. . .[W]hen you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother and sister, and then come and offer your gift.
In Lent we offer our brokenness to God. Not dwelling in shame but lifted in the expectation of grace. Healing and amazing grace. And as Black History Month now ends, I pray that we also might offer up our collective brokenness in matters of race. Again, not to dwell in shame or blame, but to live in the radical faith that, with God’s help, the truth of one human race might be reclaimed.
Imagine the healing that awaits if those of us privileged by our racial assignment at birth, came to see race variety as the Creator surely sees it. Not as a directive to lock brothers and sisters into “better” or “worse” categories, and certainly not as an easy excuse to indulge our lowest appetites for power and advantage. But rather as a celebration of created Nature’s diverse order. Or even as a needed reminder to seek and discover the One God made manifest in the many, the indwelling Divine who claims each tone and hue as beloved.
My 1,000-mile journey toward being an antiracist began years ago with the single step of education, something I sorely needed as a white southerner. I had to learn not to trivialize systemic racism by confusing it with the more easily denounced individual bigotry. I had to learn that, regardless of my personal views on race (and I was raised with progressive views), I still walked the earth each day with an invisible knapsnack of “white privilege”; privileges not available to people of color. I also had to not be hobbled by shame or guilt in accepting this reality. Antiracism demands something more meaningful: accountability. Finally, I came to regard my comfortably-unconscious dependency on white privilege as a kind of addiction. It either manages me, or I acknowledge and manage it. Put another way, I can either be defensive in discussions of race with people of color (“My ancestors owned slaves but I didn’t,” or “To keep talking about race is so divisive.”), or I can listen with an open heart to their stories of pain at the risk of my own vulnerability (the white poet Wendell Berry called racism his “hidden wound”). Of these choices, the path that leads to healing has become obvious to me.
The thing about a 1,000-mile journey is that it requires patience even as it tempts despair. Racism on a systemic level has taken centuries to build and will not be deconstructed overnight. I’ve also learned that the daily comforts of being assigned to the privileged race can lead to inertia on my part, just as the urgency of injustice springs from day-to-day experience for people of color. This is why Trinity has been my blessing and salvation as the journey continues, one step at a time. Some steps are true milestones:
In October 2015, the Trinity Vestry adopted the “Principles of Undoing Racism” as part of the Church bylaws. Few if any Episcopal Churches in the country have been willing to make the aspiration of being an Antiracist Church part of their institutional identity. These principles are therefore historically important reminders of who we are and what we have pledged to become. Perhaps in time we will need our own “Antiracist Church History Month,” and republish the Principles in our newsletter for all to read. Expressly based on the Baptismal Covenant that binds each of us together as a faith community, these Principles declare an affirmative Church stand against institutional racism in three areas: our formation (learning our history and becoming educated about anti-racism), our community outreach programs (learning to listen and be guided by the communities of color we seek to serve), and our administrative decision-making.
A second true milestone was the 2019 adoption of our Church’s new Mission Statement and Strategic Plan. In the latter, “based on our commitment to be an anti-racist Church,” Trinity now aspires to have every member participate in some form of “undoing racism” workshop or training. And our Mission Statement serves to nurture that same commitment, as we strive to love all our neighbors, do social justice, and – perhaps most importantly for me as a white person on this journey – learn to walk humbly with God.
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus directs us to actually leave whatever gifts we bring to God’s altar, and first go be reconciled with any brother or sister with whom there is tension or division. Wherever we might find ourselves on our own journey when it comes to race, therefore, may we each pause in this season of reflection to ask: Which gifts of mine can I use to prioritize God’s call for racial reconciliation and healing in a broken world?
The whole of all creation waits expectantly for its transfiguration, when it will be released from its bondage and share in the glorious liberty of the children of God. Amen.