History and Pain: A Reflection on American Racism (Part 2 of 2)

The acceptance of the pain of the past is a deeply personal journey, and not one we can rely on others to undertake for us. As part of my journey over the last two decades, I have awakened to the trauma and pain originating from the long legacy of slavery that continues to reside in many Black Americans’ bodies, minds, and spirits. This pain resides in and poisons all Americans, though we are not all equally forced to confront it daily. The degree to which one must struggle with, and fear unjust death because of, the legacy of slavery and a land steeped in 500 years of racism is directly correlated to the level of melanin in one’s skin.  

 

Racist laws, budgets, policies, and social practices have robbed Black Americans of experiencing the fullness of their birthright as children of God. There are simply too many of us who have been unwilling to see and fight against the many ways Black humanity is denied. I have seen and allowed myself to perceive only a sliver, an iota, of the pain my black friends have experienced. And even that is only empathy at best, since I will never be able to own or feel a Black, embodied experience. My tears and my pain are essentially incomparable to those of my Black neighbors. They do not need my tears or your tears. Their liberation is already theirs. But you and I (white Americans) have not adequately, publicly called for the recognition of that liberation in the form of institutions, laws, and systems altered to become anti-racist. What is required goes beyond sympathy and listening; we must actively seek transformation of our hearts and attitudes. I confess that I am one of millions of white Americans who have allowed our centuries-long refusal to hinge our value on something outside of superiority to non-white people to persist, at the direct cost of Black lives. 

 

Because of the disparity of experiences between white people and people of color, I recognize that until I choose to see the pain and injustice my Black friends live with daily, until I choose to examine how deeply racial hierarchies and discrimination are woven into American systems and psyches, until I choose to let that particular, ugly sort of pain into my soul and allow it to break me, I cannot hope for transformation in myself or in my country. Will you hear this difficult truth? If I authentically see the pain that Black people are experiencing and expressing, I am forced to see that I, too, carry pain. 

 

If we are to hold any hope for an end to racial injustice in our country, we can no longer allow our aversion to pain to stop us from seeing and acknowledging the ongoing suffering and death, borne of racism, which Black Americans experience.

 

I speak to you, my white friends, and to myself: this is so critical and urgent because our Black compatriots do not have a choice. They experience this pain at a cellular level, and involuntarily, inevitably pass that pain -- along with pride and resilience and so many other essential, praise-worthy human characteristics -- on to their children. And we pass poisonous ideologies on to our children when we do not speak out loud and fight against them. Racism is a full-blown public health crisis

 

The primary way for white people to play a role in disrupting the cycle of intergenerational trauma tied to American racism is to make the choice to loudly acknowledge it, recognize its myriad manifestations, to let it shatter us, and to seek transformation first within ourselves, and then with our white family members and friends. 

 

We need to step back, continue to center and amplify the voices of Black leaders on our platforms, and take responsibility for doing our own work. We must not be content ending our conversations around this topic by asking, “What can white people do?” Answers to this question abound. Reach out to me if you would consider letting me walk alongside you as you seek. We must do this work now and every day until our bodies fail. We must do this work until natural death is the only acceptable way for our Black neighbors to lose their lives. I hope you will join me on the journey of healing ourselves and healing the pain that racism perpetuates. 

 

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 

John 15:13, NLT

 
 

History and Pain: A Reflection on American Racism (Part 1 of 2)

If the word “racism” sparks feelings of fear, anger, or grief within you, you are on the right track. You are sensing the deeply embedded illness that the reality of racism has sown in this land we now call the United States of America and in all of its inhabitants for half of a millenia.

 

Thank you for taking time to read what I have undertaken here to express. If you have trigger points around violence and/or family trauma, I suggest that you read this article with a support person if possible, and if you are so moved say a prayer before you read that God will keep you humble yet strong as you open your heart and mind to experience painful thoughts and feelings. I further ask that you would spend time in self-reflection today, seeking discernment in how to humbly but urgently seek change. 

 

In a post on Facebook, my friend Sheba explained why some of our responses, as white people, to George Floyd’s murder and subsequent protests across the world, miss the mark. I share her words here with her permission. The post conveys her thoughts as she and her husband struggle to come to terms with yet another murder of a Black person at the hands of police, while they celebrate the first birthday of their twin sons. I have abbreviated her post for space; click the link above to read the entire post.

 

It's not easy for us to come up with eloquent words right now for how we are feeling. We are grieving. This is not the kind of pain that can be compartmentalized. We can't tuck it away or put it up on a shelf. It is a constant, ever-present pain. We cannot choose when to feel it - it is with us every day. Many of us have had family members who have been brutalized by police, or have feared for our families' lives when deciding whether or not to involve police - ever, period - even when their lives are at risk or they actually need protection. You may not know these of our stories simply because we only feel brave enough to tell them in the safest of spaces. None of what is happening is political to us. Saying that you don't "get political" is a deflection and a cop out. This tired narrative is holding white people and organizations back from their supposed interests in equity and diversity. It's holding us all back period, because it further deepens the distance we put between ourselves and issues that do not directly impact us - so we choose not to care. We choose not to pause from our everyday lives, and think critically about what's going on, because doing so would create an inconvenience for us. Black people's pain has always been an inconvenience for white people to actually face - because to face our pain would mean that you have to face your complicity and the ways that you directly benefit from white supremacy.

 

I believe that if we are to model Jesus’ radical, countercultural love and care for others, our first steps in any response to the claims of those hurting, those oppressed, must be acknowledgement and self-reflection, before we level any judgment or condemnation. I am making two requests of you here: (1) consider that you may not yet have the full picture of US history and take steps to re-learn; (2) consider that you may have personal work to do when it comes to seeing and accepting pain and its sources. These areas of focus are inexorably intertwined, but today I will attempt to focus my thoughts on the topic of US history, and next week I will post the second half of what I've written, on the topic of pain stemming from American racism.

 

I know there are many reading this who have experienced intergenerational trauma. The term or even the concept may be new to you, but when you think about inherited conditions that plague families across generations -- alcoholism, mental illness, abuse, codependence -- I hope you realize that our family histories play a significant role in shaping who we are. 

 

Another way to look at the importance of the past is to think about ethnic pride. I expect most of us can say that we have been proud, or at least curious, to learn and speak about the places from where our ancestors hailed.

 

Imagine with me for a few moments that your family history in the US was not characterized by elective and legal immigration. Imagine that your ancestors were forcibly removed from their land, from their homes. Imagine that your ancestors were deprived of not only their culture but in most cases their family members, in many instances their very lives. Imagine that, in addition to powerful resistance and liberation, your family’s history was characterized by experiences of desecration, rape, torture, deprivation, and lynching over generations, for hundreds of years. This painful cultural history is the inherited reality for many of our fellow Americans. Indigenous people, Black people, and people of color have experienced trauma at the hands of white people, who invented the very construct of race, on this land for over 500 years. They continue to experience such trauma to this day. 

 

Today, we do not condone slavery, but we allow mass incarceration of Black people and witness police brutality in silence. Today, we do not condone legal segregation, but we practice it de facto in our minds, our neighborhoods, and our schools. Today, we do not publicly assent to differential treatment and valuation of people based on the level of melanin in their skin. But oh, my sisters and brothers, do we hold on to such differentiation in our hearts when we witness the evil carried out upon George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony Robinson, and too many others, and do not stand up and loudly shout “Injustice!” from the rooftops, much less speak about it with our families, friends, and elected officials.

 

What are we to do with a legacy of this weight and magnitude? I suggest we must allow ourselves to be broken. I suggest that when we hear cries of injustice, racism, and oppression, we do not seek to argue about or deny or defend the behavior of our fellow white folks, or justify to ourselves our own inaction in favor of focusing on "Black-on-Black crime" or calling for peaceful protest. Rather, we must sit still for a moment, think sincerely about the pain experienced by those whose family members and friends have lost their lives because of racism, and begin to feel some of that pain for ourselves. We must acknowledge the pain of the loss of life, and grieve for those lives. Our sisters and brothers are being killed, illegally, and often without recourse. 

 

If you have never been brought to your knees by the atrocities faced by African people stolen from their homes and shipped as cargo across oceans to be sold as property, if you have never wept after reading about crimes committed against Black slaves for generations, if you have never felt soul-deep anguish upon witnessing the ongoing mistreatment and murders borne by Black Americans in the 20th and 21st century, I plead with you: start with history. Please be willing to accept that you may not have been taught the full breadth and depth of our land’s and our nation’s history. Be willing to seek out accounts and sources that tell this history from non-white, non-Eurocentric perspectives. If you are unwilling or unable to seek out such historical accounts, I plead with you to genuinely ask yourself why that seems impossible or unnecessary to you, and to ask God to soften your heart to perspectives on US history that differ from what you have heard or learned in the past. 

 

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13, NLT).

 

Join me on Zoom today at noon, as our church family discusses racial injustice. 

 

On June 17, I will share why it is crucial for each of us to choose to sense the personal nature of the illness of American racism. I will address why it is equally crucial for us to refuse to let the pain we sense cloud our vision, lest we allow our own experiences of awakening to racism draw our attention away from the powerful, liberating voices of Black Americans to whom we must listen, ceding authority and airspace. I will conclude tomorrow with an invitation to join me on the path of taking responsibility for the required personal and collective action needed to heal the pain inflicted by racism.

 
 

Starting the Conversation

STARTING THE CONVERSATION

Breaking the silence about racism, personal responsibility, and the Christian response.

 

For a long time, the Christian church’s response to racism has been timid, scattered and inadequate. God calls us to stand up -- strongly and consistently -- against injustice. 

 

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. 

And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy,

and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

 

As Christians, it is time for us to become strong allies for members of the black community, allies who listen, reflect and are empowered to enact change. I encourage you to join us in taking 2 steps.

 

1. Read, learn, reflect.

2. Start the conversation.

 

At the bottom of this post, you will find a list of resources to explore over the next week. The following items are a starting point for our reflection and dialogue. They are not meant to be expert opinions. You may disagree with some of the ideas suggested. These are simply intended to be a resource as we each wrestle with the topic of racism, our roles within that, and how we can be God’s Church in today’s society. It’s time for the Church to intentionally step up. 

 

Then, I invite you to join in the conversation. I (Pastor Jeff) will be hosting two, 45 minute zoom calls that will allow you and others space to have dialogue around this topic. Bring your insights, questions, reflections, and a prayerful spirit as we journey together.

  • Thursday, June 11th, 8:00pm-8:45pm
  • Friday, June 12th, 12:00pm-12:45pm
  • Zoom links will be available via facebook, our website, and email.
 

Let’s start the conversation.

 

TUNE IN: 

  • FRIDAY, JUNE 5, to the Madison365 Facebook Page for a day of speakers and presenters addressing racial issues. 
  • TUESDAY, JUNE 9th, 11:00-11:45am, to the Church's Facebook page or website for a special 2*22sday (Note time change).  “A Conversation of Race, Privilege, and Action” will be hosted by Pastor Jeff and fellow LCMS pastor, Gregory Manning.
 

WATCH: Choose a video(s) from below to watch. Links are included in each title.

 

READ:  

 

START THE CONVERSATION: 

  • Talk to your family and friends about what you are reading, watching, and hearing. Invite them to read/watch/listen to those things as well.
  • Join the Church, via a zoom video call, at 8pm on Thursday, June 11 and/or Friday, June 12 at noon to talk about what you are learning, processing, and reflecting on.

 

I would love to hear your insights, questions, and struggles. Send me an email at jmeyer@livelifetogether.com.

 

Renovation

I’ve been noticing people who are taking advantage of the disruption to our life patterns due to Covid-19 and social distancing.  Road construction seemed to kick off in high gear this year, taking advantage of less people on the roads.  Some stores (non-grocery) are renovating or doing projects internally, taking advantage of less people in the store.  More people are out for walks, out for runs, out for bike-rides, taking advantage of the outdoors as gyms are closed.  Personally, Kate and I have been going on more walks and exercising outside, and we’re having our bathroom redone.  

 

I’ve heard and read people say that they don’t want things to go back to the way they were.  They want some of the different things they’ve experienced and enjoyed to continue on.  No one in our household has thus far made a similar comment with respect to our bathroom.  Using the kitchen sink for washing faces and brushing teeth, and timing bathroom breaks for when we can get into the bathroom, isn’t inspiring the same response as spending extra time with family members, and enjoying God’s creation as we exercise outside, rather than inside.

 

There are also a lot of great things happening in our church.  More guests and extended family members have joined us for worship than normally might.  We’ve experienced a willingness to experiment with technology, worship style, teaching and learning, and playing.  We’ve had to innovate in order to continue to connect in areas important to us.  Things that  may have sounded impossible a few months ago, have been happening.  When the way we are doing things is stripped away, we get to see and work for the things that are really important to us.

 

As the vanity, cabinets, and shower doors came out, and the walls came down in our bathroom, some of it was easy.  We didn’t want those walls.  Maybe we don’t need an over the toilet cabinet.  But we really want a toilet, a tub/shower, a sink, lights and a mirror.  We have made adjustments to our daily routine around those things that we want and need the bathroom to be.  And we know the freedom we have with the rest of the details, like the color of the sink.  We assumed we wanted shower doors, but thinking about the future, a curtain may be easier to deal with for a little while.  

 

As parts of daily life and the patterns of church life we have become accustomed to have been stripped away, we get down to what is essential, and what we truly value.  We see in Acts a group of believers who are not limited by proximity, nor by social walls.  They connected with each other through letters, visiting in person, as well as sending others on their behalf, and sharing financial blessings to help those struggling.  Basically they used every means at their disposal to connect with each other and stay connected as one body.  

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. -Acts 2:44

Those things that are necessary for us, God has done and continues to do.  God has given us the gift of a pattern of work and rest, the pattern of worshipping together, and the gifts of His Word, prayer, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.  He has given us all to each other as servant gifts, with different roles and responsibilities.  God has given the gift of His Son, His Spirit, and His parenting as our Father.  We look for guidance in all we do in His Word.  And the reality is that much of the rest we have freedom with.  

 

As our bathroom is going back together, I’m looking forward to how daily life will be put back together.  What am I going to jump right back into (meeting in homes for lifeGroup, when we can) and what am I going to leave behind?  

 

As we have been discussing when we will return to in-person worship, and when we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper, what are we going to decide we need to continue, and what may be left behind?  We have been given so much freedom, and so many gifts.  What are you most looking forward to?

 

Teammates,

Matthew Wipperman

Pastor and D.M.M.

the Church

 

What's Next at the Church?

This blog entry is a letter that was emailed to members and regular attenders regarding the next steps that the Church is taking as we wait for the time when we can gather together in-person.

Dear friends,

 

On March 13, the leadership of the Church had to make a tough decision. On that day, we decided to cancel in-person worship for the near future as a way to show love and care to our neighbors and community. This has been a difficult time for all of us. Many are feeling isolated and anxious. We have had to adapt quickly to a new lifestyle. We haven’t been able to come together as a family to encourage and support each other face-to-face. And yet, during this time, God has shown his faithfulness. 

  • Our online worship services are reaching a wide audience.
  • We have maintained unity and connection in our body through virtual worship, lifeGroups, children and youth ministries, 2*22sdays, game nights, caregiving meetings, and connection calls.
  • Our staff, musicians, and elders were able to very quickly embrace the switch to online platforms with creativity and trust.

As the current Safer-at-Home order prepares to expire, we have had to make some more difficult decisions. The staff has been discussing and praying about when and how to resume in-person worship and other activities at the Church. We have been looking closely at the Forward Dane phased approach (through the Dane County Public Health Department), as well as feedback we received from our church-wide survey and the logistics involved in resuming in-person gatherings. 

 

We have decided that we will continue virtual-only gatherings during Phase 1 of the Forward Dane plan. (Phase 1 is scheduled to begin on May 26 and allows religious gatherings of up to 25% capacity) We do not know how long this will last.  We are keeping the health of members and our community as a priority in our decision making. At this time, we believe our online gatherings are valuable and effective, and we will continue to focus our efforts on those offerings as we prepare for in-person gatherings.

 

Many of the decisions related to gathering together again will be based on the current Covid-19 situation in our community and recommendations from the local health officials. In the meantime, the staff is doing all we can to prepare for that day. Our goal is to have processes in place over the next few weeks so that we are ready to go when the day comes. 

  • Setting up hand sanitizer stations.
  • Setting up a registration/prayer request station that does not require filling out cards.
  • Training worship assistants in new methods of Communion distribution.
  • Creating traffic flow that reduces physical contact.
  • Rearranging seating to allow for social distancing.
  • Creating systems and schedules for regular disinfecting of commonly touched surfaces.

It is possible that we will not return to regular, in-person worship gatherings until Phase 3 of the Forward Dane plan (allowing religious gatherings of up to 75% capacity). We will regularly re-evaluate this decision after we’ve reached Phase 2 of the Forward Dane plan (allowing religious gatherings of up to 50% capacity).  We do realize the importance of worshipping in the same place, and also recognize the need we all have to receive the Lord’s Supper. To help meet those needs and to begin to bridge the virtual and face-to-face gap, we will be offering occasional, sign-up based Communion services in June and July, with the first one happening on June 28th. (Details and sign-up information will come soon.)

 

While the return date is unknown, there are some things that are definite for the summer months:

  • Kids Connection/Building Faith will not meet as an in-person group this summer. We will continue to offer virtual options for children and families.
  • Higher Ground will not gather together until social distancing requirements are loosened. This summer we will continue to offer virtual gatherings, game nights, and a virtual mission trip.
  • the Church will begin offering limited Communion Services during the summer months. These will be sign-up based offerings and the number of people allowed to sign-up will be determined by the mass gathering recommendations laid out in the Forward Dane plan.
  • Each week the staff will be re-evaluating our readiness for returning to worship in our building. We will communicate our plans with you in a timely way as decisions are made.
  • The church building will continue to be closed to groups of any kind, with the only exceptions being Communion services and LCFS counseling. This is due to the increased need for cleaning and sanitation after use, as well as a responsibility to know how many people are in the building. We will revisit this topic every two weeks and make changes as appropriate.
  • The staff will continue to work primarily from their homes while continuing to check the mail on a regular basis. We will inform you as we increase office hours. In the meantime, all staff are available via email and phone as needed.

While we wait to re-enter our facility and re-engage the public gatherings that are such a vital part of our life in Jesus, we encourage you to live lives of active witness. Jesus is alive. He has ascended. He reigns. And, He is still calling us to follow Him. “Open your eyes,” He says. “The fields are ripe for harvest.” Now more than ever, Jesus is pleading with us to believe AND confess in word and deed, that He is the answer. Because He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

 

This past week, Amy shared in a video greeting with Pastor Jeff that the Lord alone knows. (Ezekiel 37:3) So, we keep following, keep listening, keep responding. He is our leader.

 

With deep love and appreciation for you,

 

Staff, Leadership Board, and Elders, 5/22/2020