category: Musings

Personal Reflections on Grief and Racism

By Rachael Keefe

I’m on vacation and, therefore, not preaching this week. Consequently, this will be a little more personal than usual. At the same time, I’m trying to avoid the “what I did on my summer vacation” theme that is obvious. Vacation brings a lot of time to relax and reflect on …

Personal Reflections on Grief and Racism

I’m on vacation and, therefore, not preaching this week. Consequently, this will be a little more personal than usual. At the same time, I’m trying to avoid the “what I did on my summer vacation” theme that is obvious. Vacation brings a lot of time to relax and reflect on life. This has been a busy, intense year for me so far, so there’s a lot to think about.

2015-08-27 12.19.59As you may know, my mother died in April. I think about her often. I wanted to tell her what the north shore of Lake Superior was like and how it would have reminded her of Lake Ontario where she grew up. And then we would talk about the ocean and how much we both miss it. These were the kinds of things we would talk about – simple and safe. However, when it comes to the texts for this week I read them and I realize how much my mother would disapprove of my recent activities and how sad that makes me.

Like most people, my mother was a complicated individual. She was smart and talented in many ways. She also lived her life on a very narrow road that was more limited and shorter than it needed to be as far as I can tell. But she made her choices and lived her life and was rather disappointed I don’t live mine in a similar way.

In both the Proverbs and James texts, there is a stated duty to care for the poor. People of faith are not to make value judgements based on a person’s income level (or anything else, really). We are to feed and clothe people because we are all made by the same Creator. Words are insufficient; actions must follow. I believe this without qualifications. I’ve spent my life advocating for people who live on the margins. My mother wanted me to “get a real job” and stop ministry with youth, people with developmental disabilities, LGBT people, or people with mental illness. As much as she didn’t understand why I do what I do, she would really hate the fact that I whole-heartedly support Black Lives Matter.

2015-08-29 11.58.10

I’ve come to understand that my mother lived with a whole lot of fear. I started off that way, too. I had a lot of anxiety about not being good enough or not being worthy of anyone’s time or attention. Until more recent years, I harbored a secret fear of being broken beyond repair, of being unlovable. However, I was not willing to let fear have the final say in my life. I did not want to become the fearful, hateful person my mother had become. I was not willing to believe that some people were better than others or that some deserved grace and mercy while others did not. If I wanted to believe that my life has value, I had to believe that everyone’s life has value.

It took me a long time to recognize that I have privilege that others simply do not have by a fact of birth. I’ve also realized that my mother’s racist views are more normative than my much more open view of the world. My increased awareness of the prevalence of racism and the protection of white privilege is heartbreaking and strangely complicates my grieving. It also strengthens my desire to move beyond fear, judgement, and hate and encourage others to do the same. Real Christian values are those built on love, grace, and mercy. They do not exclude any people for any reason.

I’m appalled by the nastiness that is flung at Black Lives Matter organizers and supporters. Such violent and hateful words directed at people who challenge systemic racism and call for justice for People of Color don’t make sense. I try to think what would stir such fear and rage within me that I would spew such hateful, murderous words. There is nothing. I’ve met people who have committed atrocious crimes and even they do not bring out any bloodthirstiness in me. I wish people would take a breath and question their own responses. What makes a person respond like that?

We are back where I started. With my mother it was fear. The first time she saw a black person she was in her twenties and she’d already made her road pretty narrow. There was no room for other in her world. Not people of color, not religious people, not people from other countries, not people who didn’t like animals… She had a long list and like many people, I was on it. As her daughter she loved me as best she could. But she could not understand or accept who I am or what I do. Fear governed her life. And where there is fear, there is very little room for mercy, for love, for change, for justice.

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
and the rod of anger will fail.
Those who are generous are blessed,
for they share their bread with the poor.

RCL – Year B – Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 6, 2015
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 with
Psalm 125
Isaiah 35:4-7a with
Psalm 146
James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

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