Can we talk?

The banner hanging on the “welcome shack” at the entrance of our state church summer camp, Silver Lake, stated “Black Lives Matter.” During a weekend when several different groups were holding events at the camp, someone took a marker to the banner and wrote “All Lives Matter.”

Which is right?  Does saying that “Black lives matter” negate other lives or somehow make other lives less valuable?

Our Conference Minister, the Rev. Kent Siladi, wrote a compassionate letter  addressed to all Christians in the Connecticut Conference. He stated, “We have had spirited arguments with friends and colleagues who fervently believe that “All” lives matter, and that to single out some lives seems to diminish the worthiness of others. We disagree with that analysis, although we welcome the conversation about this.”

The conversation is not easy. After the camp banner was defaced, someone asked me, “Why is this wrong?  Don’t all lives matter?  Isn’t that what the banner should say – that God loves all of us?”

Asking questions may be the first part of this important conversation.  But then we need to be prepared to listen to a variety of opinions.  Are we willing to take that risk? Can we engage in conversation with each other?  Can we really listen to one another?

My answer to those questions would be – Of course God loves all people and all lives. Our congregation celebrates that in worship every Sunday when I announce the Good News that “God loved the world – and every single person in it so much – that God gave his only Son, Jesus.”

If we had enough banners, we could list all the people who matter – that would be everyone. But sometimes it is necessary to lift up individual stories and listen to the particular accounts of people who have suffered along the journey toward equality and justice. “All Lives” can learn from these sometimes hidden histories of pain and struggle. In order to engage in conversation, we need to be attentive to voices that are too often silenced.  We need to listen to Blacks, women, immigrants, Native Americans, Jews, lesbians, gays, and transgender – anyone who has experienced life on the margins of society. Each story is precious and can’t be contained under the sweeping label of “all.” These individual experiences need to be heard.

In a perfect world, it wouldn’t be necessary to emphasize that Black lives matter – it would be obvious. In a perfect world, every race, color, gender, and culture would be honored and treated equally. But this isn’t a perfect world.

The banner at the camp welcome shack was an attempt to announce to everyone – but perhaps especially to people of color – that in this place, we will be intentional about our hospitality. In this place we will endeavor to do what too often is not done – we will treat everyone with the respect they deserve as a beloved child of God. It’s important to say it out loud – to put up a banner announcing it – because throughout history that respect has not always been given. That continues to be the case too often even today.

It’s too easy to say, “All lives matter.” Instead, we are invited to lift up those lives that have been excluded, hurt, and dismissed. We need to have this conversation – over and over again.

Black Lives button

Bibbidi Boddidi… Black

A recent vacation took me to Orlando. While I was ambling down the pedestrian street of Disney Springs (a collection of shops circling a lake), I came across the Bibbidi Boddidi Boutique, a magical salon where little girls can be pampered and styled into their favorite Disney princess.  Hair can be gathered up into a bun, decorated with ribbons, and sprinkled with “pixie dust.”  Extensions can be woven into a glorious ponytail or allowed cascade down to resemble the flowing locks of Rapunzel, Ariel, Sleeping Beauty or Belle. I have to admit, these little girls were adorable as they twirled and giggled their way along the paths. With the flick of a magic wand, or at least with lots of hair product, they had been transformed into the adventurous, (if often beleaguered), yet ultimately always successful princesses.

But it made me wonder – what’s it like to be a black or Hispanic little girl in the magic kingdom? Maybe the “fairy godmothers in training” (stylists) are prepared to welcome girls with every type and texture of hair. But my initial impression was that only certain girls need apply. The bright pink walls are filled with lily-white examples of female glory, from Snow White to Frozen’s Anna and Elsa.  There is a single African-American leading character – Princess Tiana from The Princess and the Frog (2009).  Could you have named her?  She came on the scene long after my own children were captivated by Disney films so I had to do a bit of research.

What is the image of beauty that a dark-skinned little girl receives when light-skinned heroines are the only ones in sight?

I don’t think Disney is overtly or intentionally racist. Instead, I think that the long line-up of white princesses simply reflects the values and attitudes of a company started in the 1920’s.

Disney has some catching up to do.

I think most of us do.

It makes me wonder what messages churches (and schools, camps, youth organizations, anyone working with young people) send about who is beautiful or powerful or important. Who gets to dream of wishes coming true or a future that includes “happily ever after”?

When churches assure people “everyone is welcome,” how do we get that message across? How are we reaching out to the wide spectrum of individuals who are all part of God’s creation? Who are we leaving out or overlooking or forgetting?

At the start of  racial justice training sessions offered by my denomination, we always read this passage: “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them” (Genesis 1: 27).

We are invited to celebrate the inclusive Spirit of a loving God so we can live together as people created in God’s image .

pixie-dust-trail

Loving my differently colored sons

This is a reflection that I wrote for the Kenyon College Literary Journal, Beyond Walls.  I wanted to share it with you here…

Child hands painted in colorful paints ready for hand prints

I have always assured my children that I love them equally. And that’s true. But I also love them differently. As a white mother of my biological, white son and of my adopted, dark-skinned son, I have had different worries about them as they have matured into young men.

They have grown up in the same household, under the same rules, surrounded by the same caring congregation in a tightly knit New England village. And yet they have had vastly different life experiences.

There was the time when my adorable Bolivian baby, tucked into his stroller with his chubby cheeks ringed by a mop of curly dark hair, was viewed with disdain by a passerby. “He isn’t from around here, is he?” declared the man before he huffed away, apparently concerned that his white town was being tainted by this newborn. It was just a sentence lobbed at us, but it made its impact and it hurt.

Then there was the time outside of a movie theater when my dark-skinned son ran ahead of me to claim the “shotgun” seat in the car. Intent on his goal, he squeezed past a man who wheeled around, face full of anger, and shouted, “Hey, darky! I ain’t scared of you! You think you’re so tough? Come on!” My gentle, not yet teenage son was the one who was scared. This experience was topped only by the time when he was walking our dog not far from our house and someone stopped their car to ask if he belonged in this neighborhood.

All of this was a learning curve for me. My eyes were opened to experiences that I didn’t even realize existed. Where had I been? Hadn’t I been paying attention? And yet if I only had a white-skinned son, I’m not sure I would even today be aware of the vast differences in individual life experiences that are based solely on a color spectrum.

I don’t have to warn my white-skinned son not to wear a hoodie, to keep his hands visible on the steering wheel if he is pulled over by the police, or to be cautious about who he dates, lest he experience the reaction of an overly protective white father or brother.

I love my sons equally. I just wish the world could see them as I do, so I wouldn’t have to worry about them differently.