Challenged and Encouraged in Thinking About Racial Reconciliation

Challenged and Encouraged in Thinking About Racial Reconciliation

Melinda Gunning, Director Disability Access and Education

“The time has come” as Lewis Carroll’s Walrus said, “to talk of many things,” including why people of color find it hard to breathe in a society that does not recognize the effects of systemic racism in a culture in which people declare loudly and defensively, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.” It is too great a burden to place on my friends and colleagues to educate me about their daily experience so different than my own, so I turn to reading and listening to podcasts. Recently, I encountered two works that have both challenged and encouraged me in my thinking about racial reconciliation.

The waitlist for I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown (published May 15, 2018 by Convergent Books) at the Fresno County Public Library was long but well worth the wait. “White people are exhausting” is the first sentence of the book. Yet Brown does not berate, blame or shame anyone. Instead, she shares what it’s like to live as a Black person in a culture that prioritizes the experiences of White people. Reading this book felt like listening to a girlfriend tell me honestly what her life has been like in ways I cannot possibly imagine. Brown shares her experiences and her realizations that even within the Christian church that supports the non-profit organizations within which she works, our world has been and continues to be unfair by sins of commission and omission. Brown does not end her book with a honeyed sense of hope that the world will one day be a better place. But she has enough hope that as a Black female she can write about her experience and that some people in this world will read her book and understand the value of her experience.

Elected in 2015 Bishop Michael Curry is the first African American to serve as presiding bishop of the Episcopalian denomination in the United States. I must have jumped on the bandwagon early and managed to get his book Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times written with Sara Grace (published by Avery Sep 22, 2020) with only a short wait. The premise of his book is simple: the answer to everything is Jesus. Jesus loved. Jesus still loves. When we love the other the same way we love those like us, God is able to heal and transform. Curry tells stories of how his father left his Baptist roots when he saw the love of a predominately White church that could take communion from a common cup with Blacks at a time when drinking fountains were segregated, stories of the church surrounding his family with love and practical daily support when his mother died in his youth, stories of the church acting in love to change a neighborhood in a Black area of town, stories of the church responding in love to efforts of Native Americans to stop a pipeline that endangered their land, stories of how the American Episcopalian church grappled with the idea of a loving inclusion of LGBTQIA+ members and priests, and stories of how the world Episcopalian church responded even while in deep disagreement yet love kept the denomination from fracturing. When we love as Jesus loves, neighborhoods, church congregations, entire denominations can act for social justice and inclusivity.

I often hear the conversation that happens between books in my head. Bishop Curry would tell Austin Channing Brown that there is more hope than she sees because God can work miracles through the everyday love of his people if we will listen to the stories of those whose are brave enough to tell us of their experiences. These two short books can be read over just a few cups a coffee, or you can hear the stories told through the 21-day Race Challenge collated by the United Way Fresno and Madera Counties. Please sign up to explore the ways systemic racism permeates our society.  Lord, give us ears to hear.

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