Moving Forward in Truth: What’s My Name?

You don’t even know me.
What’s my name?
Though we are all human
We are not, nor were we intended
To all be the same.

You don’t even know me.
What’s my name?
More alike than we are different
You consider me less than
Refuse to lend a helping hand
Persecute me. Ridicule me. And. Cause me shame.

You don’t even know me?
What’s my name?
You’ve never met me face-to-face
Yet, for the problems of this world
It’s me you blame.

You don’t even know me.
What’s my name?
You never looked into my eyes.
Touched me.
Considered me.Chose instead to believe the lies.
And despise.
What a shame!

You look at me and judge
Because we don’t look the same.
You look but you don’t see.
You don’t know me.
You slander and defame
I pose some threat to you, you claim
But this is my life and not a game
Why don’t you get to know me
So you can see who I am and
Call me by my right name?

All the water in the world, however hard it tries, can never sink the smallest ship unless it gets inside and all the evil in the world, the blackest kind of sin, can never hurt you in the least, unless you let it in.  — Author Unknown

So many times when African Americans want to talk about current injustices or injustices from the past, when we want to talk about the residual effects of slavery or the lingering bitter taste of racism that clings to our pallets, affecting both the memories of our past and the taste of  present-day experiences, we are met with resistance, both from the descendants of former slave masters and, at times, even from the descendants of slaves, asking, “Why can’t we just move on?” “Why do we have to keep talking about what happened in the past?” “Why can’t you people just get over it?” Perhaps, it is because of the bitterness that lingers from never being able to speak those truths to get the taste out, and instead being forced to hold them inside. Perhaps it is the stifling of our stories that traps the bitterness of unexpressed truth in our taste buds not allowing us to fully enjoy the ripeness or sweetness of a new day. For some the day is not new anyway, but just a replay of something that’s happened before on a different day.

A few years ago, I wrote an article for a storytelling magazine called, “Telling Across the Lines.” The article was about telling stories to people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Each time I read through old Council notes and I see recurring issues and recurring actions that have taken place since this diocese began its journal record-keeping, I cannot help but wonder why we seem to keep coming back to the same place over and over again. Certainly, it is not for a lack of awareness of the issues of the day and for the negligence of some kind of response or reaction. Then, I thought of this article and its simple message that I thought I would share here with you for your consideration.

Telling Across the Lines

In my Intro to Biblical Storytelling workshop, I sometimes guide participants through an imaging exercise. I ask them to close their eyes and visualize God, asking a series of questions such as, “What do you see?” “What do you feel?” “What does God look like?” “What is God doing?” “Are you in the picture? If so, where are you?”

A challenging exercise, but when unrushed and with ample time to reflect, many begin to “see” a picture and will describe it. I invite them to share, with a partner or with the group. Often they relate an experience, one that has helped formulate an image of an invisible God, and has somehow helped them connect to that God personally. Their stories allow listeners to “picture” God as experienced by the tellers; and allow the tellers to tell without fear of judgment. This exercise invites sharing experience of God rather than belief about God. Belief may be arguable but experience is not; it simply is.

Sharing our faith stories and personal stories, and stories grown out of our cultural expressions and histories, begins conversation that deepens our understanding and appreciation of one another.

After meeting Jesus at a well, the Samaritan woman in John 4 of the New Testament returns to town and invites the townsfolk to come and see the stranger she met who had told her hidden things about her life. “Could this be…?” she asks. She shares her encounter with others, not to persuade them but to invite them to come and see for themselves. And that is the power of story sharing. It allows people, like ourselves or not, to come and see with us, and for themselves.

Storytelling across the lines can be risky, but the potential rewards far outweigh the risks. At times, in my own telling I have felt anxious about sharing with a particular audience when I have felt my stories (i.e., I) would be rejected, or unappreciated, or criticized for some reason. I have worried that I might sound too Baptist-y for my Episcopalian audiences or too Episcopalian for my Baptist audiences; sound too ethnic for my Anglo audiences or not ethnic enough when telling in the company of other African American tellers. Years ago I was invited to present at an event commemorating Abraham Lincoln to an all-white, largely older audience. My husband advised me to “go easy on the slave stuff”—but being unable to create a program about Abraham Lincoln without including the stories of African American slaves, I couldn’t go so easy on it. Following my storytelling, an elderly woman approached me and apologized for her great-grandfather who had been a slave trader. To have gone too “easy” on telling what I feared the audience wouldn’t want to hear would have denied her that opportunity.

We do not know what possibilities may be unbound by the sharing of our stories with those who are unlike ourselves, when we tell across the lines, especially when we tell our personal stories, faith stories, the stories of our traditions, historical and cultural experiences with one another. While they are the things that tell of our differences, they are the means by which we learn of our shared experiences and our common humanity. There are untold possibilities for healing, for understanding and reconciliation.

In a 2015 article entitled “Know Your History: Understanding Racism in the US,” written by A’Lelia Bundles following the death of Michael Brown, Sandra Bland and others that year, she wrote:

“There will never be an acceptable explanation for what happened between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson in Ferguson but we will never fully grasp why the stage was set for such an encounter unless we know American history. We cannot fully comprehend why Dylan Roof murdered nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston unless we study the Civil War and the Confederacy. We cannot truly fathom how a minor traffic stop… could result in a… police officer blowing out the brains of an unarmed black man unless we delve into the role race has played in law enforcement from the enactment of the federal Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 to today’s mandatory minimum sentencing statutes. Examining American history provides us with the tools to analyze how the death of Michael Brown… [and here I might add, the death of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others whose recent murders have galvanized public outcry] became a tipping point and sparked a movement. Connecting the dots between the past and the present helps us to see the origins of our current national debate – about race, police misconduct, white supremacy, white privilege, inequality, incarceration and the unfinished equal rights agenda.”

Reviewing diocesan notes that have been taken over the years lets us know that stances have been taken, policies have been enacted, commissions have been formed and resolution upon resolution has been made, yet we continue to struggle to see and know and appreciate one another as all being the fearfully and wonderfully made creations of God…and wonder what it would take to get us to this place. But referencing the quote found at the beginning of this story, I wonder if we might not conclude that while policy making may serve as the christening act to launch a ship for sail, it does not provide the necessary fuel to enable the ship to make its journey. Cracking a bottle on the outside alone, no matter how much or free-flowing the liquid that pours from it, does not get inside to drive the boat or keep it afloat. While the solution is most likely multi-faceted, it will require penetrating the surface and going deeper inside the vessel. This, at least in part, is the purpose for this series. 



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