I Should Have Asked Sooner

Dan Turner, June 2020

I am white. Most of the people that call me ‘Pastor Dan’ are not.  I’ve enjoyed the beauty of those relationships. I love learning about other cultures and other experiences. Somebody told me years ago that most pastors have 2-3 sermons that really “live in them”. For me, one of those sermons has been the message of reconciliation. 

For 16 years, I’ve been working to love and understand the people in my church and my city of DC.  But, over these last few weeks I’ve realized that I’ve been missing or not seeing a huge chunk of peoples’ lives.  Maybe I’ve been afraid to see it. It’s like a tattered and torn backpack that is permanently strapped to the backs of people of color. I’ve known it’s there, but I haven’t seen how heavy and uncomfortable the contents were inside.  I regret not asking more questions when the person in front of me was obviously chaffing from their load.  I should have asked – “What’s in the backpack you carry?”

I’m learning more of what’s inside, and it’s overwhelming.  Inside that bag lives story after story of hurt and disappointment and frustration.  Stories of unnecessary traffic stops, stories of discrimination, stories of abuse, stories of being the victim of both subtle and not so subtle discrimination.  I have yet to meet the exception.  I have yet to meet the black man or woman who somehow escaped unscathed…who somehow found a way to never receive what seems like a terrible souvenir of growing up black in America.

With the events in Georgia, Minneapolis and Atlanta I am beginning to see just how heavy that knapsack has become. Almost daily for the last month, I have begun to hear the stories tumbling out.  Stories that can no longer be contained under the pretense of polite conversation. Stories that make grown men and women cry.  And I cry with them, because these are my friends…these are my flock. 

Part of me wants to ditch social distancing and run away to a beach and act like Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd never happened.  The sad thing is that it would be easy to do. I could insulate myself and get away from the people carrying tattered backpacks full of stories.  That’s one of the unspoken advantages of my freckled white skin. The majority can get away from the minority, but it doesn’t work the other way around.

But how cruel it would be to leave those I love to carry their burdens alone. In Galatians 6:2 Paul says to “share the load of those around you carrying huge boulders because that’s what Christ asks of us” (my paraphrase).  To my black brothers and sisters, I am at least beginning to see the weight you carry. Slide over and let me at least carry a corner …though I’m not even sure I have enough strength to bear up under the load. 

To my white brothers and sisters. Don’t be afraid to ask about those tattered knapsacks. Love doesn’t turn and run or find islands of safety.  Love digs in. But get ready because most of us aren’t prepared for how heavy the loads are that our black brothers and sisters carry. Black lives do matter, and the stories of their lives will change your life.

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