Lenten Book Discussion (Chapters 8 & 9): Lori Lowe
April 10, 2017
On Wednesdays in Lent, diocesan leaders will guide an online book discussion of "Living into God's Dream: Dismantling Racism in America," a collection of essays edited by Dr. Catherine Meeks. Each week our guest facilitators will post a reflection on a chapter (or chapters) that can be found on the diocesan website and in the enews. On Wednesdays from 7 - 8 pm they will also host a Facebook conversation about the chapter and their reflection. All are invited to participate. Those who do not have Facebook accounts may still view the conversation, but will not be able to comment. See the full schedule of chapters and facilitators.
Our reflection for Chapters 8 & 9 comes from the Rev. Lori Lowe, rector of St. Paul's in McHenry. The April 12 discussion will be facilitated by Lowe, and take place on Facebook from 7 - 8 pm. Join the conversation on Facebook.
This is the last of the online reflections about Dr. Catherine Meeks book, “Living into God’s Dream: Dismantling Racism in America.” As you know, our bishop, Jeff Lee, invited the people and parishes of our diocese to join him in what he called “one diocese, one book.” The starting point for this week’s conversation is the last two chapters: Chapter 8, “The American South is Our Holy Land” by the Robert C. Wright, and Chapter 9, “Getting Dismantling Racism Right in Atlanta” by Beth King and Catherine Meeks.
Now, if you checked out the information about the contributors in the back of the book (p.147ff) you’ll know that Rob Wright is the bishop of Atlanta (full disclosure, my home diocese), and that Catherine Meeks (editor and contributor to this short but packed volume) and Beth King have been antiracism training partners in that diocese.
As a reader, I found that each chapter of this book could stand alone. They were related by the underlying subject matter, of course, but could be read in any order. That was certainly true of these two final chapters.
Bishop Wright’s reflection on the Deep South, with its achingly rich yet painful history, gave me a new perspective on my own roots. As he describes a family trip to milestone places along the pathway toward civil rights, he makes a moving and convincing case for those places to been recognized as sacred places. For the whole region, in fact, to be understood as holy.
But stories and facts alone, he says, can’t tell what we need to know and what we need to learn. “Poetry riding on melody is necessary.” [p.124] He then chronicles the voices who made those melodies, who sang the songs that fed hearts and inspired hope. And as I read, I couldn’t help but think that he had joined them in the writing of this essay. As a White Southerner who grew up in a household with a Black “maid,” and who attended segregated schools, who was hardly aware, let alone “waked,” Bishop Wright’s chapter helped me understand the place that shaped me and gives me hope that out of all that was and is evil there is still in God’s hands. That “God’s bias for justice” will prevail. [p. 127] And I find my own hope renewed.
The final chapter, “Getting Dismantling Racism Right in Atlanta,” recounts the transformation of the work in that diocese from “anti-racism” into “dismantling racism.” From whatever it might have been before into the journey toward “the Beloved Community” that is God’s will for us. They worked together to create opportunities for Black and White people to come together and to seek the face of Christ in each other; to begin to take down barriers to understanding, brick by brick.
As they took turns describing their experiences, I began to hear what they were describing as their calling, their vocation, meeting people “where they were on their journey,” [p.191], but trying to lead them to a new place. That very much describes my experience as I invited my parish, St. Paul’s in McHenry, to read this book. We are a small congregation, about 50 now on any given Sunday. I’ve been their rector for almost five years now.
McHenry is a semi-rural small town in a conservative county. But like most Episcopal churches, the members of St. Paul’s run the gamut from pro-this to pro-that, from conservative to liberal, from the elderly to the very young. But in all respects, we are White. After the Eucharist on Sunday mornings, about a third of the adults gather in the parish hall for what we call Coffee & Conversation. It’s the closest thing we have to an adult Sunday school or forum. Over the years, we’ve had some pretty significant discussions. This, however, challenged us more than anything we’ve done before, as I had anticipated. What could be harder than for fairly isolated White people to try to talk about racism?
I’m not sure we made much headway. All I know for sure is that we’ve made a beginning. It remains to be seen how we will progress on this essential journey. And I guess there is one more thing I know: that this book has helped me on my own journey.
Lori M. Lowe, SSAP