Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Evil Will Not Sojourn With You

Give ear to my words, O LORD; 
          give heed to my sighing. 
Listen to the sound of my cry, 
          my King and my God, 
          for to you I pray. 
O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; 
          in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.
For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; 
          evil will not sojourn with you. 
The boastful will not stand before your eyes; 
          you hate all evildoers. 
You destroy those who speak lies; 
          the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.
~Psalm 5:1-6

One of several murals in the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia
It is an astonishing building. Go visit it.

I've been reading Kiese Laymon's book: How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, which I highly recommend to you. His writing is poignant and pointed, cutting straight into my heart, leaving me with the unreasonable hope that we might yet change how we function around race in
this country. There is absolutely no reason, as I read his words and stories, for me to think that white people will make the changes necessary, but something in me refuses to believe we are a lost cause. Something about how he writes says that Laymon refuses to believe we are a lost cause--a grace we do not deserve--a grace that reminds me distinctly of James Baldwin's writing.

In one of his essays, titled "The Worst of White Folks", Laymon tells the story of getting suspended from school for a child's prank and laughter, which resulted in a whipping at home. Beyond the prank, the whipping was to bring home this point: "don’t… you… know… white… folks… don’t… care… if… you… die…” And then he wrote this:
The worst of white folks, I understood, wasn’t some gang of rabid white people in crisp pillowcases and shaved heads. The worst of white folks was a pathetic, powerful “it.” It conveniently forgot that it came to this country on a boat, then reacted violently when folks, anything or anyone suggested it share. The worst of white folks wanted our mamas and grandmas to work themselves sick for a tiny sliver of an American pie it needed to believe it had made from scratch. It was all at once crazy-making and quick to discipline us for acting crazy. It had an insatiable appetite for virtuoso black performance and routine black suffering. The worst of white folks really believed that the height of black and brown aspiration should be emulation of itself. White Americans were wholly responsible for the worst of white folks, though they would make sure it never wholly defined them.
I didn’t know a lot as a seventh-grader in Mississippi, and I had far fewer words to describe what I actually knew, but the worst of white folks I knew far too well. David Rozier and I both did. It passed through blood. (1)
I been sitting with this. And sitting some more. Knowing that I am as caught up in the worst of the white folks as any of us white folks, no matter our progressive, leftist, liberal, bleeding-heart leanings. And I was reminded in my reading of today's psalm that sometimes those psalms are turned squarely against ourselves--WE are the enemy the psalmist cries out against. In our ever shifting power moves and intersections of identity and human lives we are often enough the evildoers.

Ellen Davis, in her book Getting Involved With God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, offers this suggestion:
Now, suppose you run across one of these [cursing/imprecatory] psalms when you are blessedly free of the feelings they articulate. [You aren't cursing against an unjust enemy, etc.] Is there any prayer opportunity for you then? The ancient rabbis said of scripture: "Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it." If you have the courage (and it will take some), try turning the psalm a full 180 degrees, until it is directed at yourself, and ask: Is there anyone in the community of God's people who might want to say this to God about me--or maybe, about us? (2)
So I sit with Kiese Laymon's essay and my own complicity. And I sit with psalm 5, which is usually my morning song. And I wonder what is the change I need to make in this hour, this day, this week, to dismantle a system that results in a young black boy getting a whipping because of the likes of me.

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