I am fascinated by the story of Jennifer Cramblett, an Ohio woman who is suing a Chicago-area sperm bank for giving her vials from the wrong donor. She and her partner had chosen a donor who was white. They were given vials from a donor who is black.
Among the complaints detailed in the suit, Cramblett is concerned her community and family are too culturally insensitive to raise a black/mix-raced child in racially homogeneous Uniontown, Ohio. She has anxiety when she thinks about her daughter entering an all-white school for the first time. And doing her daughter’s hair poses an issue because she does not know how to properly care for her daughter’s unique texture, which means she often goes to a salon in a black neighborhood where she is not “overtly welcome.” (By the way, Rory Mullen is a white mother who adopted a black daughter and blogs about hair care at Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care. I know many black moms who take pointers from her, myself included. She’s that good.)
I will attempt to be pastoral. I know Ms. Cramblett loves her daughter. I can see the love when she talks about her in interviews. I know she doesn’t regret having her. She and her partner have every right to sue this sperm bank; they were negligent. This couple did not get what they asked for, and I don’t think any of us should tell them to be just be happy they even have a child. They have a right to be angry and to seek damages. I only wish her complaint didn’t come with so much language about how having a black child is problematic. The sperm bank is responsible for their error. They’re not responsible for systems that make it difficult for a little black girl (and her lesbian mothers) to live freely in northeastern Ohio.
These moms have had the unusual experience (perhaps opportunity?) of being thrust into the world of “the other.” Even as they have been encumbered by their own blues, they’re now suddenly acquainted with the blues of others — and it’s understandably jarring to them. Up until now, it was easy to relegate these experiences to other people in other communities. It’s now at their own front door, crawling through their windows, and seeping in through their vents.
I wonder how many of us truly care to step into someone else’s world.
Reports of systematic rape and widespread crucifixions carried out by ISIS in the Levant saturate our news programs. Do we ever willingly and earnestly step into their horror? It’s difficult to do from the comfort of our couches in North America, and so it’s easier to not try.
As a Washington football fan (who would not object to and would even encourage a name change), I watched the uncomfortable exchange on The Daily Show between fans of the team’s name and members of Native American tribes who want to see the name go. The pro-name panel — one of whom is a friend — spoke passionately of their support of the name. But the mood visibly shifted when they were joined by the Native American panelists. Whatever your leanings are on the name or the nature of the controversial piece, you couldn’t deny that things got “real” in that moment. An issue was given flesh, and as such could not remain just an issue. The flesh had to be acknowledged.
When the Ebola virus was ravaging West Africa, it was sad. When it was diagnosed in Texas, it was real.
As we approach World Communion Sunday, a Sunday on which we celebrate and affirm our unity in Christ the world over, perhaps we can begin to move from mere platitudes toward an actual understanding that we are connected — in both Christ and humanity. Let us not be comfortable ignoring what devastates our neighbor, be they a county or a country away. As we take in the tangible Body, let us remember the tangible bodies around us, that they are real even as Christ’s presence is real. Their reality and Christ’s reality should move us beyond ideology to action, beyond comfort to connection. Hopefully this World Communion Sunday compels us to speak up and act up for those who are going through things we don’t understand, but that we can still acknowledge as injustice. I don’t have to know your suffering to know you’re suffering.
If your church sings “They’ll Know We Are Christians” this Sunday, can you do me a favor? Can you mean it when you sing it?