Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hearing Sandra Bland -- It has to be personal

It has to be personal.

After Michael Brown was killed, I sat on my front porch every morning during my prayer time and I pictured his body lying in the street – only instead of his face I would put the face of my sons – Schroedter and Hayden.

Why? Because it has to be personal.

Then I would text my friend and colleague, Traci Blackmon, and I would ask her for one thing I could take off her plate that day. And, blessedly, she would always oblige.

Why? Because it has to be personal.

We will never stop “racism.” We will never end “homelessness.” We will never eliminate “misogyny” or “LGBT discrimination” or “sex trafficking” any other of the infections that plague us … as long as we view them as issues.

Because we will never care enough. Those of us with privilege and power will never care enough about an “issue” to do what is necessary. Because what my faith in Jesus Christ teaches me is that the only real change comes from laying my life down for someone. And even God didn't lay the divine life down for an idea. And created in God's image, we are the same. We don’t lay our lives down for ideas … we lay our lives down for each other.

It has to be personal.

Two months after Michael Brown was killed, I was hiking with a friend in the hills of Northern California, and he asked me of my involvement in Ferguson:

“Man, why are you throwing yourself on this fire?”

His question was one of deep brotherly concern. And it was a great question.

And in that moment faces flashed in front of my eyes. People whom I had met even in those two months in the movement. Friends I had known before who had shared with me their stories of growing up and living black in America. Members of our Christ Church Cathedral community who have lifetimes of oppression and microaggression. I saw their faces, and my eyes began to fill with tears, and I gave the only answer I could give:

“Because my friends are on that fire.”

It has to be personal.

I’m on vacation right now. And until this morning, I had put off watching the Sandra Bland video or reading too much about her. Because I’m on vacation. Because I need a break.

But as I sat on the beach this morning during my prayer time, it came to me that my friends on that fire don’t get a vacation from being black. They can’t choose not to be harassed this week because they are on vacation. I realized I had to watch that video … right then.

And so I did. Right there.

And as I heard Sandra’s voice – a voice of defiant power. A voice asserting her rights. A voice spelling out clearly exactly what sins were being committed against her and refusing to back down and submit to injustice.

As I heard Sandra’s voice, the voice changed.

And instead of Sandra Bland, I heard Traci Blackmon. I heard Alexis Templeton and Brittany Ferrell. I heard Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows and Karen Anderson and Leah Gunning Francis and Dietra Baker. I heard Alice Dowd and Ashley Yates. I heard Regina Mullins and Ty Johnson. I heard Leah Clyburn and Huldah Blamoville and Maggie Linck and Lorraine Kee and Patricia Altemueller.

And I began to fill with rage. And my eyes began to fill with tears.

Because it was personal.

And I knew I had to do something.

Even if it was just writing about this.

Even if it was just committing to keep saying her name … and saying their names … and asking “what can I do today to lighten your load just a little bit?” … and continue to fight through my own shame and defensiveness and uncomfortability about white supremacy and racial oppression and not let myself get distracted by the next thing that comes along that demands my attention.

I have to keep it personal. Because I know if I don’t, I will never care enough. If I don’t, my passion will flag and fail. If I don’t, I will get distracted and lose focus.

But if I keep it personal, I will realize that it is my deepest honor to stand beside these amazing black women. It is my deepest honor to amplify their voices and use my privilege to point to them. It is my deepest honor to have them get in my face and call me on my privilege and all that I take for granted.

But it has to be personal.