Our Lent Together: Fear, Racial Equality, A Place to Begin.

Categories: Community,Fear,Lent,Racial Justice,Racism,Worship

(Thank you to Ben Perkins, Carla Imperial, Suzanne Wolk, and others who helped write and edit this blog. Please see Ben’s and Carla’s words below.)

This Lent, our theme at Hope Central Church is “Fear: the movement from fear to love.”

We believe that – outside of when fear is a necessary human emotion in the face of immediate danger – it is fear that keeps us from love. It is the lack of love that keeps us from Racial Justice, love of ourselves and love of one another.

The first letter of John, that letter from the Johannine community written about 100 CE affirms that perfect love casts out fear. (I John 4:18.) We learn from biology that fear and love reside in the same place in the brain – it isn’t possible to experience fear and love at the same moment.

Emotions like fear and love are important experiences that ensure our survival. If we don’t experience fear, we won’t know to run from the sabre toothed tiger or run quickly when a car is barreling toward us. If we don’t recognize love we have no capacity to be in community, to protect our children and elders or each other. But when fear is an habitual condition rather that a response to immediate danger, fear interferes with our spiritual life and our relationships. We begin to build systems and institutions to protect us from what we fear. We project our fear on to other people and place blame for our fear outside ourselves.

We understand it is systematized, institutionalized fear (among other things) that creates and maintains the spiritual disease of racism.

For our Lent practice, we will turn our faces to the work of Racial Justice – so that we may examine our fear, practicing replacing fear with love, so that our eyes, hearts and behavior may turn toward love – love as a principle for forming Beloved Community. In Beloved Community, there is no place for racial inequality. Our goal will be to begin/continue the systematic work of racial justice to end institutional racism.

Our goal will be achieved in small and large steps. Our goal is a different kind of goal from, say, alphabetizing a set of books. Such a goal as alphabetization can be done, then left.

Achieving the goal of racial justice will take the length our whole lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren, which may at first make it seem hopeless. But understanding the length of time it will take can help settle us in to this long work with a kind of spiritual centeredness. Out of that centeredness we can make good, strong decisions about long lasting changes to heart and systems instead of emergency anxiety prodded spurts of blundering effort that create emotional drama but not sustainable focused movement toward the goal of racial justice. We do want justice to come now, and we do need to see progress toward this justice, and so we can also have spikes of successes, to make the world better for our children now. But our road is long, our work will be focused.

To achieve racial justice, we will need to work at many levels – we can be beginning and advanced at once. Some of us are just beginning this work, and our understanding of racial injustice is a beginners understanding – we will need to learn many things including that the world is not as we have been taught. The work will stretch us and perhaps hurt our feelings to learn, but we will apply ourselves. We will allow ourselves to be taught and we will resist when we begin believing that we are the experts and professors. Some of us have been thinking about racial justice all our lives and we are advanced in our understanding of racial injustice and the nuanced ways in which the systems of racism operate.

We can allow ourselves to offer what we know when Spirit moves us, resisting the internal and external urging that we know only a little and can teach nothing or that we are too advanced to bother with beginners.

We can do this work of racial justice according to our gifts, and the circumstances presented to us by our own race, our families of origin, our class and access to various resources. The work for people who have been white for multiple generations will be different from those who have just immigrated and have not yet become white. The work for those who have been African-American for generations will be different from those who have immigrated and are still yet Barbadian or Haitian or African, for example. The work of people of color, Filipinos, Latinos, people of Asian descent, who have just immigrated and those in their generations of being American have had to decide how to be seen and how to assimilate given the binary – black or white – have yet different work to do.

In order for good people to become inured to the using of another person or people for economic purposes, we have had to learn to not see, to not know the humanity of another, to not feel, to not identify with another. The work of white people then is to learn to see what we were taught not to see, to examine the extent of our numbness and what our numbness has precluded us from experiencing. We will need to learn to identify with another which will require us to re-acquire our own balances of certainty/uncertainty, knowing/not knowing, fairness/unfairness, good/evil. We will no longer be able to understand ourselves as mono-dimensional. We will risk coming to know our past by revisiting it, feeling it, regretting it. We will risk new feelings and we will be awkward because we are un-practiced – and we will feel like children or adolescents again. When we identify with another’s fear and pain, we will risk reexamining our own fear and pain. We will learn that when a thread out of the ball of reality of white logic is pulled, reality falls apart, and this may turn out to be significant and painful or joyful. We will risk painful memory, shame, anger, and also joy and freedom. We will risk learning how our struggles are the same and are different without imposing our truth. We will risk clumsiness. We will do this work together, with God’s grace undergirding us. (Laura Ruth)

In order for good people to become inured to the thousand cuts of racism, we have had to learn how to not feel each cut, to overthink or under think each situation, to externalize pain, to become numb, to overplay strategies for survival into deceit, come late to trust, to internalize hate offered by others, to fail to distinguish between opprobrium offered our race, opprobrium offered ourselves as individuals. We will risk loving ourselves as individuals and as communities. We will risk coming to know our past by revisiting it, feeling it, regretting it, loving it. We will risk new feelings and we will be awkward because we are un-practiced. We will risk being vulnerable to a group of people for whom the consequences and investment are not as great as ours. We will risk reexamining our own fear and pain, re-evaluating what we were taught was nothing, in new light, will turn out to be significant and painful or joyful. We will risk painful memory, shame, anger, and also joy and freedom. We will risk learning how our struggles are the same and are different without imposing our truth. We will risk clumsiness. We will do this work together, with God’s grace undergirding us. (Ben Perkins)

In order for good people to become inured to the No-Place outside of the binary of Black or White, in order to become participants in the culture of the United States, we have learned to side with black or white, to give up under great pressure our language, our cultural realities. We have learned to minimize our own pain, for the pain of others is greater, we are told. Or we have learned to be silent through the cries from others. We will risk leaving behind indifference. We will risk putting value on our own experiences. We will risk coming together with people who are different than us but perhaps more the same than we think. We will risk clumsiness. We will risk learning how our struggles are the same and are different without imposing our truth. We will do this work together, with God’s grace undergirding us. (Carla Imperial)

Grace is a key element of this work, and that without it, racial justice work runs the risk of being just another legalistic/works-based effort at salvation. If we truly experience God’s grace, that nothing can separate us from it, then we can be wrong, say the wrong things, and know that we are being held in love as we become. This work could be terrifiyng to us. We might feel this work exposes that how we are bad/lacking, and who wants to feel that?! If we truly experience being held in grace, by God and community, then we can also be vulnerable, and that seems to be essential to this long, slow work!

At Hope Central, we can do this work grounded in our Christian understanding that we are each made in God’s image, that there are ideas, practices and things that keep us from remembering we were made thus. We can remember that it is in covenant that we live, covenant with God, covenant with each other, and with the earth. We can work to restore covenant and seek to improve our skills, knowledge, understanding for the living out of covenant. Just as our sacred scripture is held to be ultimately truthful because of its combined truths, its narratives of experience of the nature of humanity and God, our own understanding of truth will be the same – only the combined testimony of human experience of life and of the divine will be considered ultimate truth. We will do this work in love, risking what we can, resting when we must, seeking help, and throwing ourselves into the mercy of joy.

Shrove Tuesday Supper, 6PM, organized by Dan McLaughlin and the men in our congregation.

Lenten Preaching

2/18/15, Ash Wednesday and the Imposition of Ashes: Fear (Nina Swift, preaching), 7PM

2/2215, Sunday morning: Fear of Giving Ourselves to the Unknown {Laura Ruth}
3/1/15, Sunday morning: Fear of Evil (Laura Ruth)
3/8/15, Sunday morning: Fear of Losing All We Know (Courtney)
3/15/15, Sunday morning: Fear of the Dark, Fear of Condemnation (Laura Ruth)
3/22/15, Sunday morning: Fear of Death (Ben Perkins)

Our liturgists in Lent and offering testimonies about our lives in racism and the work for Racial Justice will be given by:

2/22/15: Suzanne Wolk
3/1/15: Erica Rose
3/8/15: Terry Steeden
3/15/15: Nina Swift
3/22/15: John Brock

Thursdays in Lent

Each Thursday 6-6:20 Kathy Hanlan will lead Lenten Prayers from 6-6:20 on the chancel in the sanctuary.

After prayers, 6:20-7:30, we’ll have a simple soup prepared by folks from our congregation and a simple program about Racial Justice, sponsored by the Ministry of Justice and Compassion as follows:

2/26/15: Youth Against Mass Incarceration (YAMI) will come speak to us

3/5/15, 3/12/15 and 3/19/15: Reading The New Jim Crow, led by John Brock

3/26/15: Discussion: Discussion – What did we learn and how will we continue after Lent? led by Laura Ruth

Two Saturdays in Lent

2/2815, Spiritual Leadership for Racial Justice, led by Meck Groot, 1-5PM in the Parlor.

“Love is the readiness to go to any length to restore community.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Addressing and transforming barriers to Beloved Community such as systemic racism takes many forms of leadership. Among them is spiritual leadership: the practice of navigating between our power and our powerlessness. In this workshop, participants will
consider concepts of rank, power, powerlessness and love and their relationship to Beloved Community
analyze how systemic racism operates internally, interpersonally, institutionally and culturally to disrupt Beloved Community
explore ways they can offer their own spiritual leadership as a gift to restore Beloved Community

3/7/15, The Body and Fear, led by Lillian Fuchs, 12:30-2PM in the Parlor.

Holy Week Schedule

Sunday Morning, 3/29, Palm Sunday Procession and Passion Play. (No evening service but Mary Eaton will open the sanctuary for silent prayer)
Maundy Thursday, Dinner and Tennebrae, 6PM
Good Friday Service, 2:30PM, then a wake at Doyles.
Easter Sunday Service, 10:30AM and 5:30PM

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Author: Laura Ruth Jarrett

3 Responses to "Our Lent Together: Fear, Racial Equality, A Place to Begin."

  1. Daniel Posted on February 18, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    I am so in awe of all the people putting in the effort and organizing our Lent season. It is good to see so many people involved in so many roles. I so enjoyed being immersed in the fellowship of Fat Tuesday and am looking forward to the rest of the Lenten season.

    We were asked to engage in this conversation here, and I am trying to think of where to chime in. Let me start with some interesting articles on housing and race, including two in the JP Gazette:

    http://money.cnn.com/2015/02/09/real_estate/zillow-mortgage-white-black/index.html

    http://money.cnn.com/2015/02/13/news/economy/segregation-poverty-next-economy/

    http://jamaicaplaingazette.com/2014/10/24/roslindale-neighbors-citys-housing-plan-addresses-jp-rozzie-gentrification/

    http://jamaicaplaingazette.com/2015/02/13/op-ed-the-state-of-jp-racial-equity-through-housing-justice/

    On the issues of fear and our efforts to tackle racism, I don’t know where to begin. My list of fears are long. (In fact my first fear is that I will forget all my fears):

    1. I am scared that I will do wrong, say something wrong, hurt others’ feelings with my ignorance and prejudices, be unable to find my courage when the situation warrants it, be rejected or thought less of or abandoned. Abra will be first to tell you I am scared to admit when I make a mistake. (I’m no Paul Simon.)

    2. I am scared of working on one issue at the expense of other issues. If we focus on #BlackLivesMatter today, will we be neglecting undocumented immigrants still struggling for their security and rights, or Native Americans, who are also harassed and profiled by police, or the environment, and on and on… My best hope is something Abra taught me. She said her mom pointed out to her how accommodations made for people of differing abilities are usually advantageous to us all. Anyone who has ever rolled their luggage, grocery cart, or baby stroller down and up ADA-mandated curb cuts for people in wheelchairs knows how true this is. It is my hope that wherever we put our focus, it ultimately does good for all that need it.

    3. I am scared of not having enough time for work, family, community, and fighting injustice. I already feel overworked and stressed, and don’t know how to squeeze in something else.

    4. I am scared of spinning my wheels, keeping it all abstract, talking in circles but getting nothing done. I am scared of making a checklist and saying, “Ok I would never do those things, so it’s all ok now. Let’s move on.”

    5. I am scared that we could focus on racism only in its most superficial forms. I once read a comment where someone said, “Because my grandfather called your grandfather the n-word, I’m supposed to apologize?” And it scares me to think that people think that is all this is about–the words we use when referring to one another. Similarly, I worry about us getting into a mindset of, “oh, not all black people are poor, so this isn’t about poverty, oh not all black people are homeless, so this isn’t about housing” when the truth is that it is about those things and more.

    6. I am scared of, even within the realm of race, figuring out where to begin in society. Yes, police brutality and police profiling are realities in Boston. But so is de facto geographical segregation (and hence school segregation). Race finds its way into the least likely places–because poverty rates are higher among people of color, the state’s current “decriminalized” marijuana policy still disproportionately affects smokers of color, who are less likely in a position to pay the $100 fine that smoking pot carries. So what is the best place to start?

    7. I am scared about making it all about policy and what our government needs to do (or not do), or on the other side, making it all about changing my perceptions, thoughts, behavior, when I think both need improving and that culture and economics as a whole have to change, that we need more community and less anonymity all the way around, that these cannot just be buzzwords, but are as real as the bread and water we hunger and thirst for daily.

    8. I am scared of making this an “us vs. them” issue, especially if we focus on police brutality, when in fact it seems to me to be an “all of us” issue.

    9. I am scared that this is too big for us, that this cannot be solved, that we will get discouraged and give up after Lent is over, or at least before we see the fruit of our labor. I am grateful the original bloggers above acknowledged that we might not see satisfactory progress in our lifetime.

    10. I am scared of the way gentrification and other factors could lead us to a sense of complacency, or of the way we may ignore other “isms” in our quest for racial justice. I am scared that the neighborhood is becoming richer and whiter and we’ll attract and hire a few more members of color, all well-enough-to-do and otherwise socially acceptable of course, and call it a day. And we’ll look outside into our JP-Rosi-W Rox mini-paradise, and think, well, we’ve taken care of our own people of color (never mind the ones too poor to live here who had to move), what more could we do? I see it already in the way my Pondside JP is a culture and community disconnected from the more Hispanic Hyde Square JP. It seems when people of any marginalized “type” get clumped together–in economically or racially- or linguistically-segregated neighborhoods, for instance, it makes it that much easier for us to think of them as a community and culture unto themselves, separate from our communities/cultures, and therefore in charge of supporting themselves.

    11. I am scared of being willing to confront or make the best of my privileges (white, cis, male, heterosexual, U.S. citizen, native English-speaker, middle-aged, physically average, not the poorest);I am scared of what the expectations and resentments are around those privileges, and what my responsibilities are to myself and my family should it come to the point of spending/using those and/or putting them at risk in the fight against injustice. I am scared of getting hurt, losing friends and family, social standing, money, safety, shelter, or other things for the sake of righteousness.

    12. I am scared of taking over someone else’s movement.

    13. Lastly, related to #9, I am scared of letting my fears and rationalizations get in the way of preparing the way of our God. I know someone who this past autumn came upon a car with its hazards on blocking a lane on Mass Ave. Thinking he could help the people get a tow truck and do everyone a favor, he pulled over and offered them a ride. Soon after that, the police pulled them over and told the driver that he was crazy for offering a ride to these strangers. Others he told the story also said he was crazy. But why? Because it was night? Because they were on Mass Ave? Because they were black? Had it been a white driver of a BMW with car (and presumably phone) trouble, would that have been ok? I fully believe in trusting out instincts and assessing when a situation seems too dangerous for us to get involved, but when our first place to go to when we see a stranger in need is fear and avoidance, do we really think we’ll ever find the courage to call out police or others in authority when they are hurting others or otherwise abusing that authority?

    There, one fear for Jesus and each disciple–seems about right.

  2. Barbara McQueen Posted on February 25, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    Thank you Laura Ruth for this post, and for leading us in this important work.

    Sunday after services, a few of us who are white gathered in the parlor to talk about what is on our minds and hearts as we engage with our Lenten work toward racial justice.

    One of the things that really struck me was the way in which our sensitivities around race, and maybe particularly, our self consciousness about the possibility that we will be seen by others – specifically by people of color – as racist, can have the effect of thwarting our capacity to be present to the experiences of others, again, in this case, specifically people of color. The unfortunate outcome is that this can lead us to behave in the insensitive ways we would consciously like to avoid.

    This can lead to us feeling guilty, or in other ways self-blaming or ashamed. It does not help us and it does not help move us toward racial justice. But I would not propose that we vanquish our sensitivities. Instead, I would ask us to consider shifting those sensitivities in ways that create space for us to be more sensitive rather than reactive to others.

    As we spoke yesterday, I felt the wisdom of Laura Ruth’s encouragement to replace fear with love. For white people to turn to self love as a way to work toward racial justice might seem, on the surface, to be somewhat naïve or misguided. But in fact, if we can, from as non-judgmental and self loving a place as possible, begin to acknowledge that racism lives in us and to be committed to noticing it and challenging it and taking responsibility for it, I believe we will be turning our sensitivities to a very good use.

    We– white people — can work then to be less sensitized around people of color, to stop hoping that they will acknowledge or affirm us as “good white people”. We can stop spending energy thinking about what people of color are thinking and be less preoccupied with how we look or seem to them, and actually have openness and energy to be curious about and engage with them around their actual experiences. I would like to think that this is work we can help other do. Love, Barbara

  3. Mary Jo Posted on March 11, 2015 at 12:22 am

    I must say, there are tremendous insights embedded in all of Daniel’s fears! Would that we all had such wise and sincere fears. Thank you.

    I appreciate what everyone has written so far. I am somewhat fearful though, of the emphasis on fear. Fear is a big part of what gives racism it’s power and control over people. Yet, people who feel they truly want to see an end to racism, can transform fear into courage by embracing the struggle, by taking positive action for racial justice in solidarity with people of color, and learn what needs to be learned along the way. If we are sincere, we won’t have to worry so much about our egos being bruised as a result of making mistakes. All endeavors of any worth involve mistakes and we all make them.
    Even white people can make mistakes, and that’s because we’re human. It’s curious how concerned we are with how perfect we are instead of being concerned with racism itself. White people’s fragility about making mistakes or not being seen as perfect or right on race is an unconscious expression of white privilege. Many middle class, professional white people are used to being “models”, are used to “helping others in need”, are used to guiding, directing, facilitating, leading, role modeling, problem-solving, caring, lifting up, teaching, supporting, giving — but all these roles imply a degree of often unexamined power and complacency, a good feeling about ourselves that emerges more from our privilege than from any highly cultivated skills, knowledge and qualities on our part.This is not to say that many of us have not developed ourselves to become more aware, sensitive, and egalitarian in our approaches, but just to say we often confuse our social roles & positions of privilege with genuinely deserved accomplishments on our part. These positions & opportunities have not been available to others who thereby appear deficient, rather than oppressed by a system that privileges us at others’ expense, perhaps the very ones we wish to help. So we’re not used to being questioned, since we believe ourselves to be good people who only want to help others, while not usually asking ourselves how the heck did we get into this position of being able to help others?
    We’re not used to being the ones who are ‘deficient’ in any significant way; so it comes as a mighty slap across the face to suggest anything of the kind. Whereas, folks on the bottom of the ladder are constantly viewed as less than in every conceivable and unconscious way: less educated, less competent or capable, less articulate, less insightful, less conscientious, less astute, less skilled, less developed. Because these assumptions are ones many hold but are not aware of, it helps to explain why more white people do not join with people of color in the effort to confront and overcome various forms of racism. This is an area where we need to fully accept the leadership of people of color and people we have heretofore seen as those we exist to ‘help’ but now must learn from and with; and as we do so it’s possible to gradually see that many of our assumptions have been wrong all along.
    We discover tremendous strengths, great capabilities, deep insight, courage, creativity, resourcefulness and leadership in communities that had seemed so dysfunctional and in need of our guidance. We also learn that we to have been oppressed as a result of racism, which has divided us from each other and from ourselves, preventing us from coming together to build the good of the whole. The difference lies in the nature of our quest. Are we seeking justice in the face of oppression or have we translated oppression into ‘social problems’ & deficiencies’ that it is our job to manage? In the first instance we are united in a struggle for mutual liberation; in the second we are benevolent helpers unable to look at the roots of injustice for fear they may reside in part in us, in systems from which we benefit in status and material ways even as we lose a bit of our souls.

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