Tag Archives: Sin

Confronting my own Racism

03/03 Update: Execution delayed because drugs to be used are “cloudy”–unclear if SCOTUS is reviewing case or not.

03/02 Update after 9pm: Execution delayed for SCOTUS to weigh in.

Tonight a woman named Kelly Renee Gissendaner is scheduled to be executed in Georgia at the age of 46. Her picture has been in my newsfeed for days, a beaming face under a blue graduation cap. She is known to at least one of my classmates from seminary.

At 6:45 tonight, I sat down on the floor to pray for Kelly. I wanted to pray for her in the minutes leading up to and following her scheduled 7pm execution. As I prayed, several thoughts and phrases repeated in my mind…
I sang the spiritual, “Oh, Sister, let’s go down, down to the river to pray.”
I recalled the words of the Nunc dimittis we recite at evening prayer, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace… for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”
I apologized to Kelly and made promises to her.
I asked God’s forgiveness for my being complicit in a broken and sinful system.

And then it hit me.

While I have been opposed to the death penalty for as long as I can remember, this feels different. And it feels different because Kelly looks like me.

A white woman, pictured in cap and gown, smiling, a professed Christian.

The difficult truth–for me at least–is that this death affects me differently than the more prevalent images of incarcerated black males. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I’m re-reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow with a group of parishioners at Trinity Wall Street right now, I just met with a previously incarcerated black man last week to discuss some excellent work he is doing to give hope to prisoners serving life sentences, and I share dinner with a group of recently incarcerated (mostly black male) people once a month–so it’s not like I’m naive to the very real problem race disparity and mass incarceration.

And yet that knowledge is apparently not enough to override my internal prejudice.

Perhaps others will be more affected by Kelly’s execution as well, and perhaps God will use that extra dose of “she looks like me” discomfort to bring about justice. I don’t know. But I know Kelly has taught me a lot this night.

As of 8:45pm, Kelly has not yet been executed. She has been denied clemency–a decision affirmed by the parole board after her scheduled 7pm execution. I can’t imagine what the past few hours of hopeless hope have felt like.

Kyrie eleison. Lord have mercy.

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Observing a Holy Lent

Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

This morning I preached at our 8am Ash Wednesday service. It was special to me because a) this time last year I was a seminary volunteer at Trinity, sharing ashes in the church and on the street, not realizing I’d be a clergy person on staff a year later… and b) I’d never been asked to preach Ash Wednesday before.

In reading the lessons assigned for the day, I found that I loved the juxtaposition of Isaiah’s “Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet!” with Matthew’s “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them… whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you.”

It made me laugh because I read lots of opinions on how to do Lent “right,” often opinions of other clergy friends, and often opinions expressed as rules or facts.

ie: Ashes on the street is evangelism and love in the real world! vs. Ashes to go is cheap grace and not real church! Brothers and sisters–please.

This is probably why my mom texted me earlier this week, asking for advice on whether she ought to wear her ashes all day or wipe them off after leaving church. Usually when my mom asks such questions, I suggest she ask her priest. So when I responded this time that the decision was a personal one she would have to make for herself, she replied, “How would you answer if I were not your mother?” My response: the same.

And so that’s what I preached about this morning. My mom wanted to know what the church’s “stance” is. The church’s stance is simply to invite you to observe a holy Lent. A good start is to observe which of the lessons for today make you squirm more. Do you prefer to wear ashes on your head all day so that folks will see what a good Christian you are, getting up early to go to church before work on a weekday? Then maybe Matthew’s text makes you a wee bit uncomfortable. And maybe in observing that discomfort, you decide to wipe your face clean before continuing your day. Or does the idea of wearing ashes strike you as a reminder of your mortality you’d rather forget–or as a strong symbol of your faith you’re nervous to profess? Then maybe Isaiah’s text pushes you outside your comfort zone. And maybe that discomfort challenges you to wear those ashes “loud and proud” all day long.

The answer isn’t the same for all of us because our sin manifests itself differently in our individual lives. Some sin is communal–it’s true. And some sin is yours alone–or mine alone. In Lent we get to reflect on both. It takes observation. It takes noticing where your discomfort is and how that might be distracting you from following Jesus.

What will you observe this Lent?

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