My tiny congregation’s even tinier prayer group caught one of those Holy Spirit breezes this spring. Emboldened by our congregation’s vulnerable and thorny conversations about white privilege and racism a year or so ago, horrified – again – by George Floyd’s murder, and encouraged by the kinds of conversations made possible when we started talking together across our own racial difference, this group heard the Spirit asking them to invite the congregation – and our friends & neighbors – to an anti-racist book study.
This week, we’ll finish up a ten week study of Ibram Kendi’s “How to Be An Antiracist.” Twenty folks – half of us church people, the other half friends, family, in-laws…and a sizable representation of the recipients of the Trotter Ridge Neighborhood Listserv – have logged in to a Zoom call every Thursday evening since June to talk about white supremacy, colorism, and racist policy.
We are not all on board with Kendi’s philosophy. He’s got an agenda, for sure, and we don’t particularly like the way he keeps dismissing feeling in favor of action (and, to be honest, he’s not so consistent about it himself). We think he’s left out huge, relevant chunks of the processes toward defeating racist policy. We are not at all convinced that he has taught us how to actually BE anti-racist. The church ladies wonder, for instance, if Kendi’s own perspective has changed this much in his first forty years, what else will change for him in another decade.
But something has *happened* to us over these weeks. We’ve definitely learned new concepts, and acquired new vocabulary. We’ve been given tools for recognizing and naming racist speech, action and policy when we see it. And, maybe most importantly, we – mostly white people – have been invited to talk openly and honestly about race, in mixed company, before God and all these strangers. And, God bless them, these folks showed up, week after week, and did just that.
I am still learning about the realities of anti-black racism in the United States, and my own whiteness blinds me from so much. For a long time, I’ve been reluctant to write or speak much about it because a) I don’t understand it all yet, and b) who needs another white lady take on race?
But here is something I am coming to believe, thanks to the gracious vulnerability and faithfulness of my tiny congregation, who keep wading deeper and deeper into honest conversation about the difficult parts of being human together: creating and tending spaces where we are invited and encouraged to talk together about the difficult parts of being human is the only way to transformation.
Racism, white supremacy, sexuality, addiction, abuse, money, power: the polite white church taught me to avoid these conversations at all costs. That way leads to so much damage and destruction. I have witnessed it.
James Baldwin said “not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Lord, there is so much that needs to change. My faith compels me to believe that it is God who transforms us – individually and communally. But my experience has convicted me: so long as we refuse to face what needs transformation – in our structures, our societies and in our own hearts – we will remain stiff-necked human obstacles instead of willing participants in God’s already and not-yet reign of mercy and justice.
So. No book club – no matter how diverse or hospitable – is going to change the world. I know that. I’ve read the critiques in the NYTimes. But creating spaces where we are invited to face reality, to be honest about our own sinfulness, to confess and lament and begin the processes of repentance that are so intimate and powerful…well, I think that’s something. I think it’s a beginning. I believe that the Holy Spirit has been in these conversations, and that God has more for us to be and to do.
Here we are, Spirit, waiting to catch whatever wind you’re blowing next.