Other blog ideas have been percolating in my head for this week: a child’s lost shoe, the satisfaction of pressure washing, recovery-themed tattoos. But they will have to wait for other times. How can I not write about recent tragic events and the ensuing protests across the country?
I expect that question has already lost some readers who clicked X Close. I anticipate others who continue reading will unsubscribe and mark “this content is no longer relevant to me” as their reason. So be it. Frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn. (And more of you will unsubscribe for that expletive.) These issues are so important, insidious, and distressing that they demand an attention-getting emphasis.
If the dignity of all human beings, if the inter-generational transmission of trauma, if the accurate framework for addiction is really a coping mechanism for abject pain, if healing is a hard-to-believe-but-desperately-hoped-for possibility, if those things aren’t relevant to you, I don’t know what is. And if these core issues aren’t relevant to a Christian-based ministry that focuses on healing from trauma as much as it does on healing from sexual addition, I don’t know why Bethesda Workshops exists.
I do know that I won’t have Bethesda, with its tagline “a place for healing,” bury its head in the sand and continue doing what we do without comment about the plague of racism, which has harmed and killed millions more than a novel coronavirus. To ignore the obvious brokenness of our country – and, indeed, probably our world – is to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic while the ship is sinking.
I have no answers for the systemic problems in our country. I’m not sure I even have the right questions. I do have eyes to see what I see, and they are slowly being opened wider every day to the pervasive racism in our land.
I also have reactions and feelings: I’m heart-broken, nauseous, and anxious. I’m sad and angry and afraid and ashamed. I cannot bear to watch the videos of the murder of George Floyd (reminiscent of the similar killing of Eric Garner in 2014) and of Ahmaud Arbery, or to read about the killing of EMT Breonna Taylor in her Louisville home, or, for that matter, to watch the brutal, brain-damaging beating of Rodney King for his misdemeanor in 1991 – and to know that 25 years ago this week, his attackers, three of whom were white, were acquitted of their savagery.
I see the protests, some peaceful and some not, with violence perpetrated by protesters, police, and looters alike. The unrest and chaos remind me of the riots in 1968 after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was 12 years old, and I admit that at age 64, I barely understand the issues any better now than I did then.
Clearly, I’m part of the problem. My epigenetics inheritance (the influence of environment on genetics) is of white privilege. Flaming white privilege. Other than a black maid, whom my family dearly loved (and pointed to that love as proof we couldn’t possibly be racist), I was raised in a completely white, uber-educated culture. My school, church, and every social circle was made up almost exclusively of white folk. I’m embarrassed that I can only name a handful of non-white people with whom I’ve had some type of personal relationship, and other than that maid, all of those relationships developed in late adulthood.
I had no idea of my white privilege and of the unconscious assumptions it prompts until only a few years ago, and I suspect my dad and those before him didn’t, either. That ignorance of my blindness to racial prejudice, therefore, likely got passed to my children, too.
I and most of my friends and acquaintances, who also are white and part of the privileged culture, simply do not know what we do not know. We have not experienced what we haven’t experienced, but we can no longer claim ignorance of the experiences of those Americans who are not white. The news cycles thrust before us show the disparity clearly, horrifically, and I … “cannot bear to look.”
This post fills me with fear that in my ignorance and privilege I will say something offensive to people of color. If I do, please point it out so that I’ll know my error and not make it again. In reading what I’ve written so far, I already see two places of insensitivity: First, the allusion to Rhett Butler’s famous line to Scarlett O’Hara, which comes from Gone With the Wind, a classic movie about the South, whose plantation economics were brutally built on the backs of black slaves.
A second discomfiting reference is to the Titantic, which almost certainly sailed with people of color only in the roles of waitstaff and not as passengers. I’m tempted to change these references, and I will out myself instead. These relatively benign examples are nothing compared to the systemic weights of trauma, violence, suspicion, poverty, crime, educational disparity, and countless other influences I am too blind to recognize.
Certainly, I have no solutions, either, yet I believe that conversations about the problem are still productive. I and all who are encased in white privilege must shed our advantaged lens, listen absent our favored assumptions, and learn. I must stand in judgment of myself and those like me, rather than automatically blame the oppressed.
The writings of Richard Rohr and others are teaching me about the sin of the systemic reality of hidden oppression, which he describes, in part, as those who hold “positions of authority within systems of power [securing] their own privilege, comfort, and wealth – almost always at the expense of those most on the margins.” He goes on to say that “this type of corporate evil is often culturally agreed upon, admired, and deemed necessary.”
In contrast, Rohr describes Jesus as living “in close proximity to and in solidarity with the excluded ones in his society,” and Rohr identifies Jesus’ followers as “the ones on the margins: the lame, poor, blind, prostitutes, drunkards, tax collectors, and foreigners.” He challenges that “our position in society determines what we pay attention to and what systems we are willing to ‘go along with.’” I’m saddened to say that without help I would never have thought to think about that.
To paraphrase Rohr, I believe that as Christians, we are invited – no, we are called – to recognize and attend to the larger pain of the world. May God help me and all of us to begin to see that pain, to learn what we’re doing that contributes to it, and to become convicted to address it.
Marnie C. Ferree
Quotes from Richard Rohr taken from “Invitation to Solidarity,” published May 24, 2020 by Center for Action and Contemplation.