Much attention has been rightfully given to the ceremonial farewell accorded to Congressman John Lewis. Reading about and watching the events surrounding his death and the ceremonies around his final journey these past weeks left me humbled, inspired, and yet deeply concerned about our nation. As Congressman Lewis lay in state in the Capitol rotunda, the words and hymns shared spoke of the stature of one who will be forever remembered as an icon for voting rights, civil rights, and human rights. He was accorded a final ceremonial drive by familiar and significant places in his illustrious career. Eloquent, stirring words offered by distinguished speakers at his final service of memory and love were extraordinary words for a nation that is reeling in division, confronted by the painful realization that racism is still a scourge on our souls.
The life and legacy of this one person must not be forgotten. We need his life’s story to continue to touch us and move us. The John Lewis legacy is the glue that binds other movements happening now. The Black Lives Matter movement has sparked massive demonstrations both in person and virtually. Images speak of the broad participation of folks like you and me representing the diversity of the human family, coming together in spirit to proclaim that in this moment in history, we proclaim that Black Lives Matter. In the wake of unwarranted violence against Black people, harm even unto death has shocked us into understanding too graphically and too late, that in our nation, Black lives have not mattered to many persons.
And appropriately, many of us who have been quietly observing the discrimination, violence, and death on the streets of many of our cities and towns, are waking up to the reality that Black communities have known too well and have lived with too long. Some of our challenge has been to confront racism and prejudice in ourselves and to listen and learn about what systemic oppression has done to diminish all of us.
As the Black Lives Matter demonstrations continued, a different kind of confrontation erupted in downtown Portland, Oregon. Our family spent over 20 years in the Pacific Northwest. We love its natural beauty and the usual calm demeanor of its pace of life and its people. We have been deeply concerned about the images of the clash of peaceful demonstrators with destructive protesters, and federal agents that turned a section of downtown Portland into a war zone. The clash of these destructive persons and federal agents who were evidently sent to Portland to protect federal buildings unfortunately collided with peaceful demonstrators caught in the middle of this confrontation.
Despite pleas by local authorities to have these federal agents removed, it has only been recently that that withdrawal has been accomplished, with the resultant return to peace in the section of Portland that was affected. News outlets report that with the withdrawal of federal agents, peace has been restored. Portland will continue to be a place of demonstrations in support of the BLM movement, hopefully without destructive persons promoting their own agendas.
As my colleague, Bishop Elaine Stanovsky has shared the violence in Portland must not serve to distract us from our focus on the main thing: Black Lives Matter. To that end, and in that same spirit, I rejoice at the news from our DSC task group that was affirmed and funded by Covenant Council action. You have already received news from the DSC RACE (Reflection. Action. Courageous Dialogue. Engagement.) Coalition. Some extremely important, urgent conversations are being led by our Coalition, which includes Rev. Javier Olivares, Ms. Julie O’Neal, Pastor Diamond Pate, Rev. Timothy Piukala Rev. Kimberly Scott, Rev. Khalif Smith, and Pastor Christopher Wurpts. Staff support is being provided by Billie Fidlin and Dan Morley.
They will be utilizing a Facebook page as well as a new website (https://www.dsc-race.com) to offer us a variety of resources and experiences. The hope is to broaden our understanding of racism and ways that we can be participants in the dismantling of the persistence of discriminatory words and actions that are both intentional and unintentional.
For example, you will be invited to join the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge©, created by Dr. Eddie Moore, a diversity educator. It is a starting point for individuals to advance deeper understandings of the intersections of race, power, privilege, supremacy and oppression. We are grateful to Dr. Moore for publicly sharing and encouraging others to use this concept as an educational tool.
I want to also share that one of the personal experiences I am embarking on is to do some reading and reflection about my own participation in racism. I am starting by reading two important books that are helping me gain more insight. They are not easy reading, but essential. White Fragility by Robin Diangelo and How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi are two books that I embrace and ask you to consider adding to your reading list.
Reading and reflection about 2 books alone will not accomplish what I believe we must do as Christ followers. I pray that you will all join with me in making a commitment to receive the work of the DSC RACE Coalition and move forward together into a future where racism is forever one day eradicated in the spirit of Jesus’ love for all. To that end, let us be the courageous church, living like Jesus, acting for justice, and united in hope for the eventual realization of the Kin-dom of God on earth!
In Christ’s peace,