Last January I bought a daily planner on clearance, an impulse buy while grocery shopping. As the year went on, I scribbled in the blank spaces meant for appointments and schedules, keeping a diary of sorts. I felt comforted by the limited space and the way that often achingly-long days, condensed into two or three sentences, emerged as sparse, clarifying re-creations.
My entries were sporadic the first few months, but I began the daily practice in earnest following an entry on March 17, one that spilled over the box designated for that day and out of the usual mundane family context.
In spite of the underlying anxiety brought on by perpetual risk and the imminent unknown, in spite of ‘social distancing’ … the world feels more interconnected than ever and I more a member of it. I also find myself wondering what it is that we are we being called to in this time. Beyond caring for our children and ourselves, how do we help with the healing of our community and our world? How do we assist the needs of the vulnerable and neglected?
On May 26 I wrote Racial crimes in the news as well as coronavirus — I keep thinking, when will the tide turn? Is the arc of the universe bending toward justice?
By June 6 I’d returned to my March 17 question and wrote alongside it Seems as though the uprisings boiling and bringing bitter truths about our nation’s entrenched racism … while not exactly answering the questions, certainly frames them in a new light from what I’d imagined.
Lest we fall victim to an inuring sense that excruciating events mere months past were ages ago, here is a fresh story from February 1, 2021. A mother, fearing her nine-year-old daughter might take her life, calls for help. The mother and child are Black. Police arrive and decide to detain the girl in their vehicle. She resists. They are shouting and cursing and forcing. “You’re acting like a child!” an officer yells. And she, the nine-year-old girl with interior strength that astounds me, screams, “I am a child!” She is pepper-sprayed in the face and handcuffed.
This story has been churning in my chest for days and I am so grieved and enraged. I don’t want to hear any excuse. I don’t want to hear anyone contradict that this case crystallizes the fact that police should not be first responders to mental health emergencies and that far too often, the inherant rights of Black boys and girls to be children are not honored. In the case of the child in this story, how has this incident compounded that interior trauma that drove her mother to call for help?
I hear people who don’t want to look at racism in America reflect on how much has changed since chattel slavery and segregation, how much we’ve made right. I hear them quoting Dr. King, forgetting that in his day this modern prophet was as maligned and misjudged by the religious mainstream as the Hebrew prophets of old.
It’s too easy for us white Christians to think, “Well, if I’d lived during the days of slavery, I would have been an abolitionist.” Or, “If I’d been around during segregation, I would have supported civil rights.” What we might have done in an imaginary life is of no account.
What will you do today?
What will I do today?
If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.
I will confess this here. I’ve heard and resisted. Pulled the blinds down. Blanketed my head like a child discomfited by a bad dream. But I know well enough that the time to address racial inequity was centuries ago. It is also now. And while it is a national sin, it is my work as much as anybody else.
On Ash Wednesday next week, we’ll hear God’s voice through the prophet Joel:
Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.
Gather the people, notify the congregation; Assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; Let the bridegroom quit his room and the bride her chamber. – Joel 2:12-13,16
What would it look like for a nation to repent? To weep together, to confess and to mourn and to radically reorder their way of life?
I imagine a many-years struggle both painful and beautiful as we reexamine the U.S. Digging right down to the roots of this nation that found the economic benefits of human trafficking too compelling to exclude it from our nascent Union, ignoring the irony of words like “justice” and “liberty” uttered in such a context. How much has changed. And how little.
I don’t know exactly where to go from here. Most days I feel utterly consumed by the single act of parenting. Parenting and homeschooling very young children, including a raging toddler, I often rationalize my reticence, even feeling exempt at times from attending to the needs that exist outside my door.
Then I come across the prophet Joel quite specifically pointing out that no such exemption is offered when it comes to generational consequences and responsibilities. Baby at your breast? You need to come hear this word and act on it. Just married? On your honeymoon? Sorry, get over here, this word is for you.
When it comes to action, my movements are often slow and small. But I know I can and must engage in an overdue and ongoing process of repentance and revisioning.
Presently, my focus is being intentional about who I am benefiting when making a purchase, leaning into Black voices and leadership and donating to or otherwise supporting social justice organizations led by and uplifting those who have been systematically oppressed in this country.
What I am called into is not a typical Lenten fast but a full-bodied prayer, a small step toward supporting the enormous, ongoing work of repentance and reparation. Below are some examples of voices that I have found uplifting, challenging and clarifying and that I return to on a regular basis. I would dearly welcome further suggestions that we may use to help one another grow and learn to transform ourselves, our homes and our communities into more holy and hospitable places.
It is humbling work, as a white person, to confront the living legacy of White Supremacy. I will strive to act justly. I will pray for mercy.
(I know there are lots of other great books and articles and poems out there, many that address racism in the U.S. incisively, but Baldwin and Morrison are the two I return to over and over again because their language is not only pointed and powerful but hypnotically beautiful. And Coates is crucial as a voice who directly addresses the fact that racial reconciliation requires more than changed hearts and good feelings. And Nichols, well, she just about says everything I’d ever hope to in one poem.)
Amy Nee-Walker grew up in the middle of a large and lovely family in Central Florida. Living into questions about truth and love has led her to the Catholic Worker, the Catholic Church, her incredible husband, three audacious, adorable children, and (for the time being) a home in the hills of Appalachia.