O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
What you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
And dash them against the rock! (Psalm 137: 8-9)
What anguish would prompt an expression of such joy at this picture of horrific violence being perpetrated against children?
Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!
It is not a stretch to imagine the Psalmist once witnessed her own little ones being dashed against rocks.
You know, I was bullied in school. Weren’t most of us, at one point or another?
My pain was so raw, so real, I often wished my bullies could experience a little bullying themselves.
I wanted them to comprehend my anguish.
And so I marvel at the beauty of this and other Psalms of Lamentation; they give me full permission to feel grief and rage.
They give me a safe space to express a desire for vindication.
They also invite me, and all of us, to share communally in grief, and in rage.
They remind me that injustice is universal; no one has a corner on suffering. We will all, by the end of our lives, have gagged down a slice or two of that bitter pie.
One cannot help but imagine this Psalm of despair being sung often, recounting year after year: pain, rage, agony, bottomless-well-of-sorrow, pain, rage...
No one wants their murdered children to be forgotten.
Imagine, will you, being a descendant of the perpetrators of the original crime, a so-called “Babylonian”, and hearing this song being sung by a group of street musicians.
How would you react?
Maybe you would recoil in fear… “Wait, are they singing about what my ancestors did to their children?”
Were these Psalm-singers, these who were re-member-ing wrongful death, were they plotting to murder your children in return?
If so, you’d want to remind them, quick, that you yourself did not carry out this horrible crime against their children; it was your ancestors.
You might feel the urge to run home and gather your friends and relatives around you for support.
Maybe you’d all approach the Psalmist with, “That’s all in the past. You need to get over it.” Please.
Or maybe a better idea would be to remind them that you aren’t the only violent ones, “Look, you guys have lots of violent offenders living among you! Stop digging up the past and worry about the problems you’re having right now!”
With relief, you’d point to their worst cases of child abuse. See? You guys are just as bad...
Alternatively, upon wandering past the musicians cooing their mournful tune, you might pause and let the wind of grief wend its way into your soul.
You might shed a tear at the suffering children, the agonized screams of helpless parents still echoing across the centuries.
Has no one ever asked forgiveness, you might ask?
Your ancestors are no longer around to admit the mistakes, to acknowledge what they have done, how twisted and wrong it was, but you could.
You realize you never noticed the depth of this injustice before.
Why was that?
These people’s stories had been shared among your people, sure, but never their grief, and that grief, it was begging to be heard.
Right now, there is a great reckoning, a long remembering, of grief present and grief past, of heinous crimes committed against your Black brothers and sisters.
There’s research and stories and documentation showing how so many of the societal systems we white folks have put in place are still oppressing people.
And you know what?
You have permission to care.
You have permission to say Black lives matter without it having to mean you support any certain movement.
It doesn’t have to mean you support abortion.
It doesn’t have to mean you will vote straight Democrat next election.
It doesn’t have to mean you are a Marxist or that you have an agenda to somehow take over the world.
Guess what else?
You can do research.
You can read books and articles and studies, like this one: https://www.nber.org/papers/w26774?fbclid=IwAR3HY7Thb3VFYcp23oYjk5u7jmpZBASNqbAZrH-6KdBaFUHS35AtMyIxiZc.
And if, in researching, you discover that yes, systemic racism is a thing and no, history has not been on the side of Black Americans, you can acknowledge that.
And it doesn’t have to mean you are a socialist.
It doesn’t have to mean you don’t love your country.
It doesn’t have to mean you are promoting another civil war.
It doesn’t have to mean you stand in support of any sort of violent protest.
At the same time, if your son was killed and the killer wasn’t being brought to justice, wouldn’t you be pissed?!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!
I was shocked the first time I acknowledged my own white privilege on Facebook.
I was shocked because I was told that in acknowledging certain things, like that I have a leg up when it comes to opportunities for bettering my life, I was somehow shaming white people.
Guys, I was told I needed to meet some "successful blacks" and listen to them instead of whoever the hell I was apparently listening to.
I was told I wasn’t reading the correct research, that I wasn’t being a critical thinker.
What I had to say, what I shared, was dismissed because I “had an agenda”, or at least, I was following a liberal agenda.
I was reminded of black-on-black crime, and asked, why? Why wasn’t I pissed about that?!
Maybe because that has nothing to do with the fact that police officers can kill my neighbors and then escape prosecution...
I was suddenly hit with an onslaught of memes and articles.
Some warned of impending...I don’t know how to define it...Marxism? Revolution? Nazzi-ism? Socialism?
“Statues coming down is where Revolutions start.”
“Hitler began by defunding the police.”
Then I was reminded, “Only criminals have anything to fear from cops”.
First of all, is a police officer supposed to be judge, jury and executioner?
If so, that’s terrifying, don’t you think?
Secondly, when you say, “only criminals have anything to fear” in response to the statistics and studies, then you are literally saying, “the victims deserved what happened to them.”
You are going against the very system you so love, the one that gives serial killers and rapists fair trials.
I have learned a new term: leftism.
Apparently, leftism is, “a religion of self-loathing. It teaches white people to hate their race, boys to hate their sex, women to hate their femininity, Americans to hate their country, westerners to hate their history. What a contemptible, toxic thing it is.”
I’m not sure who the leftists are, though.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t care about history.
And what does “hating my history” mean?
When I look back at my history and see things my ancestors did that are horrific, I am grieved. I wonder, what can I do to offer reparation?
Being a citizen, that is the least I can do.
I also belong to a group of people who, proclaiming the name of Jesus, tortured and rampaged and burned “heretics” at the stake. I’m not proud of that heritage.
Knowing the mistakes my ancestor’s made, hearing the hurt they caused, makes me want to learn from past mistakes. It makes me want to start being more a part of the solution than the problem.
I’ve yet to meet a white person who hates his race.
So here’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been watching, listening and reading.
I’ve seen calls for the police officers involved in the murders of black citizens to be prosecuted.
I’ve seen people pleading for others to simply see that there really is systemic racism.
What about all those Black people whose speeches you are using to declare, “In Jesus, we are all one. There is no color.” So shut up about systemic racism already.
Well, there can be many truths.
We are all humans, made in Imago Dei, are we not?
The fact remains that a black person living in this society has different experiences with law enforcement, with buying houses, with equitable pay, with discrimination-based-on-skin-color than you do.
If we are all humans, then don’t we all deserve to walk this great land free of fear in our daily encounters? Don’t we all deserve equal treatment?
Don’t you want that discrimination NOT to happen to the Black pastor whose sermon you are sharing, the one who is saying, “We are all made in God’s image. We are all God’s children.”
I hope your answer would be, “YES!”
And if you want that for the pastor with whom you agree, don’t you also want that for all your fellow citizens, your neighbors far and near?
“How could someone film that video and not step in and do anything about it?”
“How did all this start?”
“That’s terrible. Everyone is from the same species, mom. It doesn’t matter what your skin color is.”
“This land we live in wasn’t even ours to begin with, was it mom? And we took it be force...”
It’s really hard to tell your kids the truth about their heritage.
I always wondered what it would be like to be the child of a murderer.
Now the truth hits: I already know.
When I contemplated how I wanted to share with my kids the uproar that was happening in response to the murder of George Floyd, I thought, well, “I need to reassure them that most police officers are good; I don’t want them to be afraid.”
And then it hit me harder’n that danged proverbial freight train: if my skin was another color, I wouldn’t have the option of reassuring my kids, “Most cops are good.”
I’d tell my kids to be careful, to be respectful, to stay out of the way of the men in blue.
As I have so often in recent months, I found myself staring directly into the hardened eyes of my own privilege...
...and then seeing I was still perched in that ol’ apathy-chair I’d already been lounging in for so long.
Because, cops murdering black folks in cold blood?
This is nothing new.
How many similar stories have been in my news feed over the past years?
Lots. Too many.
And I should have cared then, when the first video aired, when the first article was penned, when the first person of color cried out.
Hell, I shouldn’t have needed any nudging; I could have just paid attention to what was taking place around me.
Recently, I am scared of my own hypocrisy.
Do I only care about racism because of all the protests happening across the country? Is my only concern that I will “miss out” on taking a loud stance right now, when everyone else is?
Those are REALLY not the things I should be concerned about.
This is my time to face the realities of racism.
It’s time to listen to stories, to comprehend what it feels like to be racially profiled and abused.
To ask, “How can I help?” and “What can I do?”
And indeed, this has been going on for years...why has nothing changed?
Let’s not make celebrities out of those who suffer.
Let’s humble ourselves, tune our ears to this channel we're unaccustomed to listening to.
Author and political science professor Nicholas Buccola takes issue with white people’s attitudes in embracing being “liberal” or “against racism”.
He explains that so often we white folks will deal with people of color as a symbol while refusing to see them as fellow human beings.
He goes on to warn that the gap between seeing someone as a symbol and perceiving them as a threat is small.
Buccola writes about a letter author James Baldwin shared with his nephew.
In the letter, Baldwin urged his nephew to do this with white people:
The really terrible thing is that you must accept them. You must accept them and accept them with love, for these innocent people have no other hope. They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men.
Sit with that a while.
Have you ever learned something about a person you trusted that changed the way you saw them? Like, you learned they carried a dark and horrible secret, or had done something really heinous?
When I was a youth, there was a gentleman many of us looked up to. In fact, when we went on school outings, we would sometimes spend the night at his house.
Then one day, it came to light that this man was actually not the spiritual hero he (and we) had taken him to be. Instead, he was an evil predator: for years, he had been abusing young boys under the guise of “missionary”.
I remember feeling like the world I knew was shattering.
And indeed it was.
My reality assumed this man was good, a spiritual leader, a worthy mentor; since that wasn’t true, what else wasn’t?
As I have grown older and faced similar revelations, I have learned that it is okay to have your perceptions of the world fractured for the sake of truth.
The horrible disorientation you initially feel is the gateway to true freedom.
This is the parallel I drew as I read Baldwin’s letter.
Maybe you are more enlightened than me, and I hope you are. But in my universe, racism really wasn’t that big of a problem anymore, and I lived in a relatively just and equitable society.
Now, I am seeing that is so very far from the truth.
I’m facing the times I’ve behaved insensitively and unjustly.
I’m examining the places where my thinking is fucked up.
Baldwin continues talking about us white folks:
Many of them indeed know better, but as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case the danger in the minds and hearts of most white Americans is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shivering and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one's sense of one's own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man's world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar, and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.
And I say, let the universe shatter. It’s worth it. You are worth it. He is worth it; so is she; so are they.
As I’ve engaged in self-examination, I’ve drawn a few conclusions about why it’s so fucking hard for me to listen.
Who knows? Maybe some of these apply to you too.
1) Spending all of my time in one “camp”; hearing only one perspective.
For example, I used to think that all Christians believed in a literal seven-day creation. As I wrestled with the impossibility of all of the Genesis account being literal, I believed I was a lone questioner. I wondered if I could even still be a Christian. Once I opened up and stepped out of my smaller circle of church goers, I found that in truth most Christians did not believe in a literal Genesis account and that in fact those who did were part of a relatively new sect of Christianity, historically speaking. Learning that there were more viewpoints than just one set me free...
2) Community and friendship are so important. Sadly, I have found it to be true that close circles of friends have a tendency to develop their own sets of unspoken rules.
What does this mean for you, a member of said community? Well, once you step outside of the rule-defined boundaries, you are “out” of the group. And, sometimes, thinking for yourself, changing your mind, involves going against the rules of your given community. In order to think for yourself, or change your mind about something, you have to be willing to face rejection. Are you willing to do that, for the sake of those whose voices are not being heard? Am I?
3) Black and white, either-or thinking.
Richard Rohr calls it “dualistic thinking”. There are certain issues which cannot be understood in an either-or sort of way. Mystery is one example; so is grace. When we are dealing with systemic racism, and when we are hearing folks cry out for justice, in order to stay in our “camp”, we often try to label “sides” and then call them either good or bad.
Here are some examples:
We fear change. We like sameness; the status quo. The antidote? Imagine life without the privilege you have. As you listen to stories, imagine yourself in the position of crying out for justice and never receiving it, knowing your voice will be ignored or belittled. Imagine the frustration and helplessness.
5) Believing we aren’t responsible, that racism is not our problem.
“Well, racism isn’t my fault. I love all people.” I think it’s becoming pretty clear that systemic racism exists, my friends. As James Baldwin put it, “I didn’t do it either. But I am responsible for it because I am a man and a citizen of this country and you are responsible for it too, for the very same reason.”
So where do we start, with the listening?
Here are a few places:
After we listen, we cannot be afraid. We must act.
In Baldwin’s words, “Many of them indeed know better, but as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger.”
Here are a few ideas:
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I'm a busy mom of three asking hard questions about my faith.