I Cannot Be Quiet

Photo by Rose Colored Photo, https://www.flickr.com/photos/rosecoloredphoto/15775898778/in/photolist-q34B5N-qgKHqt-q35gHm-q7NguB-qjyMJy-psnJ4b-pnSixt-q3bJiT-qjC7ft-q35fCf-qjyN4G-pnSmJ8-qhm4e3-qhkZsW-qjrXfR-qjs1MF-q3bMdR-pnSm5H-q35hAo-q34yDA-qjyKmY-q35faw-qjyLDs-qjyK4d-qjC8VH-qhm3rw-qjC6SV-qjC6Vv-qjC5D2-q3dgfD-q3bKGp-qjC7VM-pnCNnm-q35f7q-q3bH62-qjrYAX-pnCLWA-q3dh7i-qjC5cv-q7NipD-qjC6Ng-qjC84H-pnCPvd-qCvpvc-qpbV2H-qmfWUr-psftFN-pnCL1s-qhkYNQ-qpeHGr

This week has been another heavy one. Once again, our feeds have broadcast the multiple shootings across the country of vulnerable black bodies at the hands of empowered law enforcement. Families have tragically lost their loved ones. Countless others have been reminded AGAIN how fragile their lives seem to be. And most discouragingly, the response of many whites has been silence. 

This silence has not gone unnoticed by our brothers and sisters of color on the front lines of fighting injustice. Last night I heard that #WhiteChurchQuiet has become a trending hashtag on Twitter. Reading the posts there is heartbreaking and revealing. And the sentiment they express with anger, frustration and grief is true.

We at Haven Berkeley lament the continued loss of innocent Black Lives. We call this phenomenon injustice that is counter to Jesus' liberating work in our world, and we will not remain silent in the face of such systemic oppression. We gather together as a community to lament, to educate ourselves, and to stand in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters who demand real change.

And I, as our pastor, commit to my own process of vulnerability and growth. I wrote the comments below and delivered them orally at a Sunday service this summer, in the wake of another horrible week that saw the senseless deaths of two other African-American men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castille. I stand by these words and share them more broadly now to invite my own accountability and because I Cannot Be Quiet.

It’s been an awful week, that has followed on a difficult few weeks, with Orlando only a few weeks ago. It's hard to believe this week started with a Holiday [Independence Day], a holiday itself that I personally at this moment feel ambivalent about celebrating. The week we’ve had leaves me wondering how it is that, though we certainly have much to celebrate to live in the democratic USA, we also have so much to grieve.  All gains have not come without costs. Freedom has never been freedom for all, even if some aspired for it to be. It has always been freedom for some. This week we can’t deny the unequal distribution of freedom to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, even if we’d like to.

Personally, I feel ill equipped to lead through these current tensions. While I may have taken classes or done some pastoral work on "racial reconciliation", the wounds that are being exposed at this point in our nation’s discourse point to something much deeper than these experiences have covered. Our racial tension comes from the ground beneath us. It is the sea we swim in. It is the America in which we’ve grown up, whether we’ve allowed ourself to see it, or whether we’ve been blinded by the unearned, but inherited privilege we’ve received.

As a white pastor, I wonder if my voice here is even appropriate. But it is my voice that is the leading voice of Haven. And so with this voice I say, “As a white American in 2016, I confess my complicity in the systemic racism that has plagued our country since it’s founding. I confess that I don’t fully understand yet what that means. I confess that I have believed at times in an American dream that I am waking up to understanding was just that, a dream, and never a reality for so many people throughout this nation’s history. I confess that I have had the privilege of deciding when to spend time on caring about Black Lives Mattering, rather than being forced by vulnerable circumstances, to always need to care. I confess that I have been part of the problem, even if I have been well-meaning. Perhaps I still am. But I also come in a posture that seeks to learn, to seek forgiveness, to repent, to turn, where I can turn, and to grow. And I do this with the hope that I follow the one who continually gave himself for justice, for the restoration of the disempowered, for love.”

I speak this confession personally, but it also represents a spirit I hope all of us in Haven can walk into in the weeks to come.  I’ll be formulating ideas about what this looks like in the weeks to come, but I’m weighing how we at Haven can be a part of this justice work, and I think it begins with educating ourselves. I want to make this place a safe venue for this to happen. It’s not the job of our African-American brothers and sisters to teach us about racism. They shouldn’t have to be saddled with that responsibility. We can educate ourselves. We can read. We can listen. We can be shaped. We can confess. We can become part of the change.

- Leah Martens, Haven Berkeley Sunday Service, July 10, 2016