Spoiler alert: The picture is not what I’m going to talk about here.
I took this photo over the weekend, but I didn’t post it then because it felt tone deaf to be to be lifting up Bucks County’s peaceful countryside while people in places not so far away were experiencing such turmoil. I’ve been doing the social isolation thing pretty seriously, so I didn’t rush off to join the protests, but I have been doing a lot of thinking and reading this past week. Curiously, I find that I have nothing much to say about the demonstrations and the reactions they’ve provoked.
I’ll tell you a story: Long ago, when I was young, earnest and impressionable, I had a friend who seemed to know the right way to think about everything. I was drawn to that person because I wanted to think right, too, and I listened very carefully. Later, I was a little embarrassed by my pose of acolyte to the wise one. Much later, I saw a bit of arrogance in their posture of knowing the right way to think about everything, but I didn’t really take the lesson to heart.
Very much later, I was ordained and set about living into all the joys and responsibilities of ordained life, one of which is proclaiming the Gospel in a specific place and time. Which very frankly can feel a little like knowing the right way to think about everything. It’s what’s expected of you, you’re supposed to pray first for wisdom to know what to preach, but to be very honest it can be habit-forming. It can start to feel pretty good to be the one who knows the right way to think about everything. I can be hard to stop.
Right now, though, I don’t know what to say or to think. I’ve gone back to student mode, listening very carefully, but this time to a variety of voices.
I picked up Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist again, having put it aside when I started reading in preparation for my planned April pilgrimage to Assisi, which of course never happened. I started Julie Lythcott-Haims’ Real American: A Memoir. I started some following some new social media feeds. I’ve been looking a variety of essays and opinions.
I have some thoughts, but they’re developing. I don’t know if they’re right, or not. I’m not going to share them here because now’s the time for me to listen, not talk, and I actually don’t want to put them out there to collect Facebook “likes.” (If you’ve read this far and you want to register your reaction, the Wow face might be as good as anything.) I don’t even know if I’ll be able to stick to my own earnest resolution to not stop thinking about these things, but if I fail I hope I’ll start again and keep going, which to me essentially is the Christian way of living. I am pretty sure in any case that I’ll never reach the heights of knowing the right way to think about all this. I hope what matters is to keep listening, and learning.
I don’t have a bibliography to share, but if you want to read one thing, here’s something I saw this morning. Not necessarily the greatest, just the latest. Take a look at “White Americans, your lack of imagination is killing us” by Kasi Lemmons, director of the movie Harriet., among others. “Maybe that explains this lack of white imagination: The price of truly understanding black life in America is just too high. That understanding demands too much. If you felt this rage yourself, you would have to acknowledge what caused it, and what it makes you want to do.”