They came with torches & hate; we come with candles & love

This past weekend, Charlottesville made national news when dozens of people with torches – yes, torches – converged on Lee Park in downtown Cville. They were goaded on by Richard Spencer, a white nationalist. It was an apparent protest against the city’s decision to rename Lee (as in Robert E. Lee) and Jackson (as in Stonewall Jackson) Parks and sell the enormous statues of Lee and Jackson that sit in the parks.

I moved to Charlottesville a few years ago, and never have I lived in a town with such simmering racial tension. Of course, racism is everywhere, but it feels especially poignant and always below the surface here. Maybe it’s the memory that Charlottesville decided to close its schools rather than integrate its students in the 1950s. Maybe it’s the fact that in 1963, even the Unitarians – the liberal Unitarians! – told their pastor that he could not drape the church in black as a sign of grief over the deaths of the four black girls killed in the Birmingham church that was bombed by the KKK.

Or maybe, just maybe, it is because we sit in the long shadow of a plantation on a hill that robbed children and women and men of their freedom and autonomy. We call the owner of that plantation, the enslaver of people, Mr. Jefferson.

Racism is Charlottesville’s past, and it is our present. On Saturday, racism showed up as a torch, a menacing reminder of white hoods and of torches lighting crosses on fire. Every day, the subtler-but-devastating racism of housing discrimination and a disproportionate number of black youths getting caught in the juvenile justice system shows up.

We can make Charlottesville’s future different. White people like me can support people of color who are working for change in Charlottesville, through organizations like our local NAACP, Black Lives Matter, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Legal Aid Justice Center, and the Women’s Initiative – which offers, among other things, support groups and services to women of color – to name a few.

May 14: Hundreds lift candles in Lee Park in support of equality. Photo: Ethan Tate

And when they come with their torches, we will lift our candles and speak with a fierce love, as did hundreds of people in Lee Park on Sunday night.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who fought apartheid in his home country of South Africa, wrote this beautiful prayer:
Goodness is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness;
Life is stronger than death;
Victory is ours through Him who loves us.

May it be so. May we make it so.

* * * * *

Further reading from local sources:

May 17
The NAACP is scheduled to hold a press conference today, Wednesday, May 17, at 11 am
City Councilors respond to Lee statue protest (Cavalier Daily)

May 16
At Lee Park, Perriello says state should end Lee-Jackson holiday (Daily Progress)

May 14
Candlelit counter-protest follows ‘alt-right’ torch bearers at Lee Park  (Daily Progress)

May 13
Torch-wielding protesters gather at Lee Park (Daily Progress)

The day I found out Christians could be Democrats

One of the most important reasons I started this blog: to fill the void of too-few liberal voices talking about how our faith inspires our politics.

When I was about ten years old, growing up in a conservative Christian home, I asked my grandmother if she was a Republican or a Democrat. Obviously, I knew she was going to say Republican, because all Christians were Republicans. (My grandparents, who were given awards for their perfect Sunday School attendance – as adults! – and watched Bill Gaither Homecoming videos, were most definitely Christians, in the cultural sense and in the most personal.)

Except she said she was a Democrat, and it poked a hole in my worldview.

It was the first hint I had that politics might be more complicated than I had previously realized. (To be fair, I was ten. The entire world was more complicated than I had previously realized.) What I didn’t know then was that Democrats, with their New Deal and Social Security and fairer labor laws, had made the American Dream possible for people like my grandparents, who never graduated high school; who drove a garbage truck; who worked at a factory. Democrats made it possible for them, and so many others, to create a good life out of hard work and to raise children who had more than they did. One of their sons went on to own his own business. Another, my dad, got a doctoral degree. My grandparents were so proud.

Back to faith.

My grandfather who was a garbage truck driver was also a farmer. At his funeral, people our family didn’t even know packed into the church and later told us how he would bring them food from the farm when they were down on their luck. That was part of my inheritance from my family: I learned that you’re supposed to help other people because that’s what Jesus would do. That’s what love would do.

Republicans argue that government shouldn’t be in the business of helping people, because people should be helping people. I can understand that to some degree. Certainly, the onus is on us as individuals to love our neighbors as our selves.

Unfortunately, no matter how I and my local faith community may help people, I have to recognize that not all people have access to a community that gives generously. I have to recognize that too often churches place restrictions on their helping, that exclude the very people who may need it the most. Additionally, I recognize that not all congregations have equal resources to help their communities. Some areas of the country need more help than others. I appreciate that there is a federal government that can provide help and is accountable to us, its people, for doing so in fair ways.

One may deride that as socialism, but when all is said and done, it is, for me, more personal than any political label. It’s about my faith. It’s about what I learned, deep in my bones, from the words of Jesus and the life of my grandma and grandpa.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

Last night on the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell inadvertently told the story of women throughout history: “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Ironically, he meant his statement as a pejorative comment on Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was attempting to read Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter to the Senate regarding then-US Attorney Jeff Session’s nomination to a federal judgeships. In her testimony, King urged the Senate not to confirm Sessions, based on his poor record on civil rights.

McConnell and his Republican colleagues voted to refuse Warren permission to continue speaking. McConnell stated: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

A black woman who led the civil rights movement and a senator reading her words, silenced.

All of our lives, we have been warned. We have been explained to. We have persisted anyway.

Because we have children to feed and jobs to do and stories to tell. The strength that grows babies within our wombs sustains our persistence. We will never stop birthing a better future.

I am reminded of the words of another powerful woman of color, Maya Angelou:

“Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.”

When my first baby girl was born, I wrote her a blessing: May you roar like a lion.

We will not be silenced. We will roar. We will persist.

emma-roar

Why we pray with Charleston

Tonight I was thinking of how to explain to my seven-year-old why we were attending a vigil for Charleston. I decided to tell her we were going because that’s what you do when you feel sad, or when others feel sad: you get together, and you love on each other. Second, the families in Charleston would hear about the vigils all over the country, and it would let them know that they are not alone. The third reason, the explanation that I saved for another night, is that decisions are made by those who show up. Tonight it was a vigil, but our attendance was representative to the community that we will show up, not only in words and prayers, but through our votes, which is one of the most powerful tools that we have (yes, government is an oft broken system, but I do believe that our votes can help fix it, and it can pave the way for justice).

This phrase came to my mind, and I think it sums up what I am most passionate about in this life: Justice is a community event.