The invitation was timely.
It popped in my inbox on Monday and read:
Twin Cities African American clergy and Presiding Elder Stacey Smith of the African Methodist Episcopal Church invite you to bear silent witness as you are led by clergy of color in a silent clergy and allies march in Minneapolis and St. Paul tomorrow, June 2.
I can do that.
It was an answer to prayer. Last week I wrote this post in response to George Floyd’s murder. There I said that I feel helpless as I watch the cities erupt in outrage and violence. What can I do?
I can march.
I’ve never marched in a protest before. Allow me, first, to describe what happened. Then, I will tell you how I feel about it and what we can do next.
More than 1,000 clergy—of all faith traditions—gathered in the parking lot of the Sabathani Community Center and marched down 38th street to Chicago, to the spot where George Floyd was murdered. We gathered around that now sacred spot and flooded the intersection. I was too far away from the speakers, so I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I simply stood and observed and prayed.
Then something amazing happened. A prayer rippled through the crowd, fanning out from the epicenter. We all fell to our knees and recited the Lord’s Prayer in unison. It was a powerful moment.
The crowd parted and let the clergy of color pass through us to resume the lead to march back to the Community Center.
The flock of clergy reconviened in the parking lot of Gordon Parks High School on University Avenue in St. Paul. The school was boarded up, but on the boards someone had beautifully painted the words “Black Lives Matter.”
I was among the first to arrive. Five of us stood under the shade of a tree: a United Church of Christ Pastor, two Bhuddist Priests, A Roman Catholic Priest, and me. I learned a lot about each tradition in a short amount of time.
Eventually, the parking lot was full and, once again, the clergy of color led the way. We marched west along University Avenue. Police cars and National Guard trucks and soldiers lined the way. A Guard helicopter hovered over the event for quite a while.
We walked past all the stores that were boarded up. One building—Bole Ethiopian Cuisine—was burned to the ground, reduced to a pile of rubble and twisted metal.
It was surreal.
We gathered in front of the Target that had been destroyed. This time I could hear the speakers. They prayed to God for justice. They prayed to God that black people would be delivered from the oppression of systemic racism. They prayed for all people of color and all who are marginalized, neglected, forgotten, and abused by the mainstream culture. They prayed that God’s Kingdom would come, just as Jesus taught us to pray so long ago.
As they prayed, a storm rolled in from the north. The clouds darkened. Lightning flashed. It seemed appropriate. These are disruptive times.
The crowd dispersed as peacefully as it gathered.
We came. We marched. We prayed. We left.
We were masked. Oh, right, there’s a pandemic!
The Minnesota Department of Health has advised us to be tested for COVID-19 in the next few days. If it comes back negative, then go back in another seven days.
We didn’t social distance very well. One colleague said, as we marched, “We can only manage one major crisis at a time. Today, we march.”
We marched. Now what?
There is so much work to do before our society actually lives up to its ideals that all people are created equal and share the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
We have a long way to go before the Kingdom of God and shalom (peace) on Earth and good will to ALL people is reality.
As the leaders of the march said repeatedly, this is a marathon, not a sprint.
This moment must be more than another news cycle where all the white people get riled up about it and black out their social media profiles for a day, and then go back to white sleep.
It must be a true wake up call.
I have written a lot about this topic over the past fews years (click here to read). Yet, this is the first time I marched. I have been writing in a partial awakeness, but still mostly sleep in comfort.
I wrote this way back in 2014 (click here for the whole essay) as way to name one of the many challenges of leading a white suburban congregation:
The first issue [facing the white suburban congregation] is racism or white privilege. Tisdell says,
Often people in North America who are white or who were cosocialized within the Christian tradition have little sense of their own culture. Perhaps when one is representative of the dominant culture, it is difficult to have sense of where their culture is. As many have recently discussed in considerations of race in adult education, whiteness is the primary invisible norm, the invisible standard that people are often measured against. To be fully conscious of what is so pervasive that it is almost investable is difficult, just as fish probably have little or no consciousness of water. But if fish were not in water, they probably would very quickly have a sense of what water is.
This is not a strictly suburban issue. Jennings says that racism is the mistake that is as wide as the horizon of the Western Imperial culture.
Chavez, Guido-DiBrito, and Tatum present a model for identity formation among those who have begun to recognize white privilege. They recognize that people must:
(a) experience a disorienting dilemma,
(b) begin to explore their own assumptions, and
(c) explore what it means to be an ally to people of color or other non dominant groups, e.g. The LGBT community, or people with disabilities.
We have experienced this #georgefloyd moment in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. My prayer is that this convergence of events is enough of a “disorienting dilemma” that we, the white church collectively, will begin to explore our own assumptions.
Yes, we need to drop off food and supplies to those in immediate need. (Click here for practical ways to act now)
Don’t stop doing that!
Yet, it goes so much deeper than that. We must understand our whiteness in the midst of all colors. We are all “people of color” but the power of society has been disproportionately placed in our white hands for far too long.
Read this post about the book The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie Jennings
Read this post “White Privilege Means…” by Mary Hess to check your white privilege.
Lord, give us wisdom, discernment, and courage to see where your disruptive spirit is stirring us and moving us to bring about the justice and peace that Jesus invites us to embody.