Some have noted that I have not blogged much in recent months. That much is true. I have been mired in muck, stuck in emotional mud for a bit. This has not been a bad space. But—as is true of emotional spaces, at least for me—these spaces take time to embrace, process, and release—and none of these in too hasty a fashion. I am huge fan of staying in a space until the space teaches one all that the space can teach.
In May a dear friend, Ann, died. She was a mentor and teasing partner, a member of list-aholics anonymous like me—forever creating a new list. I do not think she could have known how much so many of us loved her. She had a skill at getting outside of herself, of seeing another person’s point of view.
In June a seminary mate was murdered. Last Tuesday night this friend was as full of life as ever and by Wednesday night he was dead. Like Ann, he was a mentor. His warm soft personality brushed me like a breeze blowing across the veranda.
Once, not long ago, out by the cross in front of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, I told Pr. Schnibben that I did not think his seminary class realized the trust and weight classes beneath them ascribed to them. I do not think those faithful seminarians could have known how much so many of us loved them. And so it was that last Wednesday night one of that class was killed, the Rev. Pr. Clem Pinckney.
Clem’s murder has challenged me, awakened dormant parts of me, brought to light memories that I haven’t dredged out of the deep in what feels like a thousand years.
Clem’s murder, gathered together with the murders of those faithful people who’d been gathered by the Spirit in prayer and study with him, has hit me like a beach wave; all at once rolling me and pulling me under for a spell.
It has called me to sift and study the muck and mire, to sort the sin-sick hubris that forms some part of any saint and sinner, but specifically the hubris that is me. It has called to mind a listing of the sinful times I have used racial slurs, or told race based jokes, and has sucked out of the muddy middle of me ancient memories that are painful. So many memories of a time and a way of being that I sought and still seek to study, identify, process, and release.
The martyring of these dear people in Mother Emanuel AME has once again convinced me of a great many things and probably challenged me by an even greater number of things. And, despite my desire to blog about each of them ad nauseum, I am simply going to focus on this one verse from last Sunday’s lectionary text— v. 36 of Mark 4:35-41. “And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.”
Folks…there comes a time when we find ourselves “leaving the crowds behind, as others take us with them into the boat, just as we are.” And we must confess that if we are growing, then we leave real our metaphoric crowds behind, communities that once fit, that fit us no longer, collectives that once nourished but that began to stifle as we grew, even behaviors and patterns that crowded into us identities that poorly suit us. And we come to understand that sometimes this business is metaphoric, sometimes literal, sometimes both at once.
There was a time when I owned a t-shirt that I am ashamed to confess was in my teenage closet. It read, “you wear your X, I’ll wear mine.” I bought it because some at school were telling me that I was prejudiced because I was raised in the South. My response was to try to get the message into the universe that just because I was born into a specific geographic region it did not mean that I held a specific set of views/values owing to geography. The stupid t-shirt was an attempt, an awkward failure, which ended up making me look like an ill-educated racist boob. What I wanted to convey was something like this: “Being born in the South no more made me racially prejudiced than being placed in a garage makes one a car.”
And that begs the question of culture—true enough, being born in the South makes no one race prejudiced, but what if one is inundated as they are raised in the cultural South, and particularly the rural cultural South? What then? Can being in the garage impact you, regardless of whether or not you are the car?
Can one be prejudiced and not know it?
For the longest time I couldn’t see this nuance. I couldn’t see it because of this phenomena that I call “blind spots.” We all have blind spots—spaces where others see things we can’t perceive. And the blindest ones of all deny that they are blind to anything.
Ever drive down the road make a lane change and then hear a loud honk from an angry frightened driver? Was it because you made a move and simply didn’t see the other motorist—-were they in your blind spot?
This is as true of cars as it is people, as it is of personalities, as it is of realities. We can be so prone to being in our own private boat that we do no recognize that “other boats are with us.” Blind spots abound.
My “heritage not hate” reality was being tested as waters splashed against my private boat. The splashes came from the other boats moving in my blind spots. At first I couldn’t tell that there were boats for all I perceived of them was the unpleasant splash.
Some of the splashes came softly, others not so much. As I reflect, I think back to how I used to refer to people as friends. Back then I segregated friends without thinking….I had friends and I loved them, but with no thought I’d say, “that is my Mexican friend,” or “she is black friend.” But when it came to other friends, I’d never say, “this is my white friend.” What was that about?
This came as natural to me as breathing. One day a dear friend, asked me, “Why am I just not your friend? Why do you call me your ‘black’ friend?” And just like that a splash soaked me—reality check.
That splash washed me deep inside myself where I’d ask some honest questions in efforts to find an authentic response to the question this girl asked me. Two things I learned after some pondering: 1) I loved all friends uniquely, 2) I was naturally inclined to define, classify, and segregate even if I did want it to be so.
Within a few years of that initial splash I found myself failing 10th grade geometry and I cried out for help. A high school classmate, a dear woman that I love to this day, offered to help me. I was so excited to have the hope of a passing grade and the chance to spend time with this friend. The day came when I could float my study arrangement to the powers that be. Work was done that evening and around the dinner table conversation turned to my failing grade in geometry and to how “my ass would be beaten out of the frame” were it not to improve, and to this end, what steps would I be taking to resolve the problem. In a gush of excitement I shared that a friend had agreed to tutor me.
Now one might have thought that this news would bring jubilation—-well, at first it did—up until I shared the name of the friend. Which I had believed would bring much joy in the camp since this friend was and is smart–SMART—S*M*A*R*T! And since this friend’s family was by all accounts respected by our family I knew that this would be welcomed news. Was I ever more wrong? Respect was one thing. But I was about to learn that respect had specific bounds.
Two hours later I was still being accused of dating outside of “my kind.” Forget the failing grade—no one cared about geometry at that point for attention was fixed on a different angle—one that might create a socially damaging trajectory. What a grand splash had soaked me from head to toe! Don’t you just love those other boats?
I could not understand how something that seemed so good could be perceived as so bad. That night I wanted to turn into a pool of goo and soak into the soil. I do not think that I went back to the friend to break off the study sessions. And if I did, I probably lied. I was so ashamed. I loved that girl and her family and I would have rather lied to them than hurt them with the truth. So a pattern was working itself into my being whether I liked it or not.
And that pattern has had to be be left behind. I have daily struggled against it because it was worked into the deepest parts of me. I do not want any of that ugliness inside there crowded together, taking up space in the heart of me, because I want to honor others “just as they are,” and to be loved by them, “just as they are.”
And it really comes down to this—“And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.”
It is a complex business, this leaving of the crowds behind, and being taken into a boat. It means that one mission or pattern of living is left and another taken up. And that we are gathered into the boat just as we are. And that we are there on the lake with other boats.
Those other boats are important and necessary. They make us aware of our blind spots. And there is grace in those spaces, those crushing hull banging spaces that are not always neat and tidy. There is tremendous grace to be discovered in taking people into the boat just as they are. After all, isn’t that what we selfishly want or maybe desperately need, to be taken into the boat just as we are, to be out on the lake as one flotilla facing the storms and the deep together?
If the answer to that query is, “yes,” then together we have work to do. If we are ever to be gathered together into the boat, then I ask, what is God inviting us to leave behind? What needs to be left at the lake shore stuck in the mud?