Summer stretches before me and I don’t have any plans for vacation and travel. The same may be true for some of you. While many businesses are re-opening in limited ways, it is difficult for me to think about vacation with social distancing still in place and Covid-19 cases on the rise again in the Austin area. I’ll consider some “staycation” time in the weeks ahead. And I especially hope you are making plans for rest and renewal time whether in your home or a vacation away from home. It continues to be a heavy season and I pray you will take care.
Regardless of your summer plans or lack of plans, the work of confronting and dismantling racism is the work to which God is continually calling us. Many of our clergy and laity throughout the district have been actively engaged in this work in recent years and months. But for some of us, we pick it up and then place it to the side when it seems other priorities are pressing. God is moving in our country and in our churches. God is crying out, “How long must I wait for my people to stand for justice?!” And so, like many white pastors and laity, I’m examining my own role in racism. As I shared in a recent video I posted online, “How can I be a part of what repairs?”
Two days after George Floyd died, I was notified by the Home Owners Association that I was in violation because of the sign in my front yard and that I needed to remove it immediately. Among other words on the sign are ones reading, “Black Lives Matter.” The timing of the notice was suspicious. As I read the letter I was annoyed and then enraged.
I’ve been thinking more and more about how we turn our words into action that leads to real change. I like my sign and social media postings are good, but words alone do not change things. And actions that lead to change can only happen when white people like me are honest in acknowledging our own racism and complicity.
One of the books I am re-reading is Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited and he underscores this very principal. Thurman writes about how the message of Jesus Christ focuses on the urgency of a radical change in the interior lives of individuals.
How might this summer be an invitation for white people in our churches to do the inner work that leads to real change? The confessional prayer before The Great Thanksgiving rings in my mind:
I confess that I have not loved you with my whole heart.
I have failed to be obedient.
I have not done your will,
I have broken your law,
I have rebelled against your love,
I have not loved our neighbors,
and I have not heard the cry of the needy.
I wrote to the HOA. I haven’t heard back.
I still think signs are important. And yes, read books and post on social media. But perhaps even more, let’s go into our prayer closets and examine our hearts before God.
As disciples, we know that sincere confession leads to real change. We go in a different direction. I leave you with two thoughts that have stayed with me from sermons I heard recently. Rev. Emanuel Cleaver is an African-American leader and preacher in Missouri. He laments the number of times we live through a time of urgency concerning the work of racism only to go back to ‘business as usual’ when the moment passes. Instead of ‘doing a 180’, he preached, ‘we do a 360’ and land right back to where we’ve always been. How do we make this time not just a moment, but a movement – a movement that leads us in a new direction? That same Sunday, I heard Rev. Sylvester Chase of Wesley UMC here in Austin preach from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is – what is good and pleasing and mature.” He talked about being in “the challenge zone” – a season when God is powerfully at work to transform us.
I look forward to our continued ministry together as a new appointment year begins. May we find ourselves caught up in “the challenge zone.” May we do the work that leads us in a new direction.
“It cannot be denied that too often the weight of the Christian movement has been on the side of the strong and the powerful and against the weak and oppressed – this, despite the gospel.” – Howard Thurman
You can listen to Rev. Sylvester Chase’s sermon “Let God Transform You” here.