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Scissors

On Monday morning, while waiting for my tea water to boil and struggling to re-assemble the kitchen shears we'd taken apart to clean, I saw the headline on the article my husband was reading: "Quiet town of Chelsea divided amid calls for racial justice, support for police."[1]

The scissors wobbled in my hands. With morning-fog-brain, I couldn't get the knobs on the post on one blade to line up with the corresponding hole on the other blade. I felt instantly frustrated.

Not only could I not put together the scissors, I had to deal with arguments before I had my caffeine.

The town of Chelsea was where we worshipped. The grandmother of some of the Anti-Racist Chelsea Youth belonged to our church. When she'd signed up for an anti-racism discussion group I was leading, I asked her why. She said that her grandchildren were involved in the protests. And there were three police officers in her extended family. "I just want to understand," she said.

It struck me that the two blades of the scissors were like the opposing views described in the article. "We need both sides," I told my husband. "We need justice for people of color. But we can't do away with the police."

"I haven't heard anyone [in the Black Lives Matter movement] say we should get rid of the police," my husband said. "But why are police showing up in full riot gear when people are peaceful? Why are they armed at all?"

In February 2006, my husband and I had visited Dublin, Ireland, where street riots had broken out following a political march. Though the Irish economy was booming, many citizens had been left behind. Building cranes spiked the city skyline—office buildings could not go up fast enough—but there was a severe shortage of affordable housing. People were waiting years to get a two-bedroom apartment, let alone a single-family home. In downtown Dublin, rioters had picked up bricks from the building sites and hurled them at the Gardai, the Irish police. Fourteen people, including six Gardaí and a small number of journalists and photographers, were hospitalized. But there were no fatalities. In Ireland, police officers on patrol do not routinely carry guns.

Though protestors and counter-protestors had shouted at each other, most of the subsequent violence, looting and arson were attributed to persons unrelated to the political march.    

One of the other members of our church discussion group, the father of a high school junior, said, "I am afraid. Of white people. I am afraid that a white person with a gun will shoot my son. Or one of his friends." A participant at one of the first Chelsea protests said she saw a white bystander openly fingering his handgun while watching the marchers. 

As a nation, we're fumbling to find solutions to the intractable problem of centuries-old systemic racism embedded in the laws and attitudes of our country. Lack of affordable housing also happens to be an issue in Chelsea, just one of the reasons that community is not more diverse. Those who oppose low-income housing in Chelsea cite fears that their property values will decrease and the historic flavor of the community will change.

How can we reassemble the divided halves of our nation? Perhaps we should look for the things that hold us together, like the knobs on the post in my scissors. All of us want to live in safe, prosperous, and just communities. Before exploding in frustration at each other, perhaps we should name the values we share. Like life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.

It may also be helpful to look beyond binary thinking, to go deeper than the either/or positions often presented to us by the media. A post I saw on Facebook showed three intersecting circles. In one circle was the caption, "Supports Good Police Officers." In another was, "Believes that Black Lives Matter." In the third, "Upset at Police Brutality." Where the three circles intersected was the word: ME. It's okay to believe all three.

And, let's be patient with ourselves and one another. Particularly since we all have moments of "fog brain," trying to eradicate racism at the same time as we're fighting a pandemic. As one youth quoted in the article said, this work will take a long time.

But each of us can do something right now: talk respectfully to family and friends with whom we disagree; learn about one another's experience with racism; advocate for de-escalation training for police.

It's better than throwing bricks.



[1] https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2020/09/06/chelsea-residents-protest-racial-justice-support-for-police/3435474001/

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Not Enough

Eleven weeks ago I thought it was enough to survive the COVID-19 lockdown with my health and sanity intact. I set a goal of hiking every day. I worked to keep my spirits up. I contacted friends and family to make sure they were okay. I finished a book proposal and tackled long-delayed household projects. I stayed at home and wore a mask and tried not to pick fights with my husband with whom I was sequestered 24/7.

 

Then George Floyd died on May 25 after a white police officer held his knee on Floyd's neck for 8 minutes, even though Floyd kept saying, "I can't breathe." In the aftermath, during protests and commentaries, people of color shared story after story of how they lived in fear of police brutality every day.

 

I thought about black colleagues and mentors who told me they were afraid for their sons. I thought about our daughter's friends at Southfield High School, amazing scholars and athletes and human beings. I thought about how I've had to struggle against the inclination to ignore the experience of people of color as long as I and my family are safe. In the 1890's sociologist W.E.B. Dubois noticed our nation's "peculiar indifference" to the suffering, poverty and poor health of black people. I've noticed that indifference in myself, and had to repent of it over and over again.

 

So, it's not enough just to survive the pandemic. Although given the relentless downward spiral of bad news, it remains crucial to cultivate love and joy and hope and gratitude. More than surviving, though, I need to do what is in my power to make a difference: to pray, march, write, teach an anti-racism class at my church. I need to help create a nation in which all people are valued. As we emerge from our houses, blinking in the sunlight, that's the only kind of "new normal" worth coming out to claim.

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Easter 2020

One of the projects I've been working on while we're isolated at home is to go through old files and photos. I found a letter I wrote 11 years ago to the congregation at South Lyon First United Methodist Church. Some of you may remember that time, the recession of 2009. People were losing their jobs. They worried about paying their bills and wondered what the future would hold. We need some good news, I said in the letter.

 

This pandemic is even worse. We cover our faces with masks. We're afraid to go outside. Health care workers, food providers, and first responders risk death just to do their jobs.

 

But what I said in April 2009 is still true:
Easter morning tells us that there is good news:  Love wins. The world did its worst on Jesus. He was arrested, mocked, scourged and crucified. His terrified disciples went into hiding. But God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus appeared to his disciples, alive! He spoke to them, touched them, ate with them. His presence restored their faith that God was with them. The disciples had thought that evil had won, but they were wrong. Goodness is stronger than evil and God's love is stronger than death.

 

In these days when it takes all our energy not to give in to fear, if we look, we can see signs that love still wins. I heard this morning that more than 900 masks had been sewn for health care workers by the Chelsea-based group, Material Girls. Church members are stocking food pantry shelves and delivering Meals on Wheels. On balconies and porches around the world, people are singing and shouting in gratitude for the courage of health care workers and others who serve us.

 

This is the message of Easter: no matter how hard it gets, in the end, love wins. "I will not leave you orphaned," Jesus told his disciples. "I will come again, and will take you to myself, that where I am, you may be also." We are not alone in our struggles. God holds our future in loving hands.

 

So, I send you my warmest wishes for a joyous Easter in the midst of the pandemic. Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed.

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