This Little Light


quilt

Quilt that hangs over the altar at United Church of Santa Fe

I’m ashamed to admit I considered not going to church with my father on Father’s Day. I can weasel out a bit of an excuse–that on Saturday we’d driven ten hours from Dallas to Santa Fe and we were tired.

Fortunately, the “little voice” inside me chastised me when I woke early Sunday morning: (Or, maybe it was God.)

You know how much your dad would like to bring his daughter to church, don’t you? You’re going to regret it if you don’t go. Get your lazy self out of bed.

And so, I went to church with my dad. I’m grateful I did, not only because it was the right thing to do on Father’s Day, but because I needed to hear the sermon given by Reverend Talitha Arnold at the United Church of Santa Fe.

Reverend Arnold’s sermon was about Exodus. She told the congregation she’d planned this sermon over a month ago:

Several weeks ago, I chose the story of Moses’ experience of God in the burning bush for this Sunday for two reasons. One, like the other stories we’re exploring this summer, it’s about an ordinary person–Moses the shepherd and family man–being called by God. Two, it’s a great story for the Sunday of the summer solstice and also the week when we begin United’s solar installation in earnest. What better example of God’s gift of the sun’s energy than this story of a bush that burns, but is not consumed?

Little did she know the relevance her sermon on Exodus would hold:

Then came the attack by a young white man on African-American people gathered for Wednesday night prayer in Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston–and the Exodus text for this Sunday took on a whole new meaning. Or more accurately, it demanded a deeper remembrance.

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Before Reverend Arnold’s sermon, I didn’t know the relevance of Exodus to African Americans–to our nation:

The story of the Exodus–one of the core narratives of the faith we share with our Jewish sisters and brothers–is also central to who we are as a nation. Throughout our country’s centuries of slavery, this story of God hearing the cries of the Hebrew slaves and leading them to freedom gave hope to African-Americans enslaved by European-Americans, including the nation’s founders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The Bible’s story of the Exodus reminded African-Americans that God heard their cries, even in slavery. That God was not on the side of either the Southern slave masters nor of the Northerners who had help create and benefitted from the systematic dehumanization and brutalization of other human beings. Instead God was the One who knew their suffering.

But the message that I heard loudest, came in her words of what she believes we’re called to do:

For us at the United Church of Santa Fe– a predominately white congregation, thousands of miles from Charleston–what does this story from Exodus say to us, demand from us in this time? Several things, I believe. One, like Moses, we are called to turn aside from whatever else might distract us and turn our attention to what we have seen. As white Christians, we are called by our faith to pay attention and not move on to the next media event. Two, like Moses, we are called to respond: “Here I am.” Three, as God called Moses, God calls us to hear what God hears and see what God sees–the misery of God’s people, the cries of those who suffer. Four, like Moses–a Hebrew man raised in Pharaoh’s court– we are called to see such suffering not as an isolated event that just “happened” at a church in Charleston but as part of the history of racial violence in our country. Finally, like Moses, we are called to respond to that suffering and to that violence.

This was the message I needed to hear–a message that gave me courage to speak. I’ve begun several blog posts over the last year about race-based events that have filled the news. In most cases, I’ve “chickened-out,” mostly afraid of offending one or both “sides” by saying something that is not “politically correct.”

And yet, it is that very silence from so many of us that worsens the problem of race relations in our country.

During Sunday’s sermon, this is the voice I heard in my head:

Look at you, critical of mainstream Muslims not speaking up against radical Islamists, yet you’re afraid to speak up against racism.

I must not let my fear-driven silence be taken for lack of concern, or even worse, concordance with the awful things that have happened in our recent and past history.

So, here are some of my thoughts:

  • Though I believe racism still exists in this country, I do not believe we are a racist nation. Instead, I think it’s ensconced in the outskirts of our society and it’s implicitly allowed to exist by our silence.
  • We all have our prejudices, not only based on race, but also, politics, social class, sexual orientation, etc. I think these prejudices are born of our ignorance of persons or groups different from us, and it’s made worse by our lack of communication. However, though still destructive, prejudice is not the same as racism.
  • The media does a lot to inflame racial tensions and very little to open rational, respectful dialogue between races.
  • I believe the Confederate flag should come down from the Statehouse in Columbia, SC. True, to many it represents Southern pride and is a symbol of remembrance of Confederate soldiers who died in battle. But there are many flags in American history that were flown during war time. They do not also represent racism and segregation, and they do not need to be flown for us to remember our veterans. In NPR’s article, “The Complicated Political History of the Confederate Flag,” Jessica Taylor states:

After the war ended, the symbol became a source of Southern pride and heritage, as well as a remembrance of Confederate soldiers who died in battle. But as racism and segregation gripped the nation in the century following, it became a divisive and violent emblem of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist groups. It was also the symbol of the States’ Rights Democratic Party, or “Dixiecrats,” that formed in 1948 to oppose civil-rights platforms of the Democratic Party.

Take the flag down.

On Sunday, the congregation sang a song I haven’t sung since I was a child attending Sunday school:

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

As best I can, I’ll let my light shine. I’ll speak out, speak my truth. It’s time we all do.

We obviously have a problem with race in our country, but that does not mean we’re a racist nation. There are many like me who want understanding between our cultures, who see us as human, not colored humans, but human. This doesn’t mean we don’t have differences, even prejudices. But our fear of talking about it takes us farther and farther apart from each other.

My prayers go out to the families and loved ones of those who were killed in Charleston. As Reverend Arnold said, “We are called to see such suffering not as an isolated event that just ‘happened’ at a church in Charleston…”

This entry was posted in History, Prejudice and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to This Little Light

  1. Reblogged this on Velda Brotherton and commented:
    Thank you Jan, for your courage. Your family as ours is racially mixed and so we do not want our children and grandchildren judged as anything but human. Sweet, innocent lovely children have become the target so many times. Don’t let it continue to happen.

    • Jan Morrill says:

      Thank you for reblogging, Velda. It was a tough subject to write about, but I firmly believe if more of us don’t start speaking up, things will never change.

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