Thursday, August 20, 2015

Thankful Thursday - we need to walk and we need to talk

I talk a lot. I love to talk. I love to teach. I also love to hear people's stories.
This summer has been a time of listening and learning and walking and talking.

Soon after the tragic murder of those nine men and women in Charleston, an organization here in Charlotte called MeckMin began weekly conversations - "We Need to Talk." I have attended several of those sessions in which we have talked about topics that include race and racism, white privilege, other kinds of privilege, and the trial of a police officer accused of using excessive force in the killing of an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by the officer. People of color, white people, people of various faith traditions, people from other cities have come together every Monday night since the week of the shooting to talk. To share. To listen. To ask tough questions. To seek answers. To figure out ways to move out of these safe spaces into a hurting world that needs to be transformed.

Certainly the number of attendees has dwindled since those first sessions, but the conversations have continued. I have listened to stories of anguish, of shaming, of blaming, of concern, of involvement, and of fear of getting involved. Stories of how race and racism show up in classroom, in university administration offices, in interpersonal relationships, at family gatherings, and in church. I have listened to people who are angry and people who are hopeful, people who have never thought about these issues before and those who have had to think about them all life long. I have told my own stories that cover all those topics and attitudes as well - after all, I do love to talk.

Today I attended a lunch hosted by MeckMin at which we talked about establishing a Municipal ID for residents of Charlotte - a way for people to obtain identification. Some of the people who would benefit from such a program are those who are here in Charlotte without legal or residential documentation. People who do not have a driver's license. People who are transgender and are unable to obtain ID that corresponds to their chosen name and status. In the room next to the one where we were having that discussion was another group talking about housing issues in the area.

Thank you, MeckMin, for these conversations and opportuninities.

Out of that series of conversations has emerged another group that I have joined - We Walk Together Charlotte. Two women who attended the Monday night sessions wanted to take the conversations to the street, so they decided that they would walk 100 miles in Charlotte, between faith communities, houses of worship, talking. Learning about the communities they walk through. They have invited a local historian to join us and tell more about this broken, beautiful, hurting, and growing city we live in. Men and women, we walk together. Black and white, we walk together. Fast and slow, we walk together. Young and older, we walk together. We walk together once or twice a week in the morning. We walk between 1.5 and 3.5 miles each time. We share inspirational quotes. We ask each other questions. And we are getting to know each other's life stories. Together.

Reading plaques and monuments as we walk.

I have joined them for five of their walks. We do exactly what the name says - we walk together. We talk together. We wear matching tee shirts so that we can engage curious bystanders in conversation. And nearly every time we've been out walking, someone will stop us and ask us what we are doing and why. It is an honor to speak to others about our simple and hopeful desire for a peaceful and just and safe community for all people.

Last Saturday morning, the group visited our church -
First Presbyterian Church.

The back of the shirt contains a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr -
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Together we are learning to drive out darkness and hate by walking and talking and learning about each other and our city. We are talking about school inequality and groups that are making a difference. We are learning about housing inequality and groups that are making a difference. Plus we pick up garbage as we walk. Why not leave the city a little cleaner as we walk?

Thank you, Catherine and Mary, for these walks and the tee shirts and your contagious enthusiasm.

One of the most well-read, thoughtful, articulate, courageous and passionate people I know, Anthony Smith, is spearheading several efforts related to education, politics, faith, and community in nearby Salisbury, North Carolina. He and his wife, Toni, inspire me to stay active, to speak up, to be about the business of reconciliation, peace, and justice. To that end, they have established a Peace Circle up there in Salisbury. They meet on the first Monday of each month at The Mean Mug to discuss how they can bring peace and healing to a city that has known racial terror and injustice for decades. My daughter and I attended their August gathering. Not long thereafter an article was written about that evening's conversations. Yours truly appears in one of the photographs.

They also have a practice called "Night Crawlers" - which is similar in some ways to We Walk Together, except their walks are at night. They walk through various communities in their city, talking to residents, praying with and for them, and encouraging each other to live at peace. Last winter, one of their walks included the distribution of socks and blankets to folks in need. If we didn't live an hour from them, I would attend their church and their gatherings a lot more often, for sure.

Thank you, Anthony and Toni, for being the leaders and servants and teachers that you are.
I am honored to call you both my friends.

In the spirit of shutting my mouth in order to listen and learn, I am taking an online class called "Hard Conversations" being led by Patti Digh. Her goal is to get people, mostly white people, to learn about the history of racism in this country, the ways in which racism affects all people, not only people of color, in order to enter into and stay engaged in hard conversations. We are reading articles, watching videos, participating in webinars, and engaging in online exchanges about structural racism, institutional racism, white privilege, white fragility, microaggressions - and more. My mind is expanding. My heart is cracking open. I have piles of books to read. I have websites and videos yet to explore.

We live in a nation that has a long and terrible history of treating many people terribly. The current move by many states and cities to ignore and diminish that bitter past will only serve to stifle any hope of true peace and healing. "Real American History" includes the stories of First Peoples, those who were here when the first undocumented immigrants arrived, the stories of slaves and others brought here against their will, the stories of those who were experimented on, those who were forcibly removed from their land and their homes. It's not a pretty picture. But it's who we are. It's who we continue to be. And it's who we will remain - unless we listen, learn, talk, and act on behalf of righteousness, justice, and peace.

Thank you, Patti, for your tremendous hard work in bringing this course together so hastily and so well.

There are so many stories. So many faces. So much pain. So many dreams of a better future for our city, our state, our nation and our world. There is so much need. There are so many people in crisis in our city and in our world. I am enormously grateful to be involved in so many conversations and actions aimed at opening people's minds and hearts and mouths and lives and wallets in order to make change and bring justice and peace and Beloved Community to our area in our lifetime.

Thank you, Sweet Jesus, for the people you have brought into my life, people who have gotten me talking and walking and listening and learning and speaking and teaching and studying - so that I can be more deeply engaged and involved in the work that I have been called to do.

PS. The "writer" in me hates using the same words over and over.
But sometimes repetition is necessary. So I will write them all again.
We need peace and justice, kindness and mercy.
We need hope and love and joy and gratitude on our lips and in our minds.
We need to listen and learn and be challenged and transformed.
And I don't want to pull out my synonym finder today -
because I need to embed these words, these concepts, these truths deeper, deeper, deeper into my mind and soul.

PSS. If you are interested in hearing Cornel West speak on either Thursday, September 17th or Thursday September 24th here in Charlotte, please click on the links and get your tickets. At my church, First Presbyterian, he will speak on the topic - "Justice: What love looks like in public."

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