many ways they are an expansion of what is often called the Golden Rule–a version of which is in every major religion.

We don’t have to agree on everything. We never will–and that’s okay. We need to hear a variety of voices and perspectives. But we cannot continue believing and acting as if a certain group of people is somehow “less than” everyone else.

We will never solve the issues that are tearing us apart until we are willing to truly believe that all people are of worth. ALL people.

But…but…but…

I can almost guarantee that any discussion about the events in the United States over the last several days will be met by somebody saying “But…”

  • But violence and looting isn’t the answer.
  • But if he hadn’t resisted, he’d have been fine.
  • But the police were just doing their jobs.
  • But…
  • But…
  • But…

You can fill in the gaps.

While I don’t condone violence and looting, all of this deflects from what I believe is important. A black man was handcuffed by white police, placed in a position that they were trained was dangerous, had a knee placed on his neck for over 8 minutes–and kept there, even after he became unconscious, and died. It was an unnecessary death.

One death in this way is too many. But–and yes, I’m using that word–this is not the first time situations like this have happened. Unarmed black people–or people legally carrying–shot by white police, who then either face no charges or are found not guilty.

Don’t tell me they deserved it. Just don’t even go there.

Tell me why white men, armed with weapons and having made threats, were allowed to enter a state legislature, wander around with their weapons and then leave on their own with no police action.

Tell me why white men charged with multiple murders are captured and handcuffed and treated politely.

Tell me why neo-Nazis protesting violently in Charlottesville are “good people” while African-Americans are “thugs.”

Tell me why black people, peacefully protesting brutality they see in their communities, are almost always met with police in riot gear, armed with pepper spray and mace, while white protests are not.

Tell me why a black/Latino CNN camera crew is arrested, even after showing their credentials and asking the police to just tell them where they want them to move to…while a white CNN reporter is simply politely asked to move back.

Tell me just how African-Americans are supposed to have their voices heard.

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When we stop saying “but…” and start listening, then maybe, just maybe we can find ways of healing.

My heart is breaking

I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be a person of color today. My heart is breaking for them–but I’m sure it is nothing compared to their hurt and fear.

I know there are some challenges I face as a woman. But because I am white, I am also aware there are some privileges I have–privileges I have become more aware of over the last several years. Privileges that people of color don’t have.

Perhaps you have not seen these–but these four stories are just a small sampling of the reasons my heart is breaking today:

What do they all have in common? The fact that persons of color were identified as “villains”…and that the white people involved had confidence that their stories would be believed without any questions.

What is happening to us?

Or maybe the question isn’t “what is happening to us”…but rather it is this: why has it taken us (white people) so long to realize the challenges our brothers and sisters face every day?

And there is a corollary question: What are we going to do about it?

There is a poem by Saint Teresa of Avila that says this:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
     no hands but yours,
     no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which is to look out
     Christ's compassion to the world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
     doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

If we are the body of Christ, then how will we respond?

Is your heart breaking as mine is? What are we going to do about it? Wringing our hands…offering thoughts and prayers…that’s not enough.

If we are the body of Christ, then we have the responsibility to speak out for justice for those who have no voice. We have the responsibility to help others begin to see with new eyes. We have the responsibility to take the privilege we have and use it to speak truth to power…to call for justice…so that others’ hearts will not break because of our inaction.

All children of God…

I’ve been trying to figure out how to say what I am feeling. Yesterday I unfriended someone on Facebook. I was sorry to do that, but I did so because they posted a meme that was a slam at those who find God through Islam. I cannot and will not tolerate comments against another’s faith journey.

I am a follower of the Way–of the one known as Jesus. That is how I have found my path to the Divine.

But I am not arrogant enough to believe that this is the only path to the Divine. It is my path. But the Divine is bigger than I can comprehend…than any of us can comprehend. As the Apostle Paul (from my tradition) said:

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us.

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. (I Corinthians 13:11-12 The Message)

All religions…all faith traditions…have adherents who allow that tradition to bring out the best in them. Likewise, all religions…all faith traditions…have adherents who use their beliefs to dominate, to attack those who are different.

But at the end of the day, we are all children of God. When we are willing to listen to each other with open minds and open hearts, we can learn more about who God is–and who we are.

The One I worship calls me to share what I have found to be true…but also to listen to what others have found to be true.