I am the father of a black American man. I’ve done my best as a white father to prepare my son for the inevitable racism that sadly, he began to experience as early as four years old. While it’s important that we talk about it as family, I am acutely aware that I can never fully understand his perspective or the challenges he faces. It would be presumptive of me assume that I could.
Recently, he looked in the rear-view mirror while driving and said to me
“that police car we just passed is behind us.” As such, he drove extra carefully. After about a mile, we were stopped.
“Put your hands on the wheel where he can see them,” I said and placed mine on the dashboard. That’s always good advice, and respectful to the officer. He came to the window on the passenger’s side. The window slid down and he stooped to look into the car and came face to face with me.
“Good afternoon, officer”
There was a visible change in his demeanor, and he stumbled on his words just a bit as he asked,
“Oh, uh, may I see your license and registration, please?”
My son complied. The officer looked at the documents and handed them back with the standard
“Do you know why I stopped you?”
My son answered politely
“No sir, I honestly do not.”
“Well, you drove over the center line, just be more careful next time.”
“Yes, sir, I will, I’m sorry.” And the officer walked away.
Eric had not driven over the yellow line. And I wondered what the encounter might have been had I not been in the car. By no means do I believe this is a reflection of police officers in general or even an indictment on the totality of this man’s character. I have great respect for police and their willingness to risk their own safety for the benefit of others. Rather, it’s about the racism that oozes through the cracks of civility unawares. It is this inherent and ever-present prejudice that causes those of us with unearned privilege to normalize and accept it as simply ‘the way things are.’
We are at a tipping point in our country. I know little more about how to proceed than I did bending down to look at my then four-year-old son. I could hold him, and assure him of my love, and of God’s love for him, and try to ready him for the safest responses, but I could not fix the problem.
However, I could commit to searching for, and working toward a solution. Remembering the look in those eyes desperately trying to understand, I could do no less.
At church camp we distill the Christian message to its essentials.
Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself.
(Matthew 22: 34-40).
We practice and celebrate community and diversity, celebrating that which binds us and learning from one another through our differences. We help people discover their gifts, their talents, and develop confidence and leadership. I admit it, as a result of the pandemic, I sometimes feel as though camp's superpowers have been taken away: Superman suddenly exposed to Kryptonite. In broader strokes, social distancing means we cannot even throw our arms around our grieving loved ones and hold them.
We find ourselves in a nation desperately in need of the basic tenets of church camp. We need community, we need healing, we need to find our way out of separation and fear. And lest we forget our own humility, we at Holmes and in our Presbyteries have our own work to do on these very challenges. Jesus’ words about loving God, and our neighbor as ourselves were not original when he uttered them, for he was quoting scripture ancient even to his time, through his own Jewish tradition. This is not just a Christian need, to hold one another, to comfort, to grow, to share, to learn, it is a human need.
Therefore, we remember
the source of healing, of community, of love. And it resides within each of us. We rightfully associate camp with fun, but it is fun that floats on a deep sea of intention and trust. And though we may sometimes feel alone, isolated in our little boats, we are not. We are in fact connected. It is that connection that helps us see Christ, not in some magical, illusive way, but in the eyes of others and their real experience. The healing power of Christ is now wielded through us if we accept this responsibility as followers of Jesus. And, that healing does not include a judgement of who deserves it and who does not, nor does it require an agreement of belief. It does require listening, acknowledging our own inherent and conditioned responses to our differences, and honestly asking what we might need to change so that we can exemplify the call to love others as ourselves.
We may not be able to gather at camp at this moment, but we need to embody its ideals.