Thursday was Demonstration Day.
Because black lives matter.
Friday was working through feelings with my middle baby who’s not a baby.
Because she’s ANGRY, and she’s SAD, and she doesn’t understand why precious people like her aren’t treated fairly. And I don’t have answers for her other than It’s OK to be furious — THIS IS RIGHTEOUS ANGER, BABY — and it’s OK to be distressed — THIS IS HEARTBREAKING — and it’s OK not to understand inequity and injustice and the horrific treatment of our fellow humans — BECAUSE RACISM AND OPPRESSION AND ABUSE AND MURDER SHOULD NEVER MAKE SENSE — and I am WITH YOU in all these feelings. Me, too, baby girl. Me, too, with the rage and the grief and the confusion.
On Saturday, she graduated high school in the middle of a global pandemic…
…at an alternative, drive-through style, individualized graduation ceremony which I was worried would feel lackluster and less-than, but which, instead, was marvelous and beautiful and thoughtfully personalized…
…an obvious labor of love from teachers and staff and administrators who bent over backwards to make the day special.
And we even managed to take Graduating Sister Pics before the sky opened and heaped a celebratory deluge of water and hail upon us.
On Sunday, the little church where we’ve raised our kids assembled a graduate slideshow and special message particularly apropos for Such a Time as This as our students reel from being upended, as our nation protests, as we wait to curb the pandemic, as their futures are uncertain. She felt honored and loved, and, to be honest, I was pretty into Zoom Church from my couch with a warm dog on my lap and my baby girl next to me and a smile on her face after a cacophonous weekend.
It was a respite.
A sprinkling of calm.
Until it wasn’t.
Because at the end of church, in the prayerful silence Quakers reserve for congregants to share any leading or messages they feel are from God for the whole group, a white man shared at length his angst that he’s being asked to apologize for or be ashamed of his whiteness and how hard this national situation has been on him.
And listen closely, please, Diary, because I want to be SUPER CLEAR. This man did not mean to hurt anyone. He did not intend harm. He is not evil. He is not “bad.” He was sharing his feelings and sadness.
AND ALSO, he hurt people, and he caused harm.
Not just to my daughter who stiffened beside me and then buried her head in her hands and started to cry. Also to the other people of color who were witnessing the centering of white fragility over centering violence being perpetuated on black, indigenous, people of color. In short, “but my feelings are hurt” shouldn’t be part of a conversation about people being murdered. And it especially shouldn’t be shared as a “message from God.”
Of course, we’ve been trained from infancy in white, evangelical culture to be polite. Not to interrupt. Not to confront. And we’ve been trained in white, Quaker, evangelical culture to be silent after someone speaks so we can digest the message. Contemplate it. “Sit with it.”
I’ve known for some time I’m not a good evangelical. I’m no longer polite.
I’ve known for some time I’m not a good Quaker. I’m tired of prolonged discernment meetings which allow vulnerable people to continue to be marginalized and harmed in favor of giving the powerful “time” (years) to “come to consensus” about fully welcoming vulnerable people into the church. I’m no longer willing to be patient. I’m no longer willing to pat Quakers on the back for their historical work on the Underground Railroad and Abolition and Women’s Suffrage without the acknowledgement that the Quaker church actually split over those issues with a HUGE number of Quakers opposing those efforts and dragging their feet (for years) the same way Quakers today are splitting over or prolonging fully welcoming LGBTQ+ humans into their midst or ending their silence over racial injustice.
I just… NOPE. I’m very nope about the whole thing.
I can’t participate in it.
I can’t stay silent about it.
Also, angry, sad, and confused.
AND I love my Quaker friends and family.
AND my Quaker pastors are doing critically important work for justice and community.
AND I’ve been slowly returning to Zoom Church and finding succor and solace there.
It’s ALL OF THE ABOVE. Anger, hurt, frustration, confusion, separation, love, admiration, and connection.
So perhaps you can imagine, Diary, as I listed to that man — that well-meaning, hurting man who was trying to share vulnerably and openly inside a safe community — the way I was experiencing spiritual whiplash. On the one hand, I wanted to be kind and gentle to him. On the other hand, my daughter and other people of color needed that shit shut down. On the other-other hand, I wanted to honor the silent space Quakers are supposed to reserve after someone speaks. On the other-other-other hand, I wondered who was going to say This Isn’t OK.
Eventually, I realized that last one was gonna be me.
So I ruined Zoom Church.
Oh, not in the sense that it’s a wasteland of destruction. I wasn’t Godzilla in Tokyo. But I did unmute as soon as he was done and NOPED it hard. That’s not a message from Christ, I said. And white people aren’t being asked to be ashamed. We’re being asked to acknowledge historical, systemic ways we’ve benefited from privilege that hurts people of color.
I was blunt. I was not focused on being kind. I feel I can say with certainty I hurt his feelings because I can’t imagine my feelings not be hurt if I was on the receiving end of what I said. I can’t say with certainty that I made any point with clarity other than the NOPE.
And I feel now, after processing it for a day, that it was necessary AND I may have done it poorly.
I did the Most Important Thing which was to center people being harmed over people “intending” not to harm. I did the Most Important Thing which was to stand up against injustice while it was happening. BUT I also called the man out when I could have possibly accomplished the Most Important Things by calling him in. And I’m not going to sit here at my kitchen table and suggest that I don’t have some reflecting *I* need to do about my own words, too. Or my demeanor. Or my adrenaline fueled justice complex.
I’m just saying, Diary, this is a messy time, and we humans are messy beings, and in order to navigate it well we’re going to need to evaluate and then reevaluate and then reevaluate where we’ve caused harm — even if we didn’t mean to, and even if we were trying to do the Most Important Things, and even if we did the Best We Knew How at the Time.
We’re going to need to make the perpetual choice to listen and learn and know better and do better. Me, too, Diary. Especially me, too.
Zoom Church ended quickly after that. The pastors had a meeting. There’s going to be follow-up, which is right. And my baby girl left her celebration service from our living room in tears. Followed that evening by socially distanced strawberry shortcake with the neighbors to celebrate. There were cards and cash. There were words of congrats. There was camaraderie and sitting in the street and talking about Life and Justice and Sorrow and What’s Next. And we finished the weekend with heavy hearts and also with smiling. Which is, in the end, its own kind of blessing — this real, true, complex life of Both/And.
With love after a loooonnnng weekend,
P.S. Friends, it’s SUPER tempting when people write things like this to weigh in on who you feel was right or wrong, but I’m going to ask you not to do that. PLEASE, PRETTY PLEASE refrain from telling me I did a good job or that the man didn’t. I don’t need reassurance here. I need, instead, to be able to sit with my thoughts and evaluate my words and behavior like a big girl. I don’t want votes on my behalf or against the man. I feel like I can say with confidence we’re both complex people trying hard to be better. And I feel like any comments about me or him centers US in this story — two white people — over the community who’s being hurt. INSTEAD, please feel free to share RESOURCES, ARTICLE LINKS, BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS, etc. — especially those written by people of color — that you’re finding helpful or meaningful as you’re learning how to navigate racism and/or privilege.
THANK YOU. ❤️