Untitled…On Purpose

The morning after returning home from the breaking plantation, I participated in a Racial Reconciliation Bus Tour with an interfaith group of clergy. I wrote this reflection a couple of weeks later to share my experience during the One America Movement’s board meeting, where I gratefully serve as a member. 

Is racial reconciliation even possible? This is the question that my weary soul keeps asking and I just don’t have an answer.

Model schoolhouse at Franklinton Center at the Bricks, once a “breaking plantation”

I recently spent a day and a half with an interfaith group of clergy on a Racial Reconciliation Bus Tour through the great state of Virginia – a state that was once the home of the capital of the Confederacy. If any place needs a racial reconciliation bus tour, I imagine Virginia tops the list! I had just come from spending a week at a writing retreat with mystic social justice advocates in North Carolina. Perhaps the simplest way to describe a mystic is someone who is sensitive to the presence, movement and work of the Spirit, although that definition is debatable. The writing retreat was at what was called a “breaking” plantation. It was a place where white slave owners sent enslaved African people who had tried to escape to “break” them so that they would never try to run away again. The land was later repurposed to be a school for African Americans after slavery ended. However, signs of the brutality were still there, including a replica of a “Whipping Post” with a sign that ensured you were not confused about what you were looking at. No, this was no stage for a play, standup comedian or other entertainment. It was, in fact, a platform where enslaved people were brutalized and humiliated and where every effort was made to break their spirits.

Clearly, my emotions were still raw from this experience as I set out to do my part for healing our nation from the wounds of the past by engaging in the Racial Reconciliation Bus Tour, just over 12 hours after returning from the breaking plantation. Please do not try this at home.

Perhaps not the best decision I’ve made but I was committed to be present and to engage with other clergy colleagues. The assembled group was a good one from what I could tell with people who brought the right attitude and energy to make space for reconciliation to happen. Conversation was easy for the most part and our commitment to this difficult task was obvious. This helped but reconciliation was (and is) still a steep mountain for me to climb.

My state of mind and spirit are as much a part of my experience as the tour itself. Meticulously planned, the tour delve into the conflicted and tragic past of a place that treated other human beings as property. While I was grateful for a great group of clergy who I felt honored to be among, it was also incredibly hard for me to feel hopeful or optimistic. It was a challenge to be vulnerable with white colleagues again and again when I was feeling as if so much of the reconciliation work has been left up to those who have been victimized. I was struggling to explain how the vestiges of slavery are as much a part of our present as the air we breathe. It is intricately woven into the fabric of our nation, our neighborhoods, our systems, our psyche. And, even though it is as harmful and as deadly as ever we keep trying to repair the shredded pieces with invisible tape that doesn’t hold it together or hide the horrors within it. I wonder in frustration how it is that my white colleagues can’t see that.

Civil Rights Activists Dr. Lawrence and Gloria Campbell share their stories of the Civil Rights Movement in Danville, Va. with us.

Rev. Thurman Echols helped to host us in Danville and shared his experiences fighting for Civil Rights. What an inspiration!

Rev. Thurman Echols being arrested in Danville, Va. during the struggle for civil rights

 

Is reconciliation even possible?

Frankly, these days the cries for reconciliation are drowned out by my weary soul’s cries for justice and repentance and reparations!

Yet, I am a minister of reconciliation! This is what my faith teaches me. This is what my sacred texts tell me. This is what the Spirit reminds me:

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-20

I don’t feel like the best ambassador for reconciliation on this bus tour. But, something in me will not let me lose hope. I go through each stop waiting with great anticipation for something to break, for something to happen that will mean that this Racial Reconciliation Bus Tour is different from the last one…and the next one. I wait with great anticipation believing that visiting the site of Richard Walker’s lynching will bring me more than pain. I wait with great hope and anticipation trusting that Danville, a city filled with a brutal past , will one day change and be a community where racial transformation can rise from the ashes of hatred and despair. I wait with great hope expecting that this time what will be broken is not the spirits of those who believed in freedom and their own humanity but freedom and humanity, justice and righteousness themselves will break forth!

I wait…

I wait…

I wait…

Praying that racial reconciliation is indeed possible.

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Posted in Civil Rights Movement, Equality, Healing, Hope, Inequality, Jesus Christ, Justice, Racism, Reconciliation | 2 Comments

Not So Easily Broken: A Week On the Breaking Plantation

There’s something especially cruel, horrific even, about a breaking plantation…as if slavery itself wasn’t cruel enough. You see, breaking plantations are where they sent the slaves who kept trying to run away. On the grounds of this one where I’ve spent the last week, is a sign: “Whipping Post & Magnolia Tree,” marking the space where the enslaved people were beaten into submission.

Or, so they thought.

Honestly, when I arrived, I looked around and texted a friend expressing my doubts about the place. I told her that I didn’t think I was going to be able to stay here for a week. The facilities are nice enough but there’s nothing around us, I texted. A city girl on a plantation is just not a good look.

And, the remnants are everywhere, it seems to me.

cottonThe ground is unapologetic and unforgiving. It gives testimony to the bygone era and demands to be recognized. Cotton bursts through the ground and taunts me: Somebody’s gotta do some pickin’!

To which my soul shouts back, Our pickin’ days are over!

The resistance of my ancestors lives in me.

Looking out across the expansive plantation the trees are mostly around the perimeter with large open spaces. Nowhere to run. No way to escape. These are the thoughts that capture my attention. How would they get out of here?

IMG_20190520_095151481Then there is that tree. The tree that is stripped bare. No leaves. Split on one side. Stripped of so much that once hinted at its full majesty. This tree stands out to me. This tree is haunting me and pulling on my spirit, begging to be noticed, asking me to pay attention to it. Did a strike of lightning seal its fate? Or, was it something else? For some reason, I can’t help but wonder if someone was lynched here. Somehow, that’s what I see when I look at that tree. Letting me know that pain resides in its limbs and the blood of the slaughtered saturates its roots. But, still standing and commanding my attention.

Selah.

There is a rhythm to the day here. And, the train reminds me of it and helps me to mark time. The train elicits the same response from me time and time again. “FREEDOM” rings in my ears. It seems to get louder throughout the day. FREEDOM is just through the trees. FREEDOM is calling and beckoning me. FREEDOM, O, Freedom! Freedom, O, Freedom! FREEDOM is near!

Is this what they thought about as the lash of the whip tore their flesh? Is this what crossed their minds as they toiled bent over in the fields picking cotton? Is this what they prayed about as day turned to night and night turned to day?trail off the plantation

 

IMG_20190515_174059197You see, there’s no way this place quieted or quenched the resistance in the spirits of those they brought here. I just don’t believe it. Fire kept burning in them and found new ways of living, surviving and growing because the fire would not die and they were not so easily broken. I can imagine that each attempt to break them only reignited the fire even deeper in their souls. There is no breaking us! Freedom, like fire, is shut up in our bones! We are still here! We will not be broken. We. Will. Not. Be. Broken.

YES! I know this for sure. Because the resistance of my ancestors lives in me.

Posted in Endurance, Inequality, Justice, Overcoming Obstacles, Racism, Slavery, Uncategorized, Violence | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Real Christmas Perversion

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Luke 1:46-53 (NRSV)

If we consider the words of Mary in this well-known song of praise, she celebrates that God has not favored the rich and powerful but instead has lifted up the humble, the lowly, the poor. She declares the good news of the reverse order that God establishes by having the Savior come through her—someone society would have deemed unfit and unworthy. In fact, we know that some elected officials would have called her lazy or given her some other disparaging label since she was an unwed, teenage mother without an overabundance of financial resources available to her. For sure, Mary was not giving a big campaign contribution to anyone.

Yet, God chose Mary. And Mary declares, “God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”

This is revolutionary. It is earth-shattering. It is simultaneously scandalous and profound. It is a part of the Christmas story. It is what the words “Merry Christmas” are really all about: God’s favor is with the lowly, the humble—not those with status, material riches, power, position or the ability to make large campaign contributions.

Today, Congress stands ready to pass tax legislation that puts the lives of those who are most in need in jeopardy in favor of the wealthiest among us. Congress has again put their own selfish ambition and political power above children, the elderly and the poor. They are ready to do marvelous things for the rich and well off and to further demoralize and vilify the poor and vulnerable (yes, I used the recently banned “v” word). Pushed by an Administration that has touted the fact that they are bringing Christmas back by uttering the words of a greeting, the tax bill is a clear indication that there is no genuine concern for Christmas, good tidings for the poor or justice for the most vulnerable. Instead, making the rich richer and the poor poorer is the priority.   Continue reading

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So, About the 2016 Election: An Open Letter to Those Who Want to Make America Great Again

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

i-votedBy the time I post this blog it will officially be Election Day. You see, I’ve been struggling with what to write for several days, probably months. I even held a Facebook fast since the Republican primary ended so that I wouldn’t read something that would irk me into posting something about this election. It certainly has not been easy to live through. In fact, it has often felt like watching a nightmare unfold when you’re unable to wake yourself up. I think everyone agrees that this probably has been the most brutal and vicious campaign season in American history. Experts say that the election in 1876 between Samuel Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes was worse but they didn’t have a 24-hour news cycle or social media back then so I’m pretty sure we have them beat.

Regardless of who gets to claim having lived through the worst election season ever, there is something about this particular cycle that has shaken me to my core. Yes, there are many things to be concerned about coming out of this campaign and I am bothered by all of it: The ways in which sexual assault and misogyny have been dismissed by crafty spin doctors and a voting public with a short attention span.  The ridicule of people with disabilities, Hispanics, Muslims and veterans, among others. The complete lack of cultural competency about African Americans, urban areas and communities that low-income workers call home. The marketing of racism, bigotry and materialism. The callous remarks about military action and obliterating other human beings. The disregard for any sense of decorum in campaign speeches, debates and advertisements. The packaging of lies, stereotypes and untruths to sell the American peopsuffrage-parade-1le on the myth that yesterday holds more promise than tomorrow.

All of this has at times made me feel physically ill.

But, the issue I’ve been wrestling with and finding hard to reconcile is how to deal with the people I know, like you, who are supporting the candidate for president of the United States who is at the center of this chaos? What kind of conversation do we have after the election? How do we live together in community after this? Even more importantly, how do I reconcile your support of a candidate endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke, the epitome of racial hatred, who has never denounced their endorsement? I mean, if you say you’re not a racist but you support a candidate whose campaign is built on racist ideologies, then where does that leave us? Do you remember who I am? Continue reading

Posted in Black Lives Matter, Civil Rights Movement, Healing, Hope, Inequality, Justice, Prayer, Racism, Reconciliation, Voting Rights, White Privilege | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Big, Bad Problem with ‘Good’ People

There is a problem with “good” people. In fact, I would suggest to you that there is a big, bad problem with good people. I know this may seem like a strange statement to make. What could be wrong with being a “good” person? Isn’t it good to be…good? Surely, that’s what we learn in Sunday School and kindergarten—that we are supposed to be nice, kind, fair, polite, wait our turn, share with others and say please and thank you. Do all of these things, attend an occasional church service, pray before you go to bed, perhaps even give money to a charity around the holidays and voila! You are deemed a good person. I don’t mean to make light of the importance of being respectful, compassionate, generous or courteous. Nor do I want to minimize the importance of attending church services or Sunday School. I’m Baptist after all.

going-to-church350x480

I also don’t want my point to be misunderstood here. I am not suggesting that it is okay to be rude, crass, nasty, mean or a bully. I am not suggesting that poor manners or unethical behavior should be excused. Clearly, people with these personality traits are difficult to deal with and to be avoided if at all possible. This is something we already know.

But, there is also a problem with “good” people.

A big, bad problem. Continue reading

Posted in Black Lives Matter, Civil Rights Movement, Equality, Inequality, Justice, Racism, White Privilege | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Please Stop Silencing Me or A Tale of Two Women Victims

I had planned to post about today being a bonus day on the calendar—February crystal hamilton 229th, Leap Day! I’m more excited about it this year than I remember being before. An extra day, extra time to get things done. My prayers have been answered! But, tragically, another woman lost her life to domestic violence and I feel compelled to say something about that. This blog is about what I am laying at the altar and today my excitement about having an extra day has been overshadowed by a woman murdered by her husband in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Her name was Crystal Hamilton. She was 29 and her son is 11 years old. He was in the house when his father took his mother’s life.

But, that’s not the story you are likely to have heard today.

The assailant, a soldier who worked at the Pentagon, also killed a female police officer who had come to his home in response to an emergency call Crystal made for help. Sadly, this was the first day on the job for Officer Ashley Guindon, 28, who was killed during the ashley guindonincident.  A tragedy for sure and one that had me praying for Officer Guindon’s family and that community when I first heard this story on Saturday. Today, I am even more horrified by the fact that almost every initial news story (and most follow ups) have focused on the officer killed in the line of duty and barely mentioned the name of the first victim. In fact, in some news stories it was not even clear that someone else died in the incident. Well, someone else did die. This soldier’s rampage targeted his wife. Her name was Crystal Hamilton. Her life was cut short by her husband and although this is a familiar story that we’ve heard before, it is one that needs to be told again and again until we end the pervasiveness of domestic violence in our communities.

While the news media is doing what it does by focusing on the unique angle to the story, a greater responsibility to tell the whole story has been overlooked, including the fact that Sergeant Ronald Hamilton killed his wife. She called 911. She knew her life was in danger. Yet, the fact that she was murdered is a footnote and after thought in news reports about what happened. The truth of that is a further violation of this woman whose life was taken by someone she once loved and trusted and who one neighbor described as showing no signs of being an abuser.  Continue reading

Posted in Abuse, Black Lives Matter, Domestic Violence, Gun Control, Gun Violence, Justice, Mental Health, Uncategorized, Violence, Violence Against Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dealing with Judas

broken trustI don’t think I’ve thought that much about Judas before—at least not in a personal way. But, a recent incident reminded me in a profound way that Judas was one of the disciples, too. He was one of the Twelve, called by Jesus, trained by Jesus, taught by Jesus, sent out by Jesus. He was in the inner circle. And, whether we like it or not we have to deal with the Judas in our midst. Besides, it’s the Lenten Season. A time to deal with difficult issues, self-examination and the realities of the ultimate sacrifice. That’s why I suppose now is as good a time as any to deal with Judas.

But, Judas is hard to deal with most of the time. I recently found this out the hard way…again. I trusted someone who could not be trusted. This burns because I have such a small inner circle and very few people who I confide in. So, for someone to deliberately betray Lentmy trust has been hurtful to say the least. It’s also left me wondering how best to deal with that person. My inclination is to cut them off and have nothing further to do with them. I have visions of flicking my hand, wiping the dust off my feet and shouting “Be Gone, you viper!” While that would make me feel better, I’ve had this nagging feeling that this is probably not what Jesus would do. When I look at Jesus’ example, he kept Judas around even though he knew ultimately Judas would betray him. The Gospel writers give us the scoop on Judas but Jesus doesn’t call him out until the same night that the betrayal happens! Let’s be honest, that’s a hard act to follow. Continue reading

Posted in Betrayal, Dealing with disappointment, Forgiveness, Friendship, Jesus Christ, Judas, Lenten Season, Sacrifice | Leave a comment