Several weeks ago, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the voting body, gathered in New Orleans to conduct the business of the church.  There was also a parallel assembly, The Grace Gathering.   The Grace Gathering was organized to include those who were not voting delegates, but like them, share an interest in the future of the church.

I lead a workshop with the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Ishler introducing, “How to Have Helpful Conversations About Race” the new anti-racism curriculum developed by Deacon Inez Torres Davis for the Women of the ELCA, to an overflow crowd.  People are not ignorant to the rise of “civil wrongs” of late.  So many came open and curious because in this day and age, Lutherans can no longer default to “quietism.”  Quietism has set our denomination on the wrong side of history on many societal shifts and social movements.   Predictably, during Q & A, a noisy minority of one raised his voice with factoids.  He said that he had “done some reading and was somewhat of an expert.”  I was curious, because I have found that experts rarely trumpet their expertise, their works precede them.  This gentleman had “nary” a receipt.  He appeared older, White and male.  His tone was argumentative.  He was insistent the factoids he offered were Gospel truths even when politely challenged by anti-racism educators. Hey, Lutherans are polite if nothing else.  Ever hear of Minnesota nice?  Some of my Lutheran cousins have that on lock.  I explained to him that this workshop was designed to help people enter helpful conversations on race.  He demonstrated before those gathered how not to go about it.  After exchanging a few more words, quoting Jesse Williams in his BET (Black Entertainment Television) acceptance speech, I invited him to “SIT. DOWN.”

“If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an       established record of critique for our oppression. If you have no interest, if you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions for those who do. Sit down.”

SitLet me exegete “SIT. DOWN.”  Two small words but together in the Black church context those words are packed with significant meaning.  During testimony time, when someone was particularly long-winded, the pastor might ask them to “have a seat.”  Everyone knew the subtext was “stop talking.”  But the church mothers, who donned white from head to toe on first Sundays and smelled of Jergen’s lotion were audibly heard to say, “SAUT DOWN,” vocal stress on the word “down.”   When the elders spoke those words, the orator sat down immediately.   It could mean “sit down and not another word from you” or “sit down and listen.”    My elders were fond of saying, “Sad down and listen. You might just learn something.”

I’m in the “sit down and listen” camp.   There is healing in the sit down and listen camp.  The day before my presentation, I attended the Experiential Learning Track: From the Doctrine of Discovery to #Black Lives Matter.   The leaders anticipated 80 attendees, 294 people showed up.  Fortunately, there was room for all.  I “sat down” in the back of the room on the floor.  The Rev. Jesse Jackson just happened to be in New Orleans greeting other denominational bodies convening at the simultaneously.  He extended us that courtesy.  It was a powerful gesture.  In his signature fashion, he helped the gathered assembly to see the Black Lives Matter in the historical context dating as far back as the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Then he took a gracious leave.  Then our presenters continued teaching about the Doctrine of Discovery.

I noticed throughout the presentation an older, White man sitting in a chair a couple of rows ahead.  His body language was captivating.  My colleague and I could see him processing this new information.   When he heard how the Doctrine of Discovery continues to impact society, I saw him place his hand over his mouth and then rub the furrows on his forehead.  His body was like a see saw.  He would lean in to absorb information then lean back, when repelled by horror of it all.  Clearly he was being disabused of popular historical myths. Clearly, this new “discovery” stirred something deep within him.  Now that he has a new interpretative lens, perhaps he will see the news of the Standing Rock Resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline differently.  Make no mistake, history is being made.

Two older white guys went to a church gathering. Sounds like the beginning of a joke but it is no laughing matter.  One had to be told to SIT. DOWN. The other came to sit down and listen. Let’s be clear, both of these old White men will vote in the upcoming presidential election.

DSC_9856 (2)Pastor Angela Shannon is the Associate Pastor at King of Glory Lutheran Church. King of Glory is a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and is located in Dallas, Texas. She is an “ambivert” Benedictine oblate, active contemplative who enjoys “people time” as well as solitude.

 

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14 thoughts on “The Pastoral is Political: “Sit. Down.”

    1. The whole situation troubles my soul. I’m hoping Bishop Eaton will respond. She tends to be on top of these things. There is some ELCA representation on the ground there. Prayers ascending. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. If we are to live in a color blind society, why is it necessary to point out in your article that the men were white? I find that interesting.

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    1. A anti-racism educator/facilitator sighs, each time some one points out that we should be a “color blind” society when it is apparent that this is not a color blind society nor should it be. God created a rich diversity of peoples and cultures which are to be celebrated equally and enjoyed by all, much in the same way God created flowers in their rich diversity across the color spectrum. So, no we are not to be a color blind society. You might find the TED Talk by Melody Hopson http://www.ted.com/talks/mellody_hobson_color_blind_or_color_brave helpful. Like her, I think we need to be color brave.
      To answer your question, I used “White” as a descriptor much in the same way I used “older” in my essay without regard to value judgements. Its worth examining why to found the descriptor “White” problematic but not the other adjectives used to describe the men. Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. “A anti-racism educator…” I think that should be An anti-racism educator….. My definition of a color-blind society is treating each other as equals no matter the color. I did not focus on any other adjective such as elder because elder can describe any race or sex. I don’t think you had any intention of using white as just a descriptor since you were discussing race. I am troubled that anyone in religion would speak of black lives matter in a positive tone since they are the ones who chanted “pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon” when referring to police officers. Believe me, I know no one will agree with my comments because those who do don’t read articles like this. They see the headline and move along which is what I wish I had done. I do appreciate you taking the time to read my comments. This is my last comment on the subject. May God bless you.

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        1. Sister Karen, you have chosen to correct the grammar and the words of someone who has written meaningfully of her own experience in a given time and space and in the world. You appear to have decided that since it doesn’t apply to how you see the world, it must therefore be incorrect. The adjective “white” is as pertinent here as the adjective “elder” because they both relate to a kind of privilege that was applied in trying to control the conversation. Incidentally, this is the same kind of control you have applied to THIS conversation by trying to stomp off with the last word and making it impossibly to contact you for further conversation. All, I can say, in the most pastoral way possible, is: “Bless your heart- you don’t know when to sit down.”

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  2. As the Executive Director of RevGalBlogPals, I want to reply to Karen Doolyn. I’m not sure what assumptions you could possibly make about the title of this blog post, “Sit.Down,” unless you are referencing the feature name, “The Pastoral is Political.” You cast aspersions on a movement based on the voices of a few when such accusations could be made easily against all Christians given some Christians’ support of slavery, celebration of lynching, and actions against civil and voting rights.

    RevGalBlogPals is a majority white organization coming to painful awareness of our own unacknowledged racism, working to become more conscious, and conscientiously seeking to amplify the voices of our colleagues who are People of Color. We support Black Lives Matter and its anti-violence message. You can read our statement of support at the link.

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  3. I can only understand the experiences of those who have experienced racism by doing as my Sister Angela suggests… SIT DOWN. LISTEN. PRAY. It’s a good spiritual practice, one that we could apply to anyone. I use it in my Calling as a pastor/chaplain and learn so much… Mostly that I do not understand.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I was in that room too – at Churchwide Assembly, when we were all surprised by the appearance of the Rev Jesse Jackson. What an incredible experience! As a white American woman of Hispanic origin, with a last name that always inspires people to ask “where are you from?” (and they never believe the answers of “Wisconsin” or “America”) – I have spent my life trying to figure out where I fit in regarding the complicated issues of race and justice. The ELCA’s session on the Doctrine of Discovery, and the Assembly’s repudiation of that doctrine, were helpful to my understanding of these complicated issues and how to respond faithfully. I am disappointed to report that, outside of this session, I found the Assembly’s actions and the comments of individuals to be deeply disappointing. The ELCA is the whitest denomination in the country, and we have a great deal of work left to do regarding racial justice and cultural sensitivity. Thank you for sharing your experience, Angela.

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