|Truth in Love
Yesterday, a dear friend of mine, a black Baptist pastor in Long Beach, California, posted a video on Facebook to his congregation. When I scrolled past the video without the sound on and saw him take a deep breath, exhale and pause, my heart sank and knew it was something I needed to listen to. His countenance and body language immediately signaled to me that this was not a typical message. I have known this friend for over twenty years, and I have never seen him look so distraught, exhausted, weary, and numb. When I began to listen, I quickly understood why.
He was addressing his congregation's concerns that he did not speak about the recent deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement. After a long moment of silence, he began in this way, "Many of you expected me (and so did I) to say something today during the Sunday morning service. I had every intention to, but I need to confess and be honest with you. I have been tired. I am just tired. My son has asked me for the last couple of days, 'Dad why are you not up and about? Why are you just laying around?' And I just feel to some degree, so frustrated, so hopeless, not angry. Anger left a long time ago. I am tired, and I wonder when it will end."
I have known this man for over twenty years. He was a seminary classmate of mine and lived in campus housing in the apartment below us. He and my husband became fast friends, playing on the Eden Seminary basketball team. Most nights he was either in our apartment or we were in his.
We helped him with programs at the church he was serving at the time, and he helped me with programs at the church I was serving at the time. He created a song for our youngest daughter, which we still sing to her today. When he fell in love with the woman of his dreams, he asked my husband and I to help him set up the perfect setting to ask her to marry him and told us he would call us as soon as she said yes, so we could all celebrate together.
We talked often, had long and sometimes uncomfortable conversations about race and the different experiences of navigating this world as someone with black skin as opposed to someone with white skin. He introduced us to authors we had never read, and we introduced him to my very Midwest ways of life.
Over the years as I have watched him live out his calling as a parish minister, even though I intellectually knew there were many differences in our experiences, there were also so many assumptions I had about how similar our lives were. We were both pastors balancing the demands of church and home. He had daughters; we had daughters. However, when he had a son, there were things to which I would never relate, especially because I did not have a black son.
He named this reality in such a raw way as he spoke to his congregation. Any black mother or father of black sons knew immediately of that which he spoke. And even though I have heard this from many friends and family members over the years, the other day it hit me differently.
He bravely said, "Racism against black and brown people and the hold of white supremacy in this country is not a black problem; it is a white problem. It is a problem with white America not understanding the impact of racism on black and brown people for generations." My friend was speaking truth in love as he pleaded with his white siblings in the faith to speak up, stand up, and take action.
He was naming an uncomfortable truth. It was an uncomfortable ask. He is right. I join him in naming that uncomfortable truth. I will begin today, and in the days to come, to make my own uncomfortable ask. I ask you who are brave enough, courageous enough, vulnerable enough and compassionate enough to join me in committing ourselves to speaking up, standing up, and taking action to address the systemic racism against our black and brown siblings which exists in our nation, in our communities, in our churches and maybe even in our families and ourselves.
I, too, am tired. I am weary of the heartbreaking injustice I see. Yet, I am not hopeless because I know the power which resides in us when we trust in the Spirit of God to move us towards courageous love and transformation. You give me hope. For I know the spirit which resides in this Conference. It is a spirit of a people who believe all people are God's beloveds created in the image of God. I thank you for the ways you will join me in speaking the truth in love so we may experience justice for all of God's people.
Many blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, ISC Conference Minister