This Week at Trinity, Beamsville
For Friday, June 5, 2020
This week’s reflection won’t keep to one page. I know that from the outset. That self-imposed writing limit is hard to hold, when my head and heart are jammed with things in process. In terms of what I say, here, I’m looking for the elusive space between too much and too little; too fluffy and too cerebral; too much bubble gum and not enough nutrition.
For this minute, I’m settling on saying that this week and last have brought a depth and gravity to our family conversations such as we’ve not known before. I long to tell you that we’ve always had daily discussions on anti-racism, systemic racism, and white privilege, with the same intensity that we do now, but that’s just not true. Our best attempts at parenting have worked hard to instill core values that follow Jesus and honour God – and yet there will always be more we could have done, said, and modelled. Of course, where we are now is partly a reflection of our children’s ages, at 17 and the last weeks of 19. That said, Abbey and Eric have a socio-political astuteness I know I didn’t, at the same stage. Maybe I still don’t. They have become our teachers, too. Maybe they always have been.
And so, when this past Tuesday’s dinner was drawing to a close and Abbey asked if she could attend a local solidarity march, organized for Thursday evening, I wanted desperately to give a fast yes. Just that afternoon, I saw the compelling flyer for it, as shared by a friend, and I’d read it several times over. The invitation is to be part of a “peaceful march to raise awareness of anti-black racism in our community and in North America.” It calls on the Burlington community and beyond, to “Stand in Solidarity.” Across the top is a simple graphic: “It’s Not Politics. It’s Human Rights.” Across the bottom is a call for masks and gloves and posters… and then a very pointed question: “Is silence your stance?”
The painful irony is that Abbey’s question came not long after an exasperated rant from yours truly, having just watched a daily political panel. I was trying to make a case for the silence of introspection, over and against the silence of fear and denial. I was trying to process that line, when personal silence becomes violence – and then I was being asked to let our daughter speak in this peaceful, albeit very public way.
Perhaps you can imagine the first line of parental questions. While affirming absolutely the longing to express solidarity, I wondered how could that happen safely in the midst of a socially-distanced pandemic? How could she stay safe in an environment that in other places has become physically dangerous? We said we would think about. We wrestled with the risks, even comparing the difference between standing in a grocery store line and a measured outdoor march. We just want to do what’s best and right, and sometimes feel so ill-equipped. Then, with the utmost of timing, Wednesday’s mail arrived, with the updated auto insurance package, and those little pink slips for the glovebox that shifted my thinking, again. For white, privileged families like ours, those small pieces of paper are rarely thought about or accessed. For families like the Bowens, as men and women of colour, living here in the GTA, they are linked with a completely different reality.
If you don’t know Orlando Bowen, or his story, or One Voice One Team, I encourage you to do some looking and listening. Orlando, Skye, and their second son Justice are part of our Teen Tour Band family, but long before that, I heard Orlando speak and inspire at North Bramalea United Church. He was offering that again in a CBC interview early Monday morning; and at the conclusion of their time, he was asked what it is like for he and Skye to process their eldest son potentially leaving for the USA, to accept an athletic and academic scholarship at Ohio State. Orlando was asked what it’s like to think of sending his young black son in to the environment south of the border.
Orlando’s response was measured, but clear, and in the power of an illustration. Rather than simply say, this is more than an American issue, he told the story of that same son getting his driver’s licence. He spoke of his son’s excitement at being able to drive himself to lacrosse practice; and then without prompting, he asked Orlando to show him how and where to keep his registration papers close at hand. Following David’s Miller’s ‘Ten Rules of Survival’, Orlando’s eldest was preparing for when – not if, but when – he is pulled over for questioning. He wanted to know how to quickly have those forms up on the dash, that he could then make sure both hands are up and visible, and gripping the top of the steering wheel.
I’ve never, ever had that kind of conversation, for or with our children. Not even for a heartbeat has that been a consideration in our reality. With those insurance papers staring back at me, and Orlando’s truth ringing in my ears, not for a heartbeat more could I hide in introspection. I want to be clear, here and long after, that some of the finest, most God-honouring people I know serve with the police. I also know that some of the hardest work we have to do, as a whole people, is fixing the systemic failures that leave some young men and women to fear, and others free and unaware, based on the colour of their skin.
The time-warp reality of printing and deliveries means that I’ve waited as long as I can to put this to page. I’m writing all this on Thursday morning, preparing for a Friday morning release online. I can’t tell you yet what transpired at the Thursday evening march, but I can tell you that Abbey will be there, and I will be there with her. Michael and Eric will still be at work, reluctantly, and yet they will be right there alongside us.
There’s no doubt, I still have all my initial worries, and maybe my presence is some feeble thought that I’ll be better able to keep Abbey safe if I’m there to grab her hand – but I’ll also be looking for her to hold mine, as she teaches me what it is to step into the silence. Rest assured, we will do everything we can to stay physically distanced. We will mask and wear gloves, and we will watch with great care. Personally, I will be well out of my comfort zone. For God’s sake, God’s purposes, God’s justice, it is long overdue.
Love and peace, courage and discomfort to you all,
“Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe,
but no one is comfortable. We might just create sanctuary.”
(Rachel Held Evans, ‘Searching for Sunday’)