“What do I say now? What do I do now? I want to do the right thing, but I’m not sure what that is. I don’t want to make things worse,” a Good Samaritan asked me this week. As our country, and especially our neighbors who are people of color, continue to hurt and ache in the wake of one more unjust killing of an unarmed African American, as tear gas is turned on peaceful protests both here in our own city and in our nation’s capital, as our elected leaders fan the flames of division, most of us feel inadequate and unprepared and incompetent in how to respond. I can speak for myself: I feel inadequate and unprepared and incompetent to respond. I am just aware enough of my own white privilege to know that much of what I could say or do is probably unhelpful at best, and the resulting temptation is for me to do nothing.
However, I was taken by these simple, but profound words written this week by a group of white community leaders in Charlotte, North Carolina’s Observer to their Black neighbors:

We feel outrage, grief, disgust and remorse.
We stand with you in horror, lament and weariness.
We’re fed up. It’s time.
We confess our complicity, inertia and timidity.
We own our responsibility right now.
With God’s help, we will change ourselves.
With you, we’ll change our institutions and our community.

What if we just said these words, in all of our own unpreparedness and incompetence, as a meaningful first step? What if we simply said them to ourselves? Out loud? So that we can hear them proclaimed in our own voice and notice our own responses as we say them? I’m particularly struck by this line: “We confess our complicity, inertia, and timidity.” That reminds me of the phrase we use in our own prayers of confession during the season of Lent: “We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf. Forgive, restore, and strengthen us.” God is always ready to forgive, restore, and strengthen us.

But then, after repentance and God’s forgiveness, we must always act for renewal of life. Action will not look the same for everyone, and I’m grateful for the suggestions our own Good Samaritan Amy French sent to her graduate students and alumni at Indiana State (ISU) this week. Thanks, Amy, for allowing me to share some of these:

  1. Reach out to your Black colleagues, friends, family, and community members and check in on them. Let them know that you are thinking about them and then offer your listening ear and any resources you may be able to offer. Do not allow fragility to get in the way if they do not want to talk right now, recount the horrific acts happening around the country, or share with you their emotions and perspectives.
  2. Interrogate the ways that your various forms of privilege allow you to ignore what is happening in our country. Can you swipe and tap past stories on your timelines that are about Black killings? Do you even have them in your timelines at all? If not, why not?
  3. Think about how you feel regarding anything that I have written in this email. What is your reaction? Why do you feel that? How do you think Black people feel right now? How do you know that? Why don’t you know for sure?
  4. Spend the next few months doing readings, learning, and reflecting about racism. (Good Sam’s Mobile Library reading list is here…we are glad to lend you a book. Just ask Deb Samples.)
  5. Learn about what is happening in your community regarding dismantling anti-Black racism. Showing up for Racial Justice has many chapters around the country and tend to be predominantly white spaces where white people support other white people in becoming anti-racist.
  6. Examine your job and work environment. As you think about your job, what skills and knowledge do you need to be able to best do anti-racist work? If you are saying that this task is too large or you don’t know where to start, then perhaps learning and listening more is a good place to start. As soon as you are able to recognize how racism plays out in our every day, then you are able to better dismantle it.
  7. Talk to your family, friends, partners, and others about these topics. We have to always think about our sphere of influence. Who do you have the best ability to impact? Use that relationship to make meaningful change no matter how small.

I am not an expert in this, and I haven’t always gotten it right and we won’t always get it right, but I am willing to walk along this journey with you as a fellow learner and follower of Jesus. May God have mercy on us all, that we may continue to grow as courageous neighbors who love, serve, and include all people, no exceptions.

-Father Gray Lesesne

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