A Song of Ascents.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning. (Psalm 130:1-6)
I am deeply honored to be able to offer this devotion on Juneteenth! For people like myself, who have received so many benefits and privileges based on the random virtues of my birth into the white, middle class, Juneteenth is a day of deep ambivalence. On the one hand, it is a great joy to commemorate the end of slavery and the beginning of awakening to equity and justice for all people. Yet, on the other hand, it is a deep shame that we ever held other human beings as property, and that the prejudices and injustices revolving around racial and ethnic differences continue to this day. We celebrate the progress made, with a firm resolve to continue to do better, the be better, and to become who God needs us to be.
This is a significant day for me for a very personal reason. When I was seventeen, I met a wonderful bright, smart, cute, interesting young woman that I spent weeks working up the courage to ask out. Carol liked the same authors I did, listened to much of the same music, and loved the same movies. And, oh yes, she was black. We had a great first date, a great second date, and planned to go out a third time.
But before that happened, three of my classmates – one I considered a friend – cornered me in the boy’s bathroom and beat the living daylights out of me, cursing me and making terribly racist comments. To my shame, I broke up with Carol, and we never spoke again. It still bothers me to this day that I allowed intimidation and violence to make me cower in fear and end a truly enjoyable relationship.
On the side of grace, I believe it is one of the main reasons why racial justice, inclusivity, and standing with those not fairly treated has been so important to me throughout my ministry. It has motivated me to withstand threat of violence and personal attacks through the years, so I came to see value from this experience. But it still bothers me whenever conversations about race and diversity arise.
I pray for an awakening for more and more people that doesn’t require violence and ugliness, but I know there is still a long way to go. In the back window of my car, I have a “Black Lives Matter” sign. A few months ago, I left work at the Wisconsin Conference Center, and someone had scrawled a racist rant in lipstick across my window, obscuring the sign. It was heartbreaking.
For everyone this weekend who isn’t attending Annual Conference ??, I encourage attending a Juneteenth celebration. If you come from the dominant white culture, I invite you to simply go and observe and listen and be curious and open-minded. By God’s grace, you might come away changed, if only a little bit. And if we can continue to change and to grow and to care and to love, we will see a day when we can celebrate more and more a radically inclusive and a racially just world.
Prayer: Loving God, thank you for the progress made; forgive us for not moving faster and not being better and not making more advancement. Bless our efforts, that in every way possible, we might model true inclusion and justice for every race, nation, ethnicity, and language. We ask your blessing in Jesus’ name. Amen.