Whitewashed Tombs

I’ve been start-stopping this post for two weeks now, since the Eric Garner decision was announced.  I am utterly unqualified to write it, and my voice in all of this absolutely does not matter.  I don’t say that out of false modesty, but out of respect for those who are and should be driving this conversation— members of the communities who are impacted so devastatingly by racism, abuses of power, and systems of injustice.  None of my thoughts below are original, and there are better voices than mine.  Check out the links below before you read my rambles.

On Ferguson, Justice, and Being an Ally

Sermons on Advent in the wake of Ferguson, Eric Garner, and On-Going Racial Oppression

“Coming Home” | The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, St. Paul and the Redeemer, Chicago

(via The Very Rev. Michael Kinman, Dean, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis)

“For me, confronting the pain, violence, and for many, hopelessness of that place is critical in order for me to take all of this talk of racial reconciliation and social justice from an academic exercise that I can study and read about till there’s no tomorrow, to an experience of true compassion, empathy, and solidarity. This is about me amending the hashtag, BlackLivesMatter to‪#‎AllBlackLivesMatter‬. All Black lives—especially, especially, the ones seen as expendable and disposable because of where they live, how they speak, what they wear.”


Black Lives Matter: A Sermon | The Rev. Chris Rankin-Williams, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Ross, CA

(via The Very Rev. Michael Kinman, Dean, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis)

“We are not with John the Baptist in the wilderness.  We are not the oppressed, brokenhearted or enslaved returned from exile in the reading from Isaiah. We are the people on whose behalf John is being questioned as a threat to our authority and privilege.

Complicity and indifference is the sin of the white church. The way of the Lord is not straight because of us. Recreate this passage in our day and John is a non-violent, black protestor holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign being questioned by the cops:  “Who are you?” “Why are you doing this?” “What authority do you have?”

Let us remember that John the witness and Jesus about whom he testified were killed by those in power to preserve the status quo.”


Privilege, Darkness and Advent | The Rev. Julie Hoplamazian, Grace Church, Brooklyn

“This season of the year has become largely about light and easy preparation: holiday parties and decorations and shopping. None of those types of preparation truly anticipates the salvation of the world, because none of it actually enters into a season of darkness that awaits a savior. Wrestling with others’ suffering might not feel particularly festive or in keeping with the holiday season, but that is the step we take when we do real Advent work.”


Our Deadly Immoral Wilderness | The Rev. Stephen Muncie, Grace Church, Brooklyn

“After one hundred sixty-six years of faithful worship in this beautiful place of grace, we have come to know that what is truly beautiful to God are lives of compassion, kindness, mercy, humility, justice, and love. Do not forget, though, the God of Love is always the God of Justice. A god who remains silent in the face of atrocities and injustice is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob or the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”


On Saturday, Winnie, Mike, and I marched, alongside our friends, neighbors, and those whom we’d never met and would never see again.  We had done the same the week before, and I mention this here not for a pat on the back, or to check the box next to civic engagement on my Self-Actualization survey, but to be sure that I make every effort to note that I stand alongside those who live every day under the weight of racism, oppression, and systemic inequality.  I don’t speak in absolutes very often, primarily because I think there are few absolutes, but I hope I am very clear when I say that this side, the side of speaking out against unjust systems, unjust actions, apathy, complacency, bigotry, downright disregard for humanity and even more the side of living in opposition to these evils— this is the right side.  This is the way.  This is it.

I’m still sussing out where we— Mike, Winnie, and I— fit in, what we should be doing and changing.  Because outside of these moments of solidarity, the strongly worded feels on the internet, the aching in my gut, all is well with us.  All is relatively easy, kind, and hopeful.  And that’s just not the way it is for so many, and it is by no merit of our own that we live the lives we do.

Beyond that, it is nearly Christmas, and while Advent is a quiet time of waiting and preparing, these weeks have their way of brightening early, giving way to celebrations and cheer.  There just isn’t anything cheerful about a powerful system stealing the lives of young black men.  As Caolan noted in her post, when we found ourselves marching toward the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting, we also found ourselves face to face with people who had come to watch the season’s celebration, people who said the following things to us:

“I wish YOU would stop breathing.  Really, right now.  I wish you would STOP BREATHING.”

After clarifying that she knew why we were protesting: “That’s no excuse for ruining a nice Christmas tradition. People came here to have a good time.”

As a well-heeled woman elbowed through the crowd of protesters: “Could you MOVE?  I can barely breathe here!”

And a very concerned Italian woman looked at our toddlers, and then at the crowd, and then at the toddlers, waved her arms and said, “Pericolo! Pericolo!”  I felt like replying, ‘But the crowd is peaceful, and whatever danger there is in this city isn’t targeting us.’  Instead I smiled, my default expression when faced with such cognitive dissonance.

What I should have shouted from the rooftops at all who found the death of a man and subsequent outrage to be an inconvenience was: WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?  The only reason that you are here among the crowds, listening to Mariah Carey sing, and gazing on the glittering branches of some massive tree is because of the birth of a child of color who grew up to be a man of color, a radical who turned over the tables of the money-changers, who told us it would be easier for a camel to march right on through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven, who was persecuted and killed by the state’s hand?  I should have stomped my feet and said,


Woe to [us], scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For [we] are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So [we] also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside [we] are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

How could we forget what humanity meant?  How could we be so quick to dismiss the loss of life, the grieving of a family— of multiple families!— over the loss of their father, husband, son, brother, friend? What was the point of a beautiful edifice, of an hour on Sunday, of these holidays and lights and trees if they didn’t move us to reach out and grab one another and sob with misery that we had allowed our brothers and sisters to feel such pain?

Millions March NYC was powerful— tens of thousands gathered, moving by the power of our own outrage.  The cold felt good, the grey sky and whipping wind in agreement with our steps.  Bystanders joined.  The drunken Santas only caused my head to involuntarily shake. Marchers moved uptown, then down to One Police Plaza, across the bridge to Brooklyn, winding through the borough all the way to the Louis Pink houses in East New York, where Akai Gurley was killed, past the precinct where the officer who shot Gurley— the officer who texted his union rep before calling for help for a dying, unarmed Gurley— worked.

As we walked, I felt a weird sense of hope that I and others like me, that is to say those shrouded in privilege, wouldn’t forget so quickly this time, wouldn’t go back to our easy lives forgetting that all over our country our neighbors live in fear— real, justified fear— for their lives and the lives of their children, spouses, parents, siblings, and friends. But implicit in that hope is the belief that inertia is the only force at work here, that we lack the will to make change, and in the same manner that I believe that the police are absolutely capable of maintaining the safety of our citizenry without resorting to lethal violence, I believe that we, the citizenry have will and agency and the ability to effect change, that we have a choice in easing back into complacency or choosing to continue to fight and be outraged.  I think this is the part of the post where I am supposed to say, “I’m going to do my best, and I hope you will, too,” but that sentence makes me sick, so instead, here’s this:  Hold me accountable. Make me do better than my best, demand that I challenge myself and my community not to rest a single moment until real change is made, to push and push and push some more, because that’s all I have to contend with, the pushing— not the racism, not the grief and loss, not the micro- and macro- aggressions lived day to day.  All I have to do is push.  If I don’t, call me out.  I’ll do the same for you.




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