Racism, and the violence born from it, is as old as civilization itself. In the Jewish faith the concept of original sin as a way of explaining the deep flaws of humanity is not linked to sex, temptation or disobedience (as has been the case in the Christian interpretation of Adam and Eve since the time of Augustine of Hippo), but rather to sibling rivalry. It is the story of Cain and Abel, also found in the book of Genesis, which is often viewed as a window into human brokenness. As two brothers navigate the fragile reality of family relationships, the reader is invited to explore how a Godly civilization might be built among the human family in a world where debasing and violent conquest is the dominant mode of gaining power and access to resources.
Our neighborhood was quarantined and school was cancelled for several days. We lived near "Black Grove," a neighborhood where rioting was taking place. The violence and subsequent action of being in a state of emergency segregated us with curfews and residential access only. All that we have seen recently in Ferguson happened then. In the end 500 members of the National Guard were called in, 18 people died, 350 were injured, 60 arrested and 100 million dollars of assessed damages totaled.
I recall that after the rioting had settled and we returned to school, I reunited with black friends with whom I would receive a diploma in just a few short weeks. I recall being even more personally aware that while we went to school together, played sports and music together, studied together, we lived in segregated worlds based on the color of our skin. Beneath that day-to-day encounter a deep, divided and painful reality existed based on gross injustice.
I also remember feeling like we all knew it, but did not speak of it. How does one begin to speak of it? It was not safe. No format was offered by our school. Everyone feared igniting more violence. That was a powerful incentive to remain still and silent. I know I felt little sense of power to do anything about our burning and overwhelmed city where it seemed few knew how to grasp a way forward that did not involve more violence. As graduating seniors, perhaps at some level we were all relieved to not know, to not try; to forget and move on.
As I write now, I am aware that many of you reading this reflection will not remember these riots or the Mariel boatlift. People did move on. They were events in the life of one community, someone else’s community, but truly, they reflect America as a whole. Painful and explosive events around matters of immigration and race are not uncommon in our nation. Every day, in some way or another, they reflect our volatile and broken human reality. We would prefer to forget.
“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all” is the American promised land. In the Biblical story it is an elusive place that is never reached. It is rather a vision, something to work toward. The ‘Kingdom of God’ which as Christians we pray to come is this same sort of vision of a Godly civilization. Racial harmony – everyone having equal access to the American promised land – is a dream, a vision. We have not reached it. In order to work constructively toward it, we must acknowledge how very far away we are from it. And we must not let the rage and the violence of Ferguson silence us. We must not forget it.
Until we begin to have conversations and relationships that bring a deeper understanding and ultimately reconciliation across our racial differences, it will continue to happen. We all have a part in the injustice of our nation – and we have a place in discovering how we might create a society where power and resources are shared for the common good and not used as weapons of destruction one against the other.
I encourage you in this Advent season that we prepare ourselves for the celebration of the coming of Christ by drawing nearer to the brokenness of our world which Jesus came to heal. How might we be part of this Godly mending?
Advent blessings of hope and expectation,
(Ferguson photo courtesy of Christian Goepel)
Kaleidoscope Diversity Resources
Our Diocese has been working with the Kaleidoscope Institute both in conducting training sessions for congregations – 13 congregations are enrolled in the program – and preparing a group of Kaleidoscope Facilitators (we currently have a group of 12 facilitators) to assist any congregations in exploring the areas of ethnic/racial diversity, age diversity and socio-economic diversity. The facilitator team has access to valuable tools that can assist congregations in their specific explorations. If you're interested in getting more information about our work and how we can serve you, please do not hesitate to contact either Win Fernald at firstname.lastname@example.org or Canon Jesús Reyes at email@example.com.
Also, you can visit the Kaleidoscope Institute website at http://www.kscopeinstitute.org. We recommend looking at the Bible Study tab, as well as the Resources & Publications tab. It is recommended to order Eric Law’s books directly from the institute. Most books have their debriefing handbook, which helps congregations explore the material deeper using the group conversation approach.
United Thank Offering Provides Special Anniversary Grants for Young Adults
In honor of its 125th anniversary, the United Thank Offering has created a special $1,250 grant for young adults (ages 21-30) to provide start-up funds for a new project that focuses on any of the Five Marks of Mission.
One grant will be awarded in each of the nine provinces of The Episcopal Church.
Deadline for young adults to submit applications to their diocesan bishop is February 1, 2015. From there, bishops will select one application per diocese. Applications are due from the diocesan offices on February 15. The application and additional information are available here.(Espanol)
The funds are not permitted to the continuation of ongoing ministries.
A video of the start-ups will be showcased at the 78th General Convention in Salt Lake City, UT in June/July 2015. For more information contact the Rev. Heather Melton, United Thank Offering coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Known worldwide as UTO, the United Thank Offering grants are awarded for projects that address human needs and help alleviate poverty, both domestically and internationally.
Presiding Bishop Issues Statement on President’s Immigration Plan
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori issued the following statement on President Obama’s recently announced immigration policies:
"Together with families and communities across the United States, I give thanks for President Obama’s announcement that nearly five million undocumented immigrants will soon be eligible for relief from the threat of deportation. Too many families have lived for too long continually worried about parents being separated from children, wage-earners and caregivers from those who depend on them, and unable to participate fully in their communities and the nation’s economy. Permanent and comprehensive reform of our broken immigration system through congressional action is still urgently needed, but the President’s action is a constructive step toward a system that honors the dignity and intrinsic value of every human being. It will immediately strengthen our nation’s communities by allowing immigrant families much fuller participation in American civic and economic life.
The Episcopal Church will work with Congressional leaders and the White House to press for implementation of the President’s plan as quickly, fairly, and inclusively as possible. The President’s plan is not perfect. Some deserving persons and families are excluded, meaning that additional work lies ahead. All persons equally deserve the ability to pursue their dreams and contribute to their communities and families with liberty, dignity, and freedom. I pray that the President’s action will lead our nation toward a future in which those sacred possibilities are open to all."
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church