A Message from Dean Thomason
Taking Up Our Responsibility for Racial Justice
Dear friends,

In the living room of the deanery, we have a painting that hangs near the front door. The artist entitled it “Refiner’s Fire,” a reference to the ancient Hebrew prophet Malachi who used the imagery of refining precious metal to describe how God’s justice purifies the hearts of people who open themselves to such a possibility.
The image here does not convey the dimensional beauty of the art—a slurry of reds, oranges, and yellow rising from a base of deep blue and violet. There is nothing refined about the lines in this painting, and yet the fingers of flames appear to leap from the canvas when light hits it just right. Refiner’s fire.

Smelting is a laborious process. Iron ore requires a fire over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit to separate the element from impurities, but the metal which results has transformed human existence. Refining gold takes a fire above 2100 degrees, and it is a costly effort. This is why we call it “precious” metal.

My friends, I have been wrestling with this image of refiner’s fire over the past fortnight, as our city and our nation seem to be burning with a refining zeal for change. I’d like to think it is a conversion moment for us, as a people, like no other time in history. I hope and pray that is the case. 

Of course, we did not arrive at this moment overnight, and there have been many fits and starts through the years, and some incremental steps toward justice and equity along the way. But we have a long way to go still. It will be a laborious process, and a costly one if we are to engage this work with integrity and great intention. 

Last Sunday during the virtual coffee hour that followed the livestream service, the conversation turned to racism. There was a palpable energy in the community gathered, a desire to DO something, and to DO it now. I get that; I suspect we all do. We want to fix what we know is broken. We want to be agents of change, and we naturally want to apply our fixes to the external environment which is so clearly unjust. We’ve seen clear evidence of this once more in the racial violence, the protests and police actions, the chants of change-agents, and the groans of those suffering.

But the critique I am hearing and reading once more in this moment is that, for white people (and majority-white institutions such as Saint Mark’s Cathedral), the impulse to charge headlong into the work of "fixing" external environments misses the point, and, even when done with the best of intentions, risks perpetuating many of the power dynamics that we all want to see changed. All of us, but particularly those who are seen as white, have internal work to do, including an honest assessment of our own privileges and biases—work that can be difficult and painful.
With this important nuance in mind, the clergy have plotted a course for us to consider, individually and collectively, and we hope you will take part. A plenary conversation on Wednesday July 1, 7-8:30 p.m. via Zoom, is designed for all to participate. I hope that every person in this cathedral community, from all identities, experiences, and perspectives, will register and attend, either by computer or by phone. And then, for those who want to go deeper in this important work, a four-session series over the course of July and August will be offered—again, by registration (details are below). 

To be clear, this is just a beginning, and more inner work and action for racial justice will be an ongoing focus at the cathedral. Many resources for action are offered on our website page Confronting Racism, and I encourage you to consider how you engage such action safely in this time. But let that action be correlative to and informed by the inner work.  

The prophet Malachi’s metaphor of refining fire invites us to consider how our hearts are purified by God’s justice. Our hearts… We are an amalgam of dust and spirit, and it takes courage to open oneself to God’s purifying fire of love that knows no bounds. It is a laborious process, (a lifelong one, to be sure), but this is the moment at hand—a crucible moment of conversion. It will cost us a great deal to release our hold on all the dross that hinders God’s reign of goodness and mercy from breaking into our lives and into this world in wholesome and life-giving ways. But I am convinced this is our work, and this is the time for us to engage it.

I hope you will join me in the refining work of listening, learning, conversing, self-reflecting, repenting, growing, and forging a new way of being. New action for this community will flow from it.

With gratitude for this community as we journey together, I am,
Your Brother in Christ,
The Very Reverend Steven L. Thomason
Dean and Rector
Taking Up Our Responsibility for Racial Justice:
A Series of Study and Discussion Sessions

SERIES : FOUR WEDNESDAYS, JULY 15 & 29, and AUGUST 12 & 26, 7 P.M

We will undertake a study and discussion series to confront racism—its theology, history, and presence in our lives today—and ways to move forward toward justice. The series is open to all, recognizing the responsibility for change falls on white people. There will be a plenary session with Dean Thomason to learn more about the series on July 1, 7-8:30 p.m.; this is open to all to see if the series that follows is of interest.

To register for the Opening Plenary,  click here .
The in-depth series follows on four Wednesday nights (July 15 & 29, August 12 & 26) and will require advance registration and a commitment to attend all sessions and read/watch articles and videos in advance. More details to come soon, but you can get started by reading Ijeoma Oluo’s book,  So You Want to Talk About Race .

To commit to attending the four-session series,  click here .
Protest photo by Tim Pierce via  Wikimedia Commons , CC BY 2.0