In the midst of all that we have, collectively, witnessed in the last couple of weeks I was having a phone conversation with my brother. He asked me if I remembered something that we both witnessed when we were kids. There was no way that I had forgotten what he was talking about; indeed, it has been seared into my consciousness ever since.
When I was seven years old, my aunt’s boyfriend who had just bought a new car, picked us up to take us for a ride. It was a beautiful summer day. Like any kid at that age my imagination was alive with possibility. As I rolled down the window a warm breeze engulfed my face as we drove through upstate New York; a very different landscape then the concrete cityscape of the South Bronx that I knew so well. It filled me with the possibilities of what a larger world held for me; in that moment it felt to me like what I imagined for myself was limitless; after all, that was the world I saw on TV and in the movies: it was the “American Dream.”
My aunt asked us if we were hungry, which we were, so we pulled into a roadside diner. We took our seats and waited to be served. We waited and we waited and we waited: We were completely ignored. They treated us as if we were not even there. I had never experienced anything like it before. It was not only that we were ignored, but the expression on the face of the waitress was one of disdain. Finally, the adults said we had to leave. As a kid I had never seen adults rendered powerless, they were the people who were there to take care of us and they couldn’t. My world was turned upside down and it would never be the same again. What I had experienced for the first time in my young life was racism! The earth under my feet that grounded me as a human being was shattered and would never be the same again. It was as if I found myself in the wake of a never-ending, life-long earthquake: I have felt the after-shocks of the wake all of my life, as have all people of black and brown skin. It was a free fall into a darkness beyond my imagination. But as in all things God has the last word in the stream that is human brokenness.
It is the acknowledgement of our brokenness that caused God to enter the world in human flesh through Jesus Christ. The holiness of God’s ongoing act of creation, is given us in the incarnation. It causes us to see what has always been present that shrivels when exposed to the light of Christ. Through things that people take for granted that deny the humanity of all people, that is racism. And yet this moment seems different. Because this time people of all races have witnessed racism with their own eyes, what has always been there and are demanding real change. In the words of the Prophet Amos: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
The Reverend Keith C. Lane, Assisting Priest