Today’s Word from Pastor Tom Kidd…
I believe if I had a child or a grandchild of color, I would be fearful. As I write these words, as a white man of privilege, I am afraid. Afraid and growingly aware of how I have failed to appreciate the difference between white privilege and black experience. I say that, having grown up attending integrated schools, my high school was 50% non-white. I lived in the East Bay neighborhoods of Oakland and Berkeley. My last parish had a strong, though not large, African American influence. My professional life has consistently and actively participated in issues of inclusion with regard to racial bias. At any time over the last 50 years, if asked, I would have loudly and clearly declared, with a nod toward humility, that I was honestly trying to live my life colorblind.
And then I watched George Floyd die and I realized that, despite all my socially liberal inclinations, I am so lacking in reconciling my white privilege with the black experience. It made me sick. And sad. I could not watch it without weeping. It is not necessary for me to replay for you his last words; you have heard them, and if you haven’t, you need to, at least once. As if to confirm my angst, I received an email from a sister of faith who expressed fear for her children and grandchildren, that they could be the next victim. It is clear to me that if I was in Mr. Floyd’s situation, I would not have died because of police abuse. That is the advantage of white privilege.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil. For thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff protect me.”
As I type these familiar words from the 23rd Psalm, two thoughts strike me. The somewhat silly first thought is, I cannot recite the 23rd Psalm without doing it in the King’s language. Secondly, we do not willingly go into the valley. We like mountaintops for our domicile construction. From ancient castles to modern day-dream homes, looking for a site with a view, we choose to build up high if at all possible. The ancient wisdom was clear – from on high we can see whoever approaches, it is easier to defend, no one can sneak up on us. It is riskier in the valley; one is more vulnerable. You can more easily die down there. But there is one large problem with mountaintop living… nothing grows up there. It is sterile. It is in the valley that water flows, grass grows, and life is verdant. But we can die in the valley, literally and metaphorically.
Jesus does not extol the merits of mountaintop living. God calls us into the valley where we will have no choice but to experience the messiness of life. Life in the valley, where our mistakes, bad decisions, vulnerabilities and flaws will be far more difficult to conceal. So, in the valley we experience death, but it is in the valley where we live believing in the power of resurrection. We model God’s love by being examples of flawed people who God joyfully raises up to go try again. People who trust in Easter are not as afraid of life’s Good Fridays. We might climb up for the periodic view, but we walk triumphantly with Jesus, and each other, through the valley of the shadow of death.
We love living on Whidbey Island with all of its advantages. The list is long and legitimate as to our appreciation for this place. I believe there is a danger, though, in that this can too easily become mountaintop living, a place generally safe from the vagaries of life in the valley. My purpose in beginning with George Floyd’s tragic and unnecessary death was not to get lost in politics, or issues of abuse of power or, as some are inclined, to reduce everything to “blue vs. red.” No, rather to invite us, as people of faith trusting in God’s love and Jesus’ example, to enter into the valley of difficult conversation around the realities of white privilege versus black experience. We have pew brothers and sisters who are praying there is a community of faith that is willing to meet them there.
God’s peace be upon you, one day closer,
As if she were reading Pastor Tom’s missive, Carrie Newcomer says, “Even in the darkest places, we are met by unexpected light, grace and help, honorable companions, and occasionally a miracle.” Hate need not be part of the journey.
Follow this link for my version of her song, I Heard an Owl Call Last Night from Carrie’s album “The Gathering of Spirits.”
– Karl Olsen