I recently turned 50, and in celebration, my wife and I threw a gigantic party, replete with live music, great food, friendship, laughter – and even a fire dancer to cap off the evening. Friends came from near and far, and people from all seasons of my life offered gifts of time together. After all, this is the only irreplaceable gift.
My friend, Theresa, flew out from the East coast for this all-vaccinated gathering. When I opened my birthday gifts the next evening, she commented, “Wow, people really gave you such personal gifts. It’s clear your friends really know you and love you.” It was a heart-warming compliment, and it made me see in a tangible way how my friends mirrored me with the gifts they gave.
Then, a week later, an envelope arrived in the mail. Inside was a card with sentimental words and some cash inside. My mouth dropped open. This gift was from a person whom I have only met one time about 15 years ago when I lived in another city. At that time, I was doing foster care and several teens lived in my home over the course of six years.
One day, after some of the young people who lived with me graduated from high school, a former foster youth invited me to join in an activity. She had spent the day with two other friends (also formerly in foster care) at an advocacy conference for foster youth who “age out” of the system. During this season of their young adulthood, they worked tirelessly to advocate for young adults to have financial, educational, social, and occupational resources to transition into a space that included housing and a job, or perhaps an education or trade training.
After the conference, this young woman, along with two other young adults from other states, went to a movie and I joined them. We laughed and talked after the movie – and then we hugged and kissed when we said goodbye. It was a lovely connection. And it was 15 years ago. When I told my wife that one of those young people sent me $50 for my birthday, Robin said, “Wow, babe. You must have made a good impression on them.” I think that is a lovely sentiment. But I think it is more than that. I think this young person is a human who possesses generosity of spirit. I think they see outside themself. I think they saw a kindred spirit in a fellow queer person. And I think they see that money is only a token of gratitude for good work being done in the world.
I also experienced a healthy dose of shame with this gift. Please do not feel sorry; this is unhealthy White shame about which I speak – and it is mine to deal with. This young person who gave me cash is an African American person and they clearly felt it was important to acknowledge me, to celebrate me. But I feel a deep sense of indebtedness to people in foster care, people in the margins, people of color, and it felt very unbalanced (in terms of power) for me to receive this gift. I am still processing what all this means, and I hope to come to a greater point of clarity in the days to come.
In Council, we read an article about White Supremacy in spiritual spaces, and we will be engaging in conversation about how it plays out in our particular church. You can find the article here: https://religionnews.com/2021/10/15/7-things-white-christians-can-do-to-address-white-supremacy-at-church/?fbclid=IwAR2jmaOZf5NDOJDUcMdTl3qjHHWmtMrlimJ2kOLEa9tXryemFaN569b2tpk We will be discussing the bullet points listed in the article over the next two Council meetings. I encourage you to think in concrete ways and offer an objective assessment of our church – including how we contribute to Empire in the form of promoting racism or racist ideals in our church building, spaces, words, actions, and programs.
I will be opening today’s council meeting with the following quote:“When people are woke enough to know the language to discuss race, gender, class and oppression generally but not quite woke enough to give anything up – space, power, platform, reputation, position. This is arguably the most destructive pattern of behaviour of our time.” – Dhakshayini Sooriyakumaran
So, the question I am sitting with this morning is, “How ‘woke’ am I?” Am I woke enough to say some beautiful words – or am I woke enough to GIVE UP my “space, power, platform, reputation, position”? After a few minutes of sitting with this gift last evening, I asked Robin how she felt about spending this money at a Black-owned business. She said, “That’s a great idea!” We chose a favorite business of ours, and we will be patrons in the near future. I still benefit, so I feel conflicted about it – but it feels better than buying Starbucks on the way to work.
I would like to invite you to engage in some introspection of your own in the weeks to come. I also invite you to communicate with your Council members or clergy if you wish to share anything about the above article – or share with me if you wish to discuss this blog post – so we can be in communication together. We have taken some important steps, and we also have many, many steps to go.
Let keep moving forward – and waking up.