To the white sponsors of our newly baptized black parishioners

In a follow-up conversation to last weekend’s Trinity Institute event at the Cathedral, some of us were discussing ways in which the behavior of liberal whites—white folks who consider themselves anti-racist—can unintentionally harm the black folks with whom we want to ally ourselves. The event was entitled Listen for a Change: Sacred Conversations about Racial Justice, and the Cathedral was a partner site. Local participants had been chagrined that only white people had shown up—so who were we going to listen to, other than the speakers? After reading a blog post about how white folks emotions about race tend to take up all the oxygen in a mixed room, however, we were remarking that maybe that was why no black parishioners had come, and maybe that was a good thing. White folks do need to process their feelings about racism, but black folks don’t need to sit around and listen to/comfort us in that processing.

Now at Holy Trinity, our circumstances and the Holy Spirit often conspire to place us right in the middle of practice before we even suspect we need some theory. We are learning what it takes—how we ourselves need to progress—to integrate our parish into the life of our neighborhood. Then someone shared another blog post, entitled, To the White Parents of my Black Son’s Friends. Written by the white adoptive mother of a black child, the article explores the ways in which double standards play out in the trans-racial sandbox.

This got me thinking about the five black children we baptized along with their mother a few weeks ago. Almost all of their baptismal sponsors were white, and since in baptism we have adopted them as Christ’s own and thus our own, we have entered into a transracial adoption of sorts.  I suspect that we will face many situations where white sponsors make mis-steps in our efforts “to support these [black] persons in their life in Christ.” So here’s my adaptation, for us as the white sponsors (and priest) of our newly baptized black parishioners:

1. In places like the Episcopal Church, “it is easy to use words like ‘colorblind’ and feel like we’re enlightened and progressive,” but racism does persist in our society and runs deep in the history of our church. Our “colorblindness” may be blinding us to “the uniquely dangerous situations our [children] can find [themselves] in” as they navigate this confusing world.
2. The fact that “when white kids do it it’s ‘kids being kids,’ but when the kids of color are involved it’s got to be addressed by authorities shows the underlying bias of” our assumptions about who knows what about parenting. What we experience as “concern,” may feel like harassment to the already stressed neighborhood parent whose care we are interrogating. Listen first, and offer some moral support for her in her efforts, before jumping to conclusions about what looks to you like neglect.
3. We need to talk about racism. When we see these our newly adopted children “being bullied or called racist names, [we] need to stand with [them]. [We all] need to understand how threatening that is and not just something to be laughed off.” When we are together, and “the police drive by, tell [yourself] to stay. Just stay right there. Be a witness. In that situation, be extra polite, extra respectful. Don’t run and don’t leave” our children by themselves.
4. We like to pride ourselves in the Episcopal Church as people “who don’t do guilt or shame.” When we are reminiscing or talking about ethical matters with these our newly adopted children, however, “this is not the time to [condone] any risky behaviors. Whatever trouble you [may once have gotten] into, [they] will likely not be judged by the same standard you [were]. Be understanding that [they] can’t make the same mistakes you can. This means we as adults have the much more difficult job of practicing mercy rather than simply downplaying sin.
5. “Treat [our children] with respect. Don’t rub his head because you want to know what his hair feels like. Don’t speak black slang to [her] because you think it would be funny. If you’re thinking about making a joke that you feel might be slightly questionable, just don’t do it. Ever. [Our] kids are listening and learning from you even in the jokes you tell. Be conscious of what media messages [our] kids are getting about race. Engage in tough conversations about what you’re hearing in the news. Don’t shy away from this just because you can. [They] can’t. We can’t.”
6. “Be an advocate for [these] beautiful souls who [have] eaten [with you at God’s] table, sat next to [you] at church.” They are not “the exception to the rule.” They are “not protected by [your] white privilege” now, nor will they be for the rest of their lives.  They are “not inherently different from any other little black [children] and ALL their lives have value and worth and were created by God.”
Much of this advice was intended for parents to teach their children, but we adults are as much in need of the advice as kids are. May God bless you in your sponsorship of our children, even as we all stumble along the road  to justice.
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Trash and Treasure

A few Saturday mornings ago, I arrived early for a meeting with a parishioner at the church. We were getting together to do setup for a special event the next day, and we really wanted things to look nice. As a result, I was particularly dismayed to see trash scattered all over the lawn on the N. Olive St. side of the building.

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Just what one expects to find now and again

 

Now a church that sits downwind of a convenience store has to expect to find a little trash here and there, snatched from folks’ fingers as they unwrap their purchases. Trash also blows out of the trash bins on occasion and snags in our bushes. When a few weeks’ snow melts off,  as it had the day before, a few weeks’ trash buildup is revealed. We try to go around and do a trash pick up now and then, but it’s an ongoing task.
But this was different. There in the middle of the lawn sat a cardboard box from a case of beer. Too heavy to have been blown from someone’s grasp, it clearly had been left there on purpose. Given the number of Swisher Sweets wrappers also lying about, I was guessing that someone had a little party in our side yard. In my annoyance I imagined them leaving the trash there as an act of defiance against the church.
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How’s this for product placement?

Dropping my stuff off inside, I stomped back out and began picking up the trash. By the time I got to the beer box, I had a handful, so I just stuffed the trash in the box, grabbed the box by the handle, and kept right on going. As I kept filling the box, I was almost grateful that I had the box there to put the trash in. Not quite, but almost.  Mostly I was just grumpy about having to pick up someone else’s trash, and I don’t think that was entirely about my not having had enough coffee yet.Then, as I was crawling behind a bush to grab an elusive chip bag, I spied a five-dollar bill likewise snagged in the bush’s branches. As I put the bill in my pocket for the offering plate, it occurred to me that the same folks who can’t be bothered to pick up their own trash are just as likely to let their treasure blow away as well.

Now, as I continued stuffing trash into my box (finders keepers, after all!), I began to wonder how much of what can be said about trash and treasure can be said about people as well. How often do we let our relationships with people slip from our fingers, too busy to be bothered with the effort of chasing those relationships into the crannies where they have wedged themselves, or unwilling to endure the scratches and scrapes we would have to endure? How often do we convince ourselves that a relationship isn’t our job to maintain? Who have we defined as “trash” that we can allow to blow down the street as if it had no relation to us? Where, in fact, is the break-even point, where our treasure becomes valuable enough to be worth the risk of pursuit?

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My box almost runneth over!

By this point, my box was full. I took it across the street and threw it in the convenience store’s dumptster. By this point my parishioner had arrived, and as I returned to the church I realized I had been out of his line of sight. He was no doubt getting confused about why my car and stuff was there without me.
I checked the mailbox on my way in, and there I found an envelope with another parish’s return address. Opening it up, I found a donation from our sister church for the support of our ministry at Holy Trinity. Clearly this other parish had decided we were not disposable, even if our mess is of our own making. Thanks be to God!