“Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”
For Black History Month I’ve been collecting stories of some young African-American leaders in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA). It’s work that I feel is very necessary, being that we are in a denomination that is roughly 91% white. Ninety-one percent! That’s a pretty solid majority, and by contrast the entire United States of America is just under 78% white. Black people, who make up about 13% of the national population, are only a fraction of the PC(USA)’s non-white nine percent. These are stories that can too easily be buried.
Buried. That’s an interesting word to use, because we bury things that, to us, are dead. We bury “the hatchet,” as in we put to rest old grudges. They no longer exist to us. We bury our feelings when we don’t want to deal with them. And yes, we bury people when they’ve completed their baptisms and their breath has left them.
It’s terribly difficult to engage something that is buried, whether the burial was intentional or not. Black History Month — and Women’s History Month, and Hispanic Heritage Month, and Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month — invites us to un-bury what has become dead to us, to exhume some stories that have been left for dead and breathe new life into them.
That is needed work, because one colleague I interviewed had an encounter with his child’s teacher who didn’t know that slavery was actually pretty rough for slaves. Seriously. Some of us don’t know what exactly happened to people when they were lynched. We know it was bad, but we may not know how bad. Nor might we know that in the span of 86 years, over 3,400 black people were lynched — and those are just the ones for whom we have data.
My dream would be for predominantly white churches — like most of the ones in my denomination — to lift up these stories as much as they authentically can. And not just for the sake of chasing after the brass ring of diversity and inclusion, but to truly live into it. When we lift up these stories, the ruach is returned to the dry bones; life is breathed into the people in them. They receive sinews and flesh and are no longer objects, but people. Listening to others’ stories humanizes both the teller and the hearer. I need that. We all need that. What’s more, the yoke of listening is so easy, even when the stories are heavy. It costs us very little to listen; simply some open ears and willing and humble hearts.
We have opportunities daily to step out of our own respective bubbles. I need to step out of my own American, Christian, heteronormative bubble as often as possible. What are your own bubbles? I hope we can open ourselves to stories; perhaps then we can stop creating issues out of people.