Why dredge up old stories?

Over the past few months, I’ve heard variations of this comment a number of times: “Why dredge up old stories? Why not just let the past stay in the past?”

The problem with that kind of thinking is that it ignores the impact those stories of the past are still having today.

On a recent trip, I listened to the audio version of the book Blood at the Root, read by the author, Patrick Phillips. He became interested in the history of the county he grew up in as a child–Forsyth County, Georgia…an all-white county.

The event that caused it to be a “sundowner county” occurred in 1912, but the impact of that event lasted beyond 1987. It was a heritage of hate, fear, bigotry, and intolerance that lasted for generations, passed down from father to son.

It was a difficult book to listen to. It would have been difficult to read in print, but hearing the words that were spoken…the graphic descriptions of the violence perpetrated against innocent people…made it a powerful experience.

There is evidence that the impact of trauma can be passed down through the generations genetically and through the ways those parents and grandparents deal with those traumas. That means that these “old stories” don’t just die away and should be put aside. We are still living with the results of those traumas–and that can help us understand what is happening today with the seemingly sudden explosion of racial anger.

It’s not coming out of nowhere. It’s been building for a long, long time. We’ve just been doing our best to ignore it.

So how do we get rid of the impact of these stories?

Yael Danieli and Brent Bezo, psychologists who have been studying this question, both say one of the most important steps is to acknowledge and discuss the atrocities. Doing so allows the survivors to process their pain and helps the families understand and make sense of their parents’ and grandparents’ behaviors.

So are we ready to do so? It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to require those of us who are white to rethink a lot of what we’ve learned. It’s going to require us to hear uncomfortable truths–to acknowledge our own complicity in creating a society which has perpetuated trauma for minorities.

But unless we do so, unless we are willing to truly listen to those stories we would rather keep hidden away, nothing will change–and we will continue to be a society that perpetuates the rights of a few against the cries for help and change of the many.

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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Good for what?

When I was growing up, if someone in our family said “I’m good”…or that something else was good, quite often the response was “Good for what?”

It was usually said in a humorous way–but with an edge of serious questioning about it as well.

I’ve been thinking about that recently, especially as we (as a country) have been struggling with protests.

There have been some harsh words said, and people have often responded with something to the effect of “Not me. I’m good.”

The question arises, though…good for what? Usually we hear it used in referring to someone as a “good for nothing.”

I think what my father was trying to get us to think about is that just being “good” isn’t enough. We needed to decide what we were taking a stand for…what we were “good for.”

Were we good for standing up to injustice? good for working to make change in our community? good for working to save the environment? good for finding ways to be peacemakers?

What are we good for?

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.

This is 2020, isn’t it?

Last time I looked at my calendar, the year said 2020.

So why are we still having discussions and hearing comments that sound like they came from 1820 (or so)?

I’m not going to list them here–I don’t want to dignify them that way. If you’re really interested, just watch the news.

But seriously…haven’t we learned anything about humankind yet? About the fact that skin color has nothing to do with character? that a particular group of people of one skin color isn’t inherently superior? and another skin color inherently inferior?

When I read some of the comments on Facebook or hear news reports, I think that I’m somehow in some sort of a time warp. These people are dressed the same way I dress…they’re not wearing what we call “period” clothes. And they are using the same words that I use. But what they are saying has come from a time frame of 150-200 years ago!

I had thought…hoped?…that we were learning. I had thought…hoped?…that we were finally moving past the legacy of the Civil War.

But instead of moving forward, it feels like we’ve moving backward. We’re discovering that we never really “won” the Civil War.

I don’t want to live in glorified remembrance of the antebellum period. I don’t want to find the “glorious Lost Cause.”

I want to acknowledge the terrible mistakes we have made–and the legacy they have left for us to deal with.

I want to learn from our history…not whitewash it.

I want to have the hope that I had at the beginning of this new century that we were going to work together to create a world of equity for all people…whether they were citizens of my country or citizens of the world.

I want to live the dream that America dreamed for so many years…a dream that we have never been perfect at, but the dream that was the foundation for so many dreams that came after.

I want to live these dreams:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door. – Emma Lazarus

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream that…one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. – Martin Luther King

I want to live in the light of our dreams…not the darkness of our fears.