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Use your words

I’ve been at CREDO this week.

CREDO is a delightful program put on by the Church Pension Group in which clergy are whisked away for a week at a time to contemplate their vocations, their ability to care for themselves, and to get in touch again with their initial call to ministry. 

Also, to accumulate more CPG swag than you can outfit a small army with.

My CREDO is taking place about an hour northeast of Jacksonville, Florida, without cell service, or reliable internet, and so I was late to the news of the Charleston massacre.  9 people, murdered at Emmanuel AME Church, by a white gunman— a man who sat through Wednesday night bible study beside his victims before he opened fire.

It’s been three days now and I am still having a hard time with words, with language.  Thursday morning, when I saw the news on Twitter, I didn’t have words either—all I did was go to our faculty and ask that we begin in prayer.  So we had calming words.  We had soothing words, flying away, this bright morning.

They were fine, those words. We prayed for peace, for reconciliation, for comfort in times of fear.  All good things, that I am glad we prayed for. 

But perhaps this is not what we needed. 

What we needed was confession, and repentance. 

It strikes me, sitting here in the Florida sunshine that despite all these words that have been flowing, that flow so freely each time something like this happens (and let’s be honest for a moment—this happens.  This has been happening for a long, long time.  Sometimes it’s the police, sometimes it’s the neighborhood watch, sometimes it’s a man who dislikes loud music, but it happens way too often than it should in 2015 America.)

And each time it happens, there are so many words we don’t hear.  There are words we don’t say.  There are stories we don’t tell.

Yet we must.  We have to tell them.  And I say “we” very deliberately, because the problem of racism in this country isn’t a problem that the Black community needs to solve all by themselves—the problem of racism is a problem that the White community needs to solve.  Me.  People who look like me.  This heritage of hate that my ancestors built and I continue to profit from.  That’s my problem.  That’s my church’s problem.  We started this fire.

For as long as we pretend that the only people most affected by racism are also the only ones tasked with ending it, we will get exactly nowhere. 

So we need to tell the truth.  We need to tell it all.  We need confession and repentance in this country.  We need to start recognizing and naming the truth of the racism all around us, infecting the very ground of our country, the institutions we rely on.  If racism is our besetting sin, then only confession will help get us on the road to healing. 

We need to acknowledge that for generations, until the last 40 years, most white Americans did not believe in the humanity of Black people—this despite the fact that Black people literally built this country from the ground up. 

We need to tell the truth about the fact that if you have White ancestors who lived in this country prior to 1865, they either owned slaves, or profited in some way from the practice.  (This is to quietly gloss over the fact that lots of folks also profited from Jim Crow laws and redlining, by the way.)

And, we need to be honest about the fact that people are complex.  Just because someone is nice, or a good conversationalist, or makes hilarious jokes, doesn’t also mean they can’t also be virulently racist, or divide humanity into “human” and “less than human”.

We need to tell the whole truth.  We need to use all our words.  Not just the placid ones that comfort in times of trial, not just the ones that cry out for peace, but the ones that name the conflict.  The ones that bewail our aching wounds.  The ones that call for justice and lament our brokenness. 

Those are the words we need. Use them.