Sunday, August 13, 2017

From Virginia to Iowa: A Reflection on the Violence in Charlottesville

The images and news coming from Charlottesville Virginia is haunting. What can you say about a bunch of angry white men carrying torches to intimidate and incite violence? The ugly head of white supremacy moves along the streets and has even inflicted murder on counter-protestors. It is chilling.

But it's also really easy for me to see this as a problem way over there in Virginia, in a city that I had personally never heard the name of before, and had originally gotten confused with Charlotte, South Carolina. That whole swath of the country is someplace I've never been. I spent three years living in Atlanta, but other than spending a week once in Washington, D.C., everything on the east coast above Georgia is a mystery to me. I simply haven't been there.

The places I know the best are Iowa and Nebraska. I grew up in Iowa and have been a frequent traveler to Nebraska all my life, getting my undergraduate degree there as well. I moved back to this place after seminary in Atlanta because the rich black soil called to me. The Midwest is home. But here we also have a white problem. It's more subtle than states with greater racial diversity, but it's here. It runs in our state narratives. We tell ourselves that we are just super white places. But I am mad that I never heard of the rich African American history in the city of Omaha, even when I lived in the state. I'm mad that Iowa and its cities are on lists of the worst places for black people to live, citing income disparity, incarceration rates, and the quality of education available in predominately black neighborhoods. We don't talk about it much, but we are there and we have to face the truth.

When I was young, my father showed me a KKK relic. It was something he kept to remind others that the KKK was still active and still dangerous. He wanted us to know that they weren't just in our history books, they were living and breathing people who organized themselves to this day. We lived for two years in the same small town as the KKK Grand Dragon of Iowa. It's here and it's real. Now we have a variety of similar groups joining with them. They no longer  wear masks, but they still carry the fire of intimidation, used to threaten anyone who stands in their way.

More than anything, I think Charlottesville calls us to see what is around us. It calls us to see our disparities. It calls us to recognize the diversity we, especially those of us in predominately white states, often ignore. It calls us to recognize real threats, real hate groups, living among us. It calls us to be real.

It's hard to sit with this discomfort. We want to sugar-coat it or say that it's happening over there instead of right here as well. But I have learned that the only way to resurrection, to total transformation of the self, is to go through crucifixion moments. Right now, that's what I think we need  more than ever. We need to allow this to crucify our nation and our states. We need to lament what is happening, to mourn, to weep, to sit in the ash heaps. Only then do I believe that something amazing can happen. I believe that the Holy  Spirit can sweep through us and bring an utter transformation of heart, of soul, of community. I believe we can turn things around. I believe that the torches of intimidation can be vanquished and the fires of love can burn so deeply that we can transform unjust systems. And as someone who has pussy-footed around these issues, who has felt lost in trying to figure it all out, who and can't stand my own internal racism that pokes its head through my consciousness, I believe that even someone like me can help and make a difference for those around them. I believe that crucifixion can bring even me to resurrection, and if it can bring me there, I believe it can bring our communities, our states, and our nation there too.

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