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BECOMING BELOVED COMMUNITY

Jesus laid out the fundamentals for any who would follow him when he said, ‘The first [commandment] of all is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”‘ (Mark 12:29-31).

The Beloved Community is the body within which we promote the fruits of the spirit and grow to recognize our kinship as people who love God and love the image of God that we find in our neighbors, in ourselves, and in creation. It provides a positive, theologically and biblically based ideal toward which we can grow in love, rather than framing our justice and reconciliation efforts as fundamentally “against” (as in antiracism, anti-oppression, etc.).

Becoming Beloved Community, The Episcopal Church

Beloved Community Background

Done

Marched in 1000 Ministers March for Justice in Washington, DC August 2017

Offered pilgrimage to Montgomery, April 2018

Curated events and various resources then created Becoming Beloved Community Web Page for diocesan web site at dioet.org, Summer 2018

Offered pilgrimage to Selma, Montgomery, and Lowndes County to join others in remembering a martyr, Jonathan Myrick Daniels,  August 2019

Developed a diocesan training on Anti-Racism for White people and began pilot with youth directors, July 2020 (training for diocesan staff in August, to follow with offering to clergy, and ultimately offer to anyone in the Episcopal Church in East TN)

Reconstituted a Task Force for Becoming Beloved Community, July 2020

Doing

Continuing to update the curated events and resources

Encouraging reviews of books, movies, training, podcasts, etc.

Listening to our brothers and sisters of the Union for Black Episcopalians (UBE)

Encouraging potential calls to ordination to Priesthood and the Diaconate from the BIPOC community

Hope to Do

Continue to update the curated events and resources

Listen to the reconstituted Becoming Beloved Community Task Force for prioritized action

Organize parishes and communities of counties in East Tennessee around memorials and liturgies for those who have been lynched – more than #saytheirname – as encouraged by EJI’s Community Remembrance Project

Provide a guide on how to take a pilgrimage as an individual, small or large group

Offer a pilgrimage to and educational opportunity at the Highlander Center, when it is safe to do so

Host a panel of Black Episcopalians to share their experiences with all Episcopalians in East Tennessee

Join an Event

  • Holding Onto Hope: A National Service for Healing and Wholeness - Nov 1, 2020

    Sunday, November 1, 2020 4 PM ET at https://episcopalchurch.org/

    Join Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, Fr. James Martin, Valerie Kaur, and others for a powerful service of prayer for our country.

     

  • Dismantling Racism - Nov 5, 2020
  • Damaged Heritage: The Elaine Race Massacre and a Story of Reconciliation - Nov 15, 2020

    Sunday, November 15, 2020 3:00-4:30 PM EST on Zoom

    Register Now!

    The Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing invites you to an in-depth conversation with J. Chester Johnson, author of Damaged Heritage: The Elaine Race Massacre and a Story of Reconciliation with comments from Dr. Catherine Meeks

    The Elaine Race Massacre, arguably the worst in our country’s history, has been widely unknown for the better part of a century, thanks to the whitewashing of history.  Johnson discovered his beloved grandfather had participated in the Massacre.  Determined to find some way to acknowledge and reconcile this terrible truth.  Chester would eventually meet Sheila L. Walker, a descendant of African-American victims of the Massacre. Together, they committed themselves to a journey of racial reconciliation and an enduring friendship.

  • "I Can't Breathe" - Mapping Structural Racism Webinar - Nov 18, 2020

    “I can’t breathe” – Mapping Structural Racism

    by The Rev. Ken Howard

    Click Here to Register: Mapping Systemic Racism Webinar (Nov. 18)

    When we started The FaithX Project a little over three years ago, we chose as our mission “helping faith communities survive and thrive in turbulent times.” Little did we know how prophetic those words would be or how turbulent the times we would be working in. In the last three months we have experienced:

    • A once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that has closed down society, even houses of worship,

    • An economic collapse to rival the Great Depression, and…

    • Societal upheaval not seen since the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, which erupted in response to the murder of a unarmed black man by a policeman and to the systemic racism it represented.

    Systemic Racism is the idea that our social system is structured in such a way that disadvantages a particular race – in this case African-Americans. Some people would make the case that it does not exist, that it is a made-up concept. I don’t buy that. In the work we do at FaithX helping congregations to understand and better serve their neighborhoods, we frequently notice that multiple social vulnerabilities tend to coexist in a vast number African-American neighborhoods: unemployment, poverty, low access to medical care, inadequate housing, and a number of other issues. So many that it couldn’t be a coincidence. And when we dig into the history, we often find that it follows the boundaries of earlier racial red-lining and racially-restrictive covenants.

    Let me give you some examples and let you make up your own mind. I prepared side-by-side maps showing the relationship of predominantly African-American neighborhoods to ten different vulnerability factors. You can find all 10  maps by clicking here, but I’m going to show you just three: pandemic vulnerability, unemployment, and poverty.

    Read More
    Click Here to Register: Mapping Systemic Racism Webinar (Nov. 18)
  • Dismantling Racism - Nov 21, 2020
  • A Long, Long Way: Hollywood's Unfinished Journey From Racism to Reconciliation - Nov 30, 2020

    On the first three Mondays of Advent 2020, join Bishop Brian Cole and Author Greg Garret discuss Greg’s book, A Long, Long Way: Hollywood’s Unfinished Journey from Racism to Reconciliation via Zoom.  More details to be shared soon.

  • Dismantling Racism - Dec 1, 2020
  • Dismantling Racism - Dec 5, 2020
  • A Long, Long Way: Hollywood's Unfinished Journey From Racism to Reconciliation - Dec 7, 2020

    On the first three Mondays of Advent 2020, join Bishop Brian Cole and Author Greg Garret discuss Greg’s book, A Long, Long Way: Hollywood’s Unfinished Journey from Racism to Reconciliation via Zoom.  More details to be shared soon.

  • Racial Equity Institute - Groundwater Virtual Presentation - Dec 8, 2020

    https://www.eventbrite.com/e/racial-equity-inclusion-groundwater-training-half-day-december-8th-tickets-84539533019

    •   to

    Hosted by ThirdSpace Action Lab.

    In this virtual webinar, REI organizers will use stories and data to present a perspective that racism is fundamentally structural in nature. By examining characteristics of modern-day racial inequity, the presentation introduces participants to an analysis that most find immediately helpful and relevant. The Groundwater metaphor is designed to help practitioners at all levels internalize the reality that we live in a racially structured society, and that that is what causes racial inequity. The metaphor is based on three observations:

    1. racial inequity looks the same across systems,

    2. socio-economic difference does not explain the racial inequity; and,

    3. inequities are caused by systems, regardless of people’s culture or behavior.

    Embracing these truths helps leaders confront the reality that all our systems, institutions, and outcomes emanate from the racial hierarchy, on which the United States was built. In other words, we have a “groundwater” problem, and we need “groundwater” solutions. Starting from there, we begin to unlock transformative change.

    Register below or contact OC.BALNOITCAECAPSDR3@IER with questions or for more information.

     

  • A Long, Long Way: Hollywood's Unfinished Journey From Racism to Reconciliation - Dec 14, 2020

    On the first three Mondays of Advent 2020, join Bishop Brian Cole and Author Greg Garret discuss Greg’s book, A Long, Long Way: Hollywood’s Unfinished Journey from Racism to Reconciliation via Zoom.  More details to be shared soon.

  • TENTATIVE Racial Equity Institute - Groundwater Virtual Presentation - Jan 9, 2021

    Registration Link to be Published Soon!

    •   to 12

    Hosted by Becoming Beloved Community Task Force for The Episcopal Church in East Tennessee

    In this virtual webinar, REI organizers will use stories and data to present a perspective that racism is fundamentally structural in nature. By examining characteristics of modern-day racial inequity, the presentation introduces participants to an analysis that most find immediately helpful and relevant. The Groundwater metaphor is designed to help practitioners at all levels internalize the reality that we live in a racially structured society, and that that is what causes racial inequity. The metaphor is based on three observations:

    1. racial inequity looks the same across systems,

    2. socio-economic difference does not explain the racial inequity; and,

    3. inequities are caused by systems, regardless of people’s culture or behavior.

    Embracing these truths helps leaders confront the reality that all our systems, institutions, and outcomes emanate from the racial hierarchy, on which the United States was built. In other words, we have a “groundwater” problem, and we need “groundwater” solutions. Starting from there, we begin to unlock transformative change.

    Contact gro.teoid@llihyelruhb with questions or for more information.

     

Reflections

  • Jonathan Daniels Pilgrimage, The Rev. Maggie Zeller, August 2019

    On August 9, I joined a group of people traveling from St. Timothy’s Signal Mountain to Montgomery, Selma, and Hayneville, Alabama.  The main focus of our journey was the Jonathan Myrick Daniels Pilgrimage in Hayneville the second day.  In Montgomery, we planned to visit the Peace and Justice Memorial and the Legacy Museum.

    We arrived in Montgomery at about 2:00 Friday and our first stop was the Memorial which is also called the lynching museum.  From 1877 to 1950, there were more than 4400 lynchings in twelve states.  The design of the Memorial is such that each county in which those lynchings took place is represented by a steel column.  The names of the victims and the date they were lynched is inscribed on those columns.

    When I was reading about the Memorial, I saw pictures showing how the columns begin at ground level and, as one walks through, the floor drops down and pretty soon the columns are hanging in the air.  Frankly, I expected this sense of being surrounded by lynching to be the key experience for me.  It was not, though, perhaps because I was expecting it.  What slowed me down, and sometimes stopped me moving at all, was the need to read all of the names, to acknowledge these persons and the date and place when their lives were taken.  Sometimes, there was only one name and the print was large; sometimes, the names were many and the print had to be smaller to fit them all on the column. More than once, there were as many as six people lynched on a single day.  I found myself praying, nothing profound or worthy of the Book of Common Prayer but one-line prayers of sorrow and pain.

    I will confess that I did not give the Legacy Museum the attention it deserved.  You see, by the time we arrived there, I was acutely aware that the heat of the day was a large part of the whole experience.  I was grouchy, having spent time without the creature comforts we take for granted.  I wanted a bottle of water and a cool room.  And then I realized that neither of those was available to the people we had come to honor.  Daniels and others who came South to help with voter registration did their work without air conditioning and probably didn’t always have water available.  For me, the heat and humidity – over 90° and 100% – became part of the reason I was there.

    At the end of the afternoon, we joined others on pilgrimage for a Eucharist at the Church of the Good Shepherd, a historically Black church.  Again, the heat was oppressive, our clothes stuck to the pews and everyone was perspiring even as we sang and prayed.  And I remembered that even in my own parish church in Delaware, that was how worship in summer was.  Hot.

    Saturday, we traveled to Hayneville to retrace the steps of Daniels, Ruby Sales, Richard Morrisroe and another woman.  They were arrested for joining a picket line and jailed in Hayneville.  On August 14, they were suddenly released, realizing that they were still in danger.  They walked to a nearby store to find something to drink.  As they approached the building, Tom Coleman came out of the store cursing them.  He was holding a shotgun and, as Daniels pushed Ruby out of the way, Coleman shot him. Morrisroe and the other woman started to run away and Morrisroe was shot in the back.  He was taken to a Birmingham hospital for several months of treatment and was there with us on our walk.

    We ended the pilgrimage at the Courthouse where Coleman was tried and acquitted in thirty minutes. The current judge invited us to use the courtroom for our closing Eucharist.  A place of justice turned into a place of worship!  The judges bench became the altar, the choir sat in the jury box and the podium from which an attorney addresses the court became the pulpit.  It was a truly moving service during which several people rose to speak, many people martyred for civil rights in Alabama were remembered and we sang hymns of freedom and justice.

    And what moved me that day wasn’t so much the walk or the service as it was the fact that the town of Hayneville and Lowndes County were two of the sponsors of our pilgrimage. Police blocked off the streets so we could make the walk, two local families offered lunch – the only place to eat was a gas station lunch counter – and the schools and the judge made breakfast for children from New York who were there for the pilgrimage.

    We tend to keep places like Hayneville and Selma and even Montgomery in a kind of historical stasis, always remembering the terrible events that happened there and never thinking about what those towns are like now.  Both in Hayneville and in Selma where we visited St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, we learned that the people who live there have changed.  The events we remember are also remembered there but they have had to face some hard truths about how they came about and then make changes.

    Jesus calls us to love who we are now.  I bought a t-shirt with the following Brian Stevenson quote on it: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”  We will never manage to change our own hearts if we won’t accept forgiveness for our wrongs. We can never forgive our neighbor if we continuously think of them only in terms of what they have done wrong.

    But forgetting, wiping the memory clean, may well lead us to commit the same wrongs again. Hayneville hasn’t forgotten Jonathan Myrick Daniels and his companions but they have worked to make sure something like that won’t happen again.  They strive to change their hearts not their history.

  • Racial Healing Pilgrimage, The Rev. David Burman, June 2019

    Given that these vaults may very well have been used for this purpose, I was struck at some words I read on an explanatory sign outside of one of the vaults. According to the sign, the theory that enslaved people were held in the vaults is an “urban legend.”

    My encounter with the Cluskey Vaults was part of a Justice Pilgrimage put on by the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta. Catherine Meeks, the director of the Center, took the lead in organizing the pilgrimage, which hosted deacons and priests from throughout the southeast. We spent time in Atlanta, Savannah, and Charleston, seeking to better understand the history of racism in America and where opportunities for healing might lie. One reality we encountered several times was the widespread lack of acknowledgement of racism past and present, exemplified by the dismissal of the theory that enslaved people were held in the Cluskey Vaults as an “urban legend.”

    All of us who attended the pilgrimage are charged with taking a part in this work in the future, and I am looking forward to working with people to seek ways forward for racial healing in East Tennessee and at Grace Episcopal Church in Chattanooga, where I will soon be an assistant priest. This is difficult work, but it is also deeply life-giving; as Catherine Meeks says, when we carry on the work of racial healing, we live into the identities that God gave us.


    The Rev. David Burman was the East Tennessee representative at the week-long Justice Pilgrimage, begun May 19, 2019, organized by the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta, Georgia.

  • How We Do Life Together, Ms. Jane Bowen, February 2019
  • Jonathan Daniels Pilgrimage, Mr. Bill Steverson, August 2018

    I am old enough to remember when Jonathan Daniels was killed. I was just a child, but even then I vividly remember listening to the radio reports of this young Episcopalian seminarian who was shot at near point-blank range while in Alabama’s Black Belt helping African Americans there in their efforts to register to vote. I specifically remember turning to my parents and asking, “Why would they kill a minister?” My parents used the question to give me my first lesson on the moral corruption of the system of Jim Crow and segregation we as white Southerners were part of, and how it was our Christian duty to change it. From that moment on and through the years as I moved from youth to adulthood, I always looked upon Jon Daniels as my hero.

    So when the Rev. Derrick Hill announced last year that he was organizing a group to attend the annual Jonathan Daniels Pilgrimage in Hayneville, Alabama, I was the first one to sign up. I’m not sure what I was expecting. What I got was something special. It was a holy experience to walk silently with my sisters and brothers in Christ of all races and all ages as we read from the Scriptures and prayed at the jail where Daniels was held, and then to the street corner where he was shot while shielding an African American teenager, and finally to the courtroom where Daniels’ killer was acquitted in a sham trial. Throughout it all, there was a wondrous sense of joy – joy in cherishing Daniels’ short but storied life, joy in realizing that his dream, and the dream of all who died in the Civil Rights struggle, continues and that it is our duty to work and fight for the rights of the oppressed and the marginalized.

    In the courtroom we continued that joy with the Holy Eucharist. Before we received the elements, the names of all the martyrs of the Alabama Civil Rights struggle were read, and as they were called out, a volunteer holding a photograph of the person, answered “here.” They were all there with us. In our Creed, we talk about the “communion of saints.” Well, on that hot day in Alabama’s Black Belt, I had communion with Jonathan Daniels. He called on me and everyone there to work harder to live out our baptismal covenant to spread the love – the joy – of Christ.

    My colleagues and friends, I wish you the joy of a purposeful life. I wish you new worlds and the vision to see them. I wish you the decency and the nobility of which you are capable. These will come, with the maturity which it is now our job to acquire on far-flung fields. The only thing that we can do at this time – is to “greet the unseen with a cheer.” GOODBYE. – Closing words of Jonathan Myrick Daniels’ valedictorian address at Virginia Military Academy in 1961.

  • 1000 Ministers March in D.C., The Rev. Taylor Dinsmore, August 2017

    It is hard to put into words the reason I decided to go the 1,000 Minister March in Washington, DC. I am not usually the “marching” kind of person, in fact, my family was pretty surprised.  But there was something in me that rose up, sickened and saddened by the theological implications of happenings in our world today. I cannot believe that God is happy with us.

    The Christian message has been lost in a sea of secular voices, but, most importantly it has been abandoned by those who have been ordained by God to proclaim it to ALL people. Read the Gospels! Jesus does not hate or condemn- Jesus loves- and that is what our little group from East Tennessee was trying to embody.  We talked, we took pictures with total strangers, we met friends whom we had known along the way, and we made new friends, We laughed, we cried, we sang, we clapped and we marched.  In a city that is the heart of this nation, we came together with others to say that our heart is breaking for our brothers and sisters who don’t have the same advantages that we do.

    I wanted to go to the Ministers’ March to stand up as an Episcopal priest with kindred souls of all varieties to say that this is not the way I believe Jesus calls us to act. We are all God’s children and we should respect each other as brothers and sisters in this world.  We are called to “seek to serve Christ in all persons loving our neighbors as ourselves” …and to “respect the dignity of every human being.”

    When I am in Washington, I am always in awe of the visible history that surrounds me, and this time I felt a part of it.  It was an amazing time of feeling the closeness of God in the presence of more than 3,000 clergy people of all faiths and denominations as we walked the streets of Washington, D.C. past the monuments of power and wonder. I was proud to be able to carry the Episcopal flag because, despite the fact that we don’t always get things right, there are those incredible moments when we do!  I cherish the Episcopal Church and our church family in the Diocese of East Tennessee. I look forward to the ways we can work to bring about justice for all people back in our hometowns,  I give thanks for those who made the journey with me. One day I hope that someone will tell my grand-daughter, Taylor, why I did it.

    The journey was long
    The day dawned with a chill.
    Likened spirits gathered
    Perfect weather, they said, unseasonable for this time of year.
    Last week it was a hundred degrees in the shade.
    Today is perfect for a walk or a march.
    The sun glistened
    A sight breeze filled the air
    and people were everywhere.
    We were in the heart of our country
    where the heartbeat was steady and smooth.
    Now the heart beat erratically
    threatening the body.
    The concrete soldiers seemed like the weights they carried were doubled.

Recommended Resources

A team of thought leaders for Becoming Beloved Community in East Tennessee have curated a list of resources that would benefit an individual or group effort in understanding racism/oppression, facing racism/oppression, dismantling racism/oppression, and achieving justice or reconciliation.

Reviews

The following are reviews of books, film, or training offerings that individuals have shared for your benefit

  • All American Boys, book reviewed by the Rev. Canon Michelle Warriner Bolt

    All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brenden Kiely

    Ever since my young adulthood, I have never forgotten the powerful shifts in perspective that unfolded as I read Ernest Gaines’ A Gathering of Old Men.  Recently, it was quite a wonder to watch a similar process unfold as my oldest son and I both read and discussed All American Boys.  Like Gaines, Reynolds and Kiely masterfully explore how a community wrestles with the injustice of racial inequality while shifting perspective between different characters in an unfolding dramatic narrative.  The narrative shifts invite the reader to contemplate what characters he or she identifies with, and why, which allows space for difficult thoughts and convicting conversations to emerge gently.
    A word of advisory, this book is written in the modern vernacular of teenage “all American boys,” which includes some cursing, though the themes and writing are not out of step with modern young adult fiction. (I do recommend pre-reading before deciding if this book is appropriate for youth in your church context.)  I enjoyed reading this with my slightly precocious 8th grade son, who is a big fan of Jason Reynolds other works because he provides unflinching realistic portrayals of active and thoughtful boys who are coming of age in contemporary multicultural American settings. This book provided an opening for a great conversation with my son on a variety of topics ranging from social anxieties to alcohol consumption to police brutality and racial injustice.
  • Allyship, training reviewed by the Rev. Maggie Zeller

    Last September, St. Thomas Episcopal Church (Christiansburg, Diocese of Southwestern Virginia) sponsored an allyship workshop.  While I wasn’t totally clear about what allyship is, this sounded like something I needed to learn.

    Taught by Whitney Parnell, the CEO of Service Never Sleeps, this was a well spent six hours.  We talked about our privilege that is so ingrained we aren’t aware of it.  Some of the exercises we did made it clear how being white – and also, for those gathered, well educated – had opened doors we assumed were open to everyone.  We learned ways to turn bigoted conversation toward a more open viewpoint.  We also practiced stepping in when we see someone of color being berated or ignored simply due to their not being white.

    Many of you may have seen a video of a women accusing a ten year old boy of grabbing her in a convenience store.  Instantly, this woman began screaming and called the police.  Another woman, white like the accuser, stepped in to defend the child.  That’s allyship.

    Most of us won’t be in that kind of situation.  Rather when we see a customer being ignored and passed over, we can step in and say, “I think this gentleman was next in line.”  That’s allyship.  Stopping someone from running another person down is allyship.  Offering to stand with a brother or sister in a situation where he our she is clearly in the minority is allyship.

    Allyship is a good skill for all of us to learn.  But once we learn it, we have to practice it until, one day, it is just a part of how we love our neighbor.

    For more visit https://www.oneinmission.org/blog/allyship-training

     

  • Between the World and Me, book reviewed by Ms. Rebecca Brewer

    The summer of 2016 I received a list of books I would be required to read as a mentor for Sewanee’s “Finding Your Place” program. This list included an almost brand-new book at the time called Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Like most required reading books, I read it without much enthusiasm, responded appropriately in a classroom setting, and didn’t go much past that. However this time my lack of enthusiasm towards the book was not because I was busy or because I was apathetic towards the subject. This book made me uncomfortable.

    Between the World and Me is written as a letter to Coates’ fifteen year old son, Samori, in which Coates very matter of factly speaks about the realities of racism in America today, not because Samori is not aware of this reality or so that he can do something to change it, but instead so that he will “be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.” Coates’ picture of racism in America is painted through stories of his own experiences, especially at Howard University and the story of his friend, Prince Jones, who was killed by a police officer on the way to visit his fiancée.

    Though this book was written in a voice directed at fifteen year old Samori, I would argue that it really isn’t written for him. It is written for people like me, a straight, white, middle class, Christian woman. It is written to make me uncomfortable. It is written so that I feel something that makes me want to change the realities of racism in America.

    This book is a very quick read, only 176 pages in print or 3 hours and 35 minutes on audiobook, but during that quick read (or listen) you will likely find something that strikes home for you that drives you to do something to make this world more beautiful and less terrible.The first step towards change is awareness. This book is that step. It will make you uncomfortable. It will make you upset. But it will also make you more prepared to be a “conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.”

  • Emanuel, movie reviewed by Ms. Sherri Bishop

    EMANUEL is a documentary by executive producers Stephen Curry and Viola Davis

    Emanuel made a limited appearance (in June 2019, on the fourth anniversary of the highlighted event) but based on the reviews I’ve read and the reaction of those who’ve seen it, it will certainly be streaming on some device or app soon.  This is more than a must-see for everyone teenager+, it’s a story that deserves to be pondered and discussed within the church, outside the church, crossing community and cultural divides.

    Few, if any, visits to a movie theater have affected me so vehemently as EMANUEL, which marks the fourth anniversary of the tragic slaying of nine people inside the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  As credits finished rolling and lights came up no one spoke or moved.  Emotions felt thick. I think it’s because the story was so much more than any of us expected.

    It was not just about the senseless murder, the subsequent arrest, judicial proceedings, and public outcry which we all witnessed via various news media.  This documentary chronicled Charleston’s historical, cultural and economic role since the beginning of slave trade through present day events.  Pure evil juxtaposed with truth and forgiveness.

    These were not actors; these were not re-enactments. These are the stories that never seemed to make it to media coverage.  These are real interviews with survivors and family of survivors.  This is their story, their heartbreak, their truth, and for some, their forgiveness. My recollection from four years ago was that the families all forgave the killer and did it rather unanimously. The truth is haunting, thought-provoking and unexpected.  The Holy Spirit moves in such unimaginable ways!  If the words of the teenage baseball player whose mother was murdered do not bring you to your knees, they will surely bring you to tears.  And you will most certainly empathize with those not yet able to forgive.

     

    A week later, and I’m still thinking about it.  The parts that made me uncomfortable, those that angered me, shamed me, challenged me.  Questions I have; some have answers, some don’t.

    It’s a powerful story…. powerful.

    See Movie Trailer HERE

    Sojourner’s Discussion Guide HERE

  • I Am Not Your Negro, movie reviewed by Brother Andrew Aelred Morehead

    I Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin

    James Baldwin framed his last work, Remember This House, as a tribute to his three friends and significant figures of the civil rights movement: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Medgar Evers. I Am Not Your Negro stands as a well-honed projection by director Raoul Peck of how Baldwin would have completed the work. In this posthumous work, James Baldwin is one of the key figures, a fourth wheel, if you will, of the vehicle of civil rights.  Throughout the film, the four figures act as counterpoint in the overall work of the civil rights movement in the mid-20th century. Baldwin demonstrates how these seemingly divergent figures with different methods converged towards a more synchronous movement.

    Throughout the film, varying sequences of clips are juxtaposed, calling out the hypocrisy of whitewashed America against a backdrop of injustice and inequality. It is not just the black population that is of concern to Baldwin, it is all BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color). Clips from across the history of the United States of America, from ads for the sale of slaves in the 19th century and John Wayne western films to the killing of black teenagers and young adults as recently as 2014 are scattered throughout Baldwin’s narration. I am left with the questions, “Have we, have I, progressed at all?” and “What violence do we, let alone myself, engender in our blind romanitcization of the past?”

    As a musician and performer, the subtle underscoring of the film, resting on period and contemporary music, is profoundly effective. The most acute of selections, though, is Dudley Randall’s “Ballad of Birmingham” sung by a female voice. If you do not know this poem, please read it in its entirety. Baldwin’s questioning of the ownership of the black body in America resonates with me as a performer. I wonder, “shall the black body dance and sing to ensure us of our false benevolence, our performative progressivism, and our inner delusions of a perfect society outside the doors of our homes?”

    In the end, Baldwin asks a critical question not just for his time, but for our time and the entirety of the history of our culture, of our country. This is coupled with powerful and dignified photos of black people in our times after a sequence of old photos of black persons. Having seen such degradation of the black body throughout the film and as a photographer myself, it comes as joy to see the black body exalted at the end.

    See Movie Trailer HERE

    Kera Learn! Discussion Guide HERE

  • Just Mercy, book reviewed by the Rev. RJ Powell

    “The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.”
    – Bryan Stevenson

    There has been a lot of talk about Justice in the Episcopal Church in the past few years. Perhaps an awakening to the distinctions between the exhortations of the Prophet Micah to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God.” (Micah 6:8)

    We also live in a time where we are bombarded daily by news reports that seem to constantly rush from one outrage to another. It may seem difficult to know what’s up and what’s down. But through the din, we hear the ever strengthening cry of the poor, the victimized, the marginalized and oppressed. And it seems that we are now finally beginning to wake up to their reality that has been silenced and hidden by a culture that has preferred to pretend to walk a higher moral line than the rest of the world than to actually work to achieve it.

    Such fantasy has not gone without a price, and those who have paid that price are the ones who have always paid, only the script and backdrop have changed to give the illusion that we’ve changed the American tune. But scratch the cheap paint off the surface, and you’ll find the putrid tomb still there, gleaming white-washed as ever.

    In Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson explores one aspect of our nation’s tragic history of injustice: the criminal justice system. This African-American lawyer retells dramatic examples of his own experiences while growing up in Delaware and Philadelphia, and while representing those wrongly accused sitting on Death Row. You will be given a glimpse of how the poor and powerless are treated by the power of a system that is supposed to seek “justice for all,” but only really renders justice for those who can afford it. Stevenson will upset you, and will give you hope that we can make a change for the better, if we stand up and do something about it.

    Later in April (4/26-27) 2018, a group from East Tennessee is traveling to Montgomery Alabama for the opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, commemorating the 4000+ known lynchings in the United States during and following Jim Crow. Congressman John Lewis, the Rev. William Barber, Michelle Alexander, former Vice President Al Gore, and Ava DeVernay will be among the speakers at this two day conference and celebration.

    May God, “who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

     

  • Waking Up White, book reviewed by the Rev. Carol Westpfahl

    Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know. —Daniel J. Boorstin, quoted by Debby Irving

    “Learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know” is a good description, both of the journey Debby Irving chronicles in Waking Up White: and Finding Myself in the Story or Race, and of the discoveries she invites her readers to make as they read along with her. As an administrator bringing arts to inner-city schools to help the “disadvantaged,” then a teacher herself, Irving was increasingly mystified by what she observed: “Looking for answers, I worked on diversity committees, went to diversity forums, and participated in outreach efforts to include and welcome students and families of color. The more I tried to understand and ‘help,’ the more confused I became. The fact that my efforts lacked traction mystified me. The persistent worrying about doing or saying something wrong perplexed me. Worst of all, over time I started to wonder if I might be doing more harm than good. Lurking in my consciousness was a haunting sense that I was missing something.

    Thus began Irving’s education about privilege, the combination of many factors that shapes each person’s world view and circumstances, and generates what Irving calls the “headwinds” or “tailwinds” we face in daily life. Surprised when she was invited to look first at her own cultural and racial identity, to become conscious of the elements in the “tailwind” that boosted her way in life, Irving begins to learn what she “didn’t even know [she] didn’t know.” We readers are offered the chance for our own education as Irving examines each component, with personal application/reflection questions at the end of her short chapters. The book is designed to work for group discussion or individual consideration, and to begin an education about privilege for those who want to grow their understanding of how racism works.

    Waking Up White: and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, Debby Irving, Elephant Room Press, 2014, 288 pages.

     

  • White Awake, book reviewed by Ms. Brenda Neal

    White Awake: an honest look at what it means to be white by Daniel Hill arrived at the most opportune time.

    During this racially fraught time in our national life, many church folk in the white community are seeking to understand the basis of racism and our part in it.  When such a challenge came to a study group I’m a part of, White Awake caught our attention.  Written by author/pastor/social activist Daniel Hill, it was published by InterVarsity Press in 2017 to wide acclaim. (Hill was a presenter at a July 1,2020 virtual town hall offered by Y CEOs entitled “Unlearning Systemic Racism.” His talk and others including Kamala Harris’ can be accessed at  https://www.ymca.net/unlearning.)  Hill is founding pastor in 2003 of River City Community church in Chicago which seeks to embody the Kingdom of God by furthering social and economic justice in the multiethnic Humboldt Park neighborhood.  His second book White Lies:Nine Ways to Expose and Resist the Racial Systems That Divide Us is available this month. Using his own difficult journey of discovering just how white his world was, White Awake invites readers to undertake a similar quest.  Hill shows how the lies of white supremacy are at complete odds with any notion of the Incarnational “image of God” imago dei manifested in all people.  Early chapters help readers discover how the unexamined normalization of whiteness becomes the judge of all other cultural identities. Hill describes how even our theological positions are defined in relation to whiteness. Then in ensuing chapters, he describes the seven stages we must undergo to make ourselves ready to be part of any solution: •Encounter •Denial •Disorientation •Shame •Self-righteousness •Awakening  •Active participation.  Each chapter is accompanied by deeply challenging questions which further engage readers. His bibliography includes well-regarded sources such as Beverly Tatum, Bryan Stephenson, and Robin D’Angelo.

    Our study group has found the book to be as challenging as it is encouraging.  Hill reminds us that deeply rooted biblical challenges ask us to engage and examine cultural identity. After all, there’s a lot of blindness, bondage, rebirth and resurrection in our stories.

    Brenda Neal