One of my favorite hymns is "Here I Am, Lord:"
I, the Lord of sea and sky
All who dwell in dark and sin
My hand will save
I will go, Lord, if you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart
I, who made the stars of night
I will make their darkness bright
I will go, Lord, if you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart
I, the Lord of snow and rain
I have borne my people's pain
I have wept for love of them
They turn away
I will go, Lord, if you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart I think I first started to love this hymn, by Dan Schutte, when the church I attended had a pipe organ and the organist played the underlying harmony (? - bass line? - you'd think being married to a professional musician I'd know the right phrase). Over time, though, I've come to love the words.
God has heard the cries of God's people, and God holds them in God's heart. God has provided everything good, but God's people turn away. Who will go to all the people living in dark and sin to tell them about God's never-ending love? Here I am - send me!
The hymn is based on Isaiah 6:8:
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
I really mean it when I sing it- at least I thought I did, until I started writing this post. Today I am not hearing it so much as a call to witness, but as a call to repent, and so I am writing this blog in humble repentance.
I'm thinking about white supremacy and privilege.
I'm thinking about white supremacy and privilege, because I can't turn away. I'm thinking about it because closing arguments in Derek Chauvin's trial for murdering George Floyd will be on Monday.
I'm thinking about it because Daunte Wright, another unarmed black man, has been shot. This time by a police officer who mistook her gun for a taser.
I'm thinking about it because 13 year old Adam Toledo - 13 year old - had his hands in the air and was still shot by police.
I'm thinking about it because I thought lynching was something that used to happen, but now realize that it still happens.
I'm thinking about it because the book group I belong to has begun reading Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong, and now I know the racism that Asian Americans experience.
I'm thinking about it because apparently some trolls have threatened Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes and Sarah Bessey. Dr. Walker-Barnes wrote "Prayer of a Weary Black Woman," and Ms. Bessey included it in her book, A Rhythm of Prayer. The first line of the prayer is, "Dear God, Please help me to hate white people." A little jarring to read, but as the prayer goes on this weary black woman can't really find any white people that she really wants to hate. "No, not those white people...." Ultimately she relies on God, to strengthen her, to steady her, to keep her and those who would harm her in grace and love. Of course, the trolls never read that far.
I'm thinking about it because there has been another mass shooting, this time in Indianapolis. I don't know enough details yet to know if this one targeted certain groups of people. The fact that I even write the words, this one, is unbelievable.
Why do we hate so much? Why can't we look at human beings and see humanity, instead of a threat? Better yet, why can't we see the image of God in someone who looks very different from ourselves?
I the Lord of snow and rain, I have borne my people's pain. I have wept for love of them.
Do we really believe that the Lord of snow and rain doesn't have broad enough shoulders for all of our pain? Do we really believe that God doesn't have enough love for all of us? Do we really turn away from others who are suffering? It seems white people are quite good at it. Many white people, anyway.
I've been thinking back to times when I was much younger. I wish I could say that I have always been an advocate for people of color, but I haven't. I sometimes thought it was funny to make racially derogatory jokes - sometimes I didn't realize what I was saying but if I am brutally honest, sometimes I did. Sometimes I said things without thinking, and I will also say that when I caught myself I always apologized. The person I knew I offended was always very gracious and said something along the lines of, "That's OK." But it wasn't OK, and I learned every time that I wasn't yet the person I wanted to be. Sometimes I sided with the institutions or systems that were racist, because that is what I had been taught to do.
I don't want to be racist, and I think that even when I was being racist there was a part of me that reacted with repugnance because I knew it was wrong.
I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts for love alone.
In my prayers this week, I have asked God to break my heart of stone. God assures me that God has been chipping away at it. But chipping isn't going to help people right now.
I do want to take a minute to say that I am not an overt racist. I'm not flying a confederate flag, or a Trump flag. I do my absolute best to be an ally and an advocate now. I know that I am no better than anyone else. I know that race is a human construct, designed to make one group of people (white) better than everyone else. We all have bias, though, and sometimes it is hard to recognize it.
I picture a hard boiled egg. To peel a hard boiled egg, you first have to crack the shell by tapping it on a bowl, or with a spoon - I usually do it on the counter. Then you peel the hard shell off, and sometimes it comes easily and there are large pieces of shell to be thrown away, and you have a beautiful, smooth egg. Sometimes the shell doesn't come away at all, and then you pick small pieces away, and usually some of the egg white comes away too. Then the inside of the egg doesn't look very nice - I will never win prizes at the county fair for my deviled eggs, let me tell you.
I'm thinking of the egg shell as white supremacy. The "eggshells" of some of my friends in college came away easily. They were allies and advocates even then, even in a Southern city. They got it.
I wish I could say that I was one of the allies and advocates, but I wasn't. I am an "egg" whose shell did not come away easily. My shell has had to be chipped and picked at, and I am not a beautiful egg, because I have scars from the shame of holding on so hard to my white supremacy and white privilege, even though I didn't want to. I have had to unlearn a lot of sh**.
I prayed this week that God/Jesus (I think of them as one, so use the names interchangeably) would turn the tables over again, as Jesus did in the Temple after Palm Sunday. Come, Lord Jesus, and turn over the tables of hatred, racism, division, superiority, and privilege.
And then it occurred to me that if Jesus comes and turns over our tables, we'll just move them. Jesus turned over the tables in the Temple 2,000+ years ago, and we are still erecting tables of privilege and power. We are still most interested in our own privilege, just like the money lenders and Pharisees of Jesus' day.
So we'll move the tables and put them back up, and what if I'm on the other side of the table this time? What if someone not of my tribe is sitting in the seat of power?
Oh, God. Break my heart of stone.
The truth is - and I am being brutally honest - it scares me. I don't want to be treated the way people of color are treated. I am comfortable. I think it is abhorrent that a black man, Ricky Smith, was stopped in Ohio for changing lanes without a blinker - something I do all the time. It is abhorrent that he was asked if he had heroine or meth in the car with him. I've been stopped by the police and have never been asked that. I think it is abhorrent, but I'm glad it doesn't happen to me.
I am glad that if someone has to worry about her children leaving the house, it isn't me (all moms worry, but moms of color have a lot more to worry about than I do).
I'm glad that I am able to get a loan, get a job, and the only one who criticizes my hair is me.
I'm not proud of any of that.
Oh, God. Break my heart of stone.
I want to be the hard boiled egg that releases the shell right away, but I'm not. God is chipping away at my shell, and all I can do is let God do God's work. Here I am, Lord. I will hold your people in my heart.
I am the great-great-great granddaughter of the largest slaveholder in Mississippi, Charles Clark. I used to be proud of my heritage, but no longer. I used to be proud of what my ancestors accomplished, but now I realize what "they" accomplished was on the backs of slaves. And I am disappointed to find that I am uncomfortable writing that I'm not proud any more. What if one of my relatives reads this? Oh, well, here it is: I'm not proud of my heritage.
I grew up in a home where "union" was a dirty word. My Dad was an airline executive. When I was a nurse in Washington DC I agonized but finally joined the nurses' union because I realized that I was benefitting from the sacrifices that the union members made. Later, I joined the teachers' union. I came to understand that as long as people are paid a living wage and given a seat at the table where decisions that impact them are made, there isn't a need for a union. Unions grow when there is inequity and unfairness. As a nurse I never expected to be paid as much as a surgeon. But I did expect to be respected and adequately compensated. Towards the end of his life, my Dad was beginning to understand that.
I grew up in a home where it was funny to refer to someone as NOCD: "Not our class, dear." My people would have been the privileged upper class. Now I am appalled when I read books about class and privilege - actually snobbery and arrogance.
I am learning to understand. I am striving to do better. I recognize that much of what I was taught by my family and teachers was lies. They might not have known better, but someone, somewhere came up with these lies. Someone, somewhere decided on a curriculum that minimized the horrors of slavery, only briefly mentioned Japanese internment camps, and didn't really help me to recognize propaganda when I was confronted with it. Someone, somewhere continues to come up with lies, and some of us believe them, because oh my gosh, the propaganda!
Why was I taught that black people are [fill in a derogatory adjective]? Because it fit someone's narrative. Why are the police more afraid of black people than white people? Because it fits someone's narrative. Why are people of color suffering more than white people? Because of the false narratives that white people have been taught for generations and sadly and shamefully are still creating.
It is easy to ask for patience, to say I'm trying. I'm working on it! But here's the thing: there isn't time. People of color have been told to be patient for too long, and people like me have been quite happy to take our time changing our minds.
Well, time's up. People are dying, and it needs to stop, RIGHT NOW.
Oh, Lord! Break our hearts of stone, and give us hearts for love alone. Help white people to trust in You as we have asked people of color to trust us. Give us wisdom to learn from the example of the patience and peace in You that we see in people in bondage and oppression. Help us to recognize that violence begets violence, and when people who feel disrespected and unheard have finally had too much and violence erupts, we white people have only ourselves to blame. Break our hearts, Lord, and help us all to remember that You want only good for all of us.
Tonight I pray for those who wait anxiously for the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial. I am not there so I only know how it looks from far away - I pray that justice will be done. I pray for the family of Adam Toledo. I pray for all who were at the FedEx facility in Indianapolis, and for the families of the victims. I pray that maybe this time those in power will wake up and enact sensible gun control legislation. I pray for the Asian Americans who are suffering at the hands of people who wrongly blame them for COVID. I pray for all those who I have hurt, whether I know it or not. I pray for those who had the vision to be allies and advocates long before it became fashionable. I am thankful for those who have come late to the table and are allies and advocates now. I am thankful for those who still have the patience to pick away at my eggshell of white supremacy - especially my daughter-in-law and grandson (he's too young yet, but he inspires me). I pray for all who grieve, again and again and again. And I pray that my chipped and cracked heart of stone will be replaced with a heart full of love, and that I will learn to be an ally and advocate, too.
Walker-Barnes, Chanequa. "Prayer of a Weary Black Woman." A Rhythm of Prayer, edited by Sarah Bessey, New York, Convergent, 2021.
Hong, Cathy Park. Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning. New York: One World. 2020.
Image. https://th.bing.com/th/id/R4dee319015a7ab859bb21a1595d40383?rik=YEepDsWjHcUiOA&riu=http%3a%2f%2fhealthimpactnews.com%2fwp-content%2fuploads%2fsites%2f2%2f2017%2f02%2fHeart-Of-Stone.jpg&ehk=LE9%2fhg8ym2JpVHHh2IA3tNoRKjrsvWxZdbV9jcCPgrI%3d&risl=&pid=ImgRaw Accessed April 14, 2021.
Schutte, Dan. "Here I am, Lord." The United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House. 1989.
Smith, Ricky. "I shouldn't be this stressed . . . But here we are" Twitter. April 13, 2021. 2:45 PM.