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Wheaton and White Privilege

Sometimes I get to go places and see people, and really, I do love this gift from God. I especially love settling into my window seat and feeling the power of that crazy thing called an airplane lifting off the ground and heading up into the sky. Oh man! It’s the best! What a view! What a sacred space…perspective...and quiet with Him. And what a miracle to get places SO FAST!

This past week I was able to fly to Chicago and to then have time in Wheaton, Illinois. It is honestly one of my favorite places to go on these adventures…for many reasons, but really mostly because there is so much love there. Deep and growing love. I get to stay with people who love me and care for me so well. I get to spend time with generations of diverse women who love each other…young and in college, turning 90 in June, and so many in between. This all fills my heart in ways that are difficult to explain. I am so deeply grateful. And there is a church…which is so interesting to me, how God has connected my heart to one specific church in one specific small, midwest college town. The course of my life is in His power (Psalm 31) and I am increasingly stunned by how He weaves it all together.

And so, this past Sunday I was in church and Sunday school in Wheaton…happily! Sometimes church is hard for me (to be discussed another time, maybe) so “happily” is kind of a big deal right now, and a good way for me to feel going to church. Worship brought tears, as often happens. One song in particular always makes me cry…so, of course, we sang it! Mercy. Sunday school, however, is where I want to land today. The topic was “White Privilege” and I entered the time with my pen poised. This is my kind of Sunday school class. Teach me…please.

I wonder how many people would push back (are you?) from this topic for Sunday school. And how many would lean in and want to hear truth. Do you remember the story of the road to Emmaus, when for some reason the downhearted followers of Jesus didn’t recognize him? It’s a fascinating story. I believe I too fail to recognize Him, so often, even when He is right there walking with me. And then this, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). This is exactly how I feel, my heart is burning within me as He is speaking to me.

There is so much to say about the Sunday school class, about white privilege and systemic racism, the experiences of people of color and white blindnesses. I’m leaving that non-grammatical word because the plural of blindness describes me—I have blindnesses…but I want to see. The more I do see, the more my heart burns within me. One quote from Daniel Hill’s book “White Awake” (must read) was discussed, and it is still with me today. White privilege is “…the ability to walk away.” Yes. If you are white, please pause. Let that sink in a bit.

As I learn about real history...atrocities, slavery, Jim Crow, red-lining, and on and on…I can see more and know more and yet, I can walk away. I am white, and I do not experience these things in my family ancestry (though I do increasingly wonder about my Virginia ancestors and their involvement in slavery) or in my current life. I can choose to learn and nod and walk away. I can fly home and stop thinking about it all. I can decide I don’t need to be part of anti-racism in any kind of active way that actually brings change. My involvement is optional. I still have my world and my life and my many privileges. These thoughts haunt me. I have privilege that would allow me to turn away even from my burning heart. I can get tired and justify stepping back. I can walk away. That is part of my privilege, the very definition of my privilege. And it has me saying today—God, no. No to walking away. No to my privilege. No to tiredness and feeling overwhelmed where to begin. No.

And yes to this…what would You have me DO Lord? I’m sitting with that question and listening. Flying home, I finished another book, “Be the Bridge…Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation” by Latasha Morrison. So timely. So much gospel truth and conviction. So well written and gripping. For example, this quote from Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” which was written in response to eight white clergymen. These men were against the non-violent protests of Dr. King’s followers and urged that they were “unwise and untimely.” He responded (from jail…let that sink in too please):

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great

stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s

Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted

to “order” than to justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in

the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”;

who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s

freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly

advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow

understanding from a people of good will is more frustrating than absolute

misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much

more bewildering than outright rejection.

Emphasis mine. And so I have this reaction to it all...Wheaton, Sunday school, Latasha Morrison...and I feel compelled to write it, to share it, to live it. My heart just can’t be lukewarm anymore. There's a burning that has replaced it. No longer…shallow understanding and good will. I want to understand deeply and love deeply. Love does, right? Yes Lord. Here I am, send me. Where You lead, I will go. This is no longer optional. This is You speaking clearly as we walk along. My heart is burning within me. I am grateful and ready and leaning in to learn and see and work. Love will make a way and You will make a way and I want to be part of what You are doing. (Do you? Come with me....) This will be the hardest and very best adventure of them all.

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