The dismantling of racism in one’s own heart, mind, and life, is a continual project. It never ends. There’s no finish line till you die and — I believe — God pulls the scales from your eyes in front of his Judgment seat (Lord, have mercy upon us). We are never fully relieved of the sin of racism until we are made perfect on the other side of the grave. This is true of all our sins — we are never made perfectly patient or perfectly kind or courageous or loving, etc etc. But who would argue that if we cannot achieve perfection in being anti-racist, we should just not even try? Nobody. Nobody ought argue that.
So I offer a small snapshot of my own journey on this Juneteenth, praying that this might be as a twig on the fire of anti-racism in our country.
I had never heard of this day till I moved to Texas. In a way, it makes sense, I guess, because it’s a Texas-centric event, but because this territory was the last holdout of enslavement in the United States after the Emancipation Proclamation, it is unassailably a date of immense importance to the history of justice, equality, and freedom in our entire nation.
It didn’t have to do with me — white girl from the Midwest — so I didn’t know, and I didn’t care.
Then I started ministering at a mixed-race church. St. Augustine’s is black (40%), white (50%), Asian (5%), and Hispanic (5%), and cultural humility is the sun salutation I try to remember to practice each and every day. The people of this church are immensely gracious, and while Juneteenth was mentioned in conversation and I could tell it was hallowed, it was veiled by my ignorance.
The first summer that Juneteenth came around, it was a strange piece of Americana. “What an interesting story! Huh. News traveled so slowly back there in the 1800s! Silly!”
The second summer that Juneteenth came around here, it was something I knew I should know something about. “Oh yes. A grave day. Hmm. We should uh, remember that.”
[The third summer, I’ll be honest, I was 36 weeks pregnant and the heaviest I’ve ever been and in 90 degree temps with a toddler. There wasn’t much awareness of anything.]
And today. I’ve been thinking about Juneteenth coming all month, turning its bittersweetness over and over in my mind, trying to imagine what it means and holds and looks like and feels to my black brothers and sisters, but I know I’ve been thinking about it because of George Floyd’s public murder, and protests to racism and police brutality, and adjusting my instagram follows. But here I am, white lady priest in a blessedly diverse congregation of the faithful, trying to keep myself uncomfortable for the sake of the Gospel.
I wonder whether the planation owners — enslavers — really didn’t know for 18 months that slavery was outlawed (I suspect they damned well knew, and just got away with what they could. Because that’s what I’ve seen humans do. We get away with what we can). What did freedom look like and mean when it finally came? And has it, in the ensuing 150 years, really “finally come”?
Sin is easy because it’s comfortable. It’s often The Most Comfortable thing to do. What’s uncomfortable is educating yourself, sitting next to people whose skin (and income and upbringing and culture and life) is not like yours and listening. Actively listening. Listening with humility. Letting the listening make you uncomfortable, challenging your boundaries and your suppositions and your perspective, and then deciding to give into the transformation that listening and discomfort invites.
Habits don’t change overnight. We must choose and work at our habits and our racism every single day to start to chip away at the sin that clings so closely (Hebrews 12:1). It has taken years, and death, and unrest, and a faithful community, for me to start to ingest the importance of Juneteenth. To start to ask questions and to bring this holy-day into my life and imagination and practice.
This is the Gospel. That Jesus, God crucified and raised, calls all people, all nations, to himself. That God made all humanity free and equal and precious in his sight. That all people are called to see the indwelling Spirit (ru’ah) of God in one another.
Jesus opens wide his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that ALL may come within the reach of his saving embrace.
God, so clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.