Yesterday, while hatred and violence were trying to force the last word in Charlottesville, Virginia, things were relatively normal for a Saturday in our little town.
Your dad and I had quiet time on the deck while you woke slowly, drank milk, watched your goofy Wonder Pets show. We all ate breakfast at the pace of grace, chatted about our plan for the day: mowing the lawn and working outside, making a second batch of tomato sauce, sorting through your clothing and changing out the hand-me-downs that have recently been showered on us, organizing an upstairs closet to fit in some of the keepsakes we brought home from Pennsylvania last week. It looked to be a normal and uneventful yet productive Saturday.
I drove the Bean to the market to buy a cantaloupe, our 3 dozen eggs, two quarts of peaches, and a large box of canning tomatoes. As you strapped yourself back into the car—you love that we’ve finally permitted you to start sitting in a booster seat and can buckle your own seatbelt—you asked me what the tall brick building was over there. Our weekly farmer’s market takes place in a large parking lot downtown, behind the courthouse. The building you were asking me about was the detention center.
I wasn’t sure how to answer you because I know from other conversations that you get anxious when I talk about police officers arresting people, about folks breaking the law and going to jail, about the various reasons that people make poor decisions and end up getting in trouble. In general, I think honesty is the best policy in these conversations, but when possible, I try to keep your eyes from filling with tears.
You are both my sweet, sensitive girls, and you get your teariness from your momma.
So I heard myself explaining in the simplest terms possible that it was a detention center and that it was where police officers brought people who had broken laws, where those people came while the officers and detectives tried to figure out what happened and why it happened. (I don’t exactly know what goes on in a detention center, quite honestly, but this seemed like an okay answer to me.)
You started to get nervous about people getting arrested—this always seems to haunt you, that someone you know and love will get put in jail. I don’t know where these fears come from, especially since you’re pretty much in a bubble with no media exposure and don’t really understand what “jail” is, but those fears are there.
And so, yesterday morning, as we drove the half-mile home from the market, only a few hours before the violence would come to a head in Charlottesville, with me completely unaware of what was happening a few states away, I assured you and reassured you that you didn’t need to worry.
You didn’t need to worry because everyone you love follows the law and respects all people, I said, because it’s only people who don’t obey the law who get in trouble, because a police officer’s job is to enforce the law, and there is nothing arbitrary about that. The message I was telling you to calm your fears is that our system is trustworthy.
And yet, even as I said those things, I could feel the weight on my chest growing, that sense of foreboding, knowing that the world I described is not the real world.
Well, the thing is, it is the real world for you because you are privileged. You are white. You have hyper-educated parents with huge doses of social capital not just in this community but in the world at large. You live in a white-dominant town and nobody sees you as a threat. I can assure you that you have no reason to fear the police, to fear jail, because it is only a slight exaggeration when I say that you do have no reason to fear.
The world is a broken place.
And what is true for you is not true for all children.
There are streets in our very own small town where children do have reasons to fear that their parents may well be victims of crimes and also perpetrators of crimes, where they may even be suspected of crimes simply because of their poverty or their skin color.
This is the world we live in.
And it is absolutely unacceptable, girls.
It is absolutely unacceptable that in our country of freedom and “blind” justice and equal opportunity, you–we–have a special place of privilege because of our skin color and economic class.
You are my beloved children, but I will tell you this straight up: you are not more special than any other child born to any other parent anywhere on this planet. You are not more special than a child in a refugee camp in Syria or a victim of sex-trafficking in the Philippines. You are not more special than a Black child in Charlottesville or the son or daughter of a white supremacist in Kentucky.
You are all—we are all—children of God.
This morning in church we heard a sermon that was quite unusual for our (let’s face it) mostly-boring, mostly-white, mostly-old, hymn-singing church. Our pastor denounced injustice publicly and articulately, condemned all perpetrators of violent crime, criticized those within the church and our government who excuse violence as a means to peace—even on the national level, and challenged us to never be silent in the face of injustice. Our pastor was riled up, and rightly so.
And then our church, this mostly-boring, mostly-white, mostly-old, hymn-singing church, stood and clapped and I’m pretty sure even cheered a bit when he was done.
Girls, our church pretty much only claps for children’s choir performances. And we definitely don’t give standing ovations.
But we did today, and it wasn’t because we were applauding for our pastor. We were standing and clapping because HE SPOKE TRUTH. The Kingdom of God that Jesus tells us about in the New Testament—over and over and over again with word pictures and stories and miracles and healings—that Kingdom has NO ROOM FOR HATRED.
That Kingdom is real and it is here and as long as we call ourselves Christians we better be breaking the bonds of injustice that have tied up communities all across this world.
I have so many words and all the feelings and I don’t know what else to do but preach to you and to anyone else who will listen.
If a sermon on justice can get my church on its feet, well, you better believe it’s a message worth shouting from the rooftops.
Violence is unacceptable.
The message of the Gospel is peace.
In Christ, there is no longer male nor female,
Jew nor Greek,
Black nor white,
American nor refugee,
North Korean nor South Korean,
gay nor straight…
we are all children of God.
We are all children of privilege.
We are all children of peace.