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A View from Here

Exploring Faith and CommunityMacalester Plymouth United Church

June 4, 2020

Rev. Corinne Freedman Ellis

These last couple of weeks have been a time of incredible pain, grief, stress, and trauma in our beloved cities. The primary trauma of the senseless and tragic murder of George Floyd has given way to countless secondary traumas, as centuries of oppression are made manifest as anger and despair. I feel like this column could be about 100 things, and yet it’s hard to find the words to say in the face of the awakening that’s happening throughout our country.

One idea I keep coming back to is the power of fear. I preached a sermon recently about the danger of letting our fear control us. No emotions are bad, as I remind Phoebe often, but we are responsible for our actions that we attribute to these emotions. Fear is a powerful motivator. And I know I’ve been feeling fear in a different way than I ever have before, these last two weeks. It is an unusual experience to see National Guard tanks rolling down my street, or to organize an overnight patrol at the church, or to weigh the possible dangers of attending a protest, COVID and otherwise. You have probably been feeling fear as well. I would be worried if you weren’t. But I do want to acknowledge that not all of our fears are the same right now.

Ibram X. Kendi, in his book How to Be an Antiracist  (our good friends at Next Chapter Booksellers have it in stock!), reflects on who gets to be afraid and who is relegated to being an object of fear. On fear, he writes: 

“We are not meant to fear suits with policies that kill. We are not meant to fear good White males with AR-15s. No, we are to fear the weary, unarmed Latinx body from Latin America. The Arab body kneeling to Allah is to be feared. The Black body from hell is to be feared. Adept politicians and crime entrepreneurs manufacture the fear and stand before voters to deliver them—messiahs who will liberate them from fear of these other bodies.”

In these moments when I feel afraid, I remember that white fear is so often used as cover for violence done to black bodies. And that for so long, predominantly black neighborhoods, made that way by redlining and other racist housing practices, have been policed far more heavily than I am being now, and have been told that they  are the ones to be feared, even as they have been terrorized by police.

This is just one insight that’s arisen for me as a result of this broader cultural awakening happening throughout our country. I am being motivated to do the work that I’ve intended to do for so long, but have always found good and reasonable excuses to put off. Even for those of us who are well-versed and well-read on these issues, there is always more work to do, particularly in that challenging realm of self-reflection. As we journey through this time as a congregation, I invite you to do some work with me. I’m working my way through Bryanna Wallace and Autumn Gupta’s fantastic Justice in June curriculum and will be sharing weekly actions from the curriculum in the Here & Now. We’ll meet next week on Zoom to talk about what we want to do and who we want to be as a congregation in this work. There is much to do. What a gift it is to be on this journey together.

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