White Demands for Peace: A Big STFU to People of Color?

“You know as well as I do that people who die bad don’t stay in the ground.” These are haunting words from Ella, a character in Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved. And they’ve stuck with me ever since I read them.

“People who die bad” as in die unjustly, untimely, in a way that doesn’t acknowledge their humanity—the Freddie Grays, the Michael Browns, the Eric Garners—they don’t let us forget, they won’t stay quiet. Their story will be told. And their stories won’t always fall on welcome ears. Some people don’t like to hear of bad deaths, especially if those deaths implicate them, disrupting their peace of mind.

Sometimes I wonder if the rally cry of peace isn’t much more than a request for silence. A request for quiet from the voices that won’t let us live in peace, won’t let us carry on like everything is ok. Some say, I’m for a response to Freddie Gray’s bad death as long as it’s peaceful. But what does that mean, I wonder? What does a peace mean in light of “bad deaths?”

What does this push for peace mean coming from those of us who live in society with white skin? What is peace for us at times like this? Is it mere quiet, peace of mind?

Does it mean we don’t want a world, a community, where all of the sudden those of us with white skin are in danger too? Well, of course, it means that. But are we willing to ask what it means when that’s the realization that all of the sudden prompts our recommendations of peace?

What does peace mean for white people in times like this? I think it’s easy to talk about peace…wish for peace…pray for peace. But what are we talking about when we talk about it? Whose peace are we talking about? Is peace a longing, a hope, for a world where bad deaths don’t occur? Is that it? Because, sometimes, it doesn’t seem like we’re aware, fully aware, of the need for peace until something bad happens and the subsequent conversations implicate us; then, and at times only then, we want to make sure everything is peaceful.

Is the peace that we whites sometimes want not much more than a silencing of the fact that, many times, a lack of peace isn’t an issue for us until our black neighbors who are constantly exposed, systemically predisposed, to “bad deaths” ask us why? Why are those with white skin not so exposed? And why is it that our answer is often: “Well, let’s talk about this but in a peaceful way…let’s make sure this doesn’t get out of control. Let’s make sure we all seek peace.” Then we light candles together, we pray for peace, and we leave glad that nobody got hurt.

But someone did get hurt. A bad death did happen. A lot of bad deaths have happened. And will continue to happen until the need for peace grows beyond the need to manage a conversation.

“You know as well as I do that people who die bad don’t stay in the ground.”

People who die badly… they don’t let us forget, they won’t stay quiet. Their story will be told. And the story of their bad death won’t always fall on welcome ears. Some people don’t like to talk of bad deaths, especially if those deaths implicate them, disrupt their peace of mind.

It’s here that I hope we come together in working for peace. It’s here, in the realizations that some of us haven’t been doing a fair or good job sharing the spaces we occupy with others, that we focus the work of peace; inciting a passion for wholeness, for the hard conversations of living together in better, more just ways…joining our longings of peace into efforts for a world where people don’t die bad.

U2Charist…a liturgy I wrote

[Below, is a communion service set to U2 music, a U2 chapelU2Charist, that I wrote not long ago for Chapel where I work. Feel free to adapt and use however you’d like.]

Opening liturgy

[This serves as the invitation to offering (addressing world hunger). There are a number of biblical texts such as Psalm 40 that can be read before the opening.]

Leader: It’s said love is a temple. It’s said all people can enter. But not everyone enters the same way. Some must crawl; some endure a welcome with conditions. For many, love is a temple under construction. The pain of oppression explodes in bodies protesting, raging, hurting, scared, tired, left-out, abandoned.

Cries of exhaustion, of exclusion, of isolation, of hunger echo throughout the world.

Do we hear them?

All: We hear.

Leader: For many people the world sucks. It is not working for everyone. This stark reality has gathered us in this space. What will we offer?

All: We can offer our ears and our voices.

Leader: The world is harder for some than for others and almost impossible for countless more. This is unacceptable! What can we offer?

All: We can carry each other…carry each other.

Leader: Yes, we can carry each other. May God help us.

At this time, you’re invited to also make a monetary offering if you’re moved to do so.

[Offering – with “One” – U2]

Invitation to table

Words of Institution…

Leader: A table is not built with walls.

All: Good! Walls divide us, walls create spaces for exclusion, for isolation…they leave people out.

Leader: Then let’s imagine the world as a table.

All: But the world is built with walls.

Leader: Then let’s tear them down.

All: Yes! Let’s tear them down.

Leader: Jesus’s table helps us imagine the world as God’s table. A world God created for all to have a place. A table where there are no reserved seats or places of honor, but instead enough space for all to pull up a chair and participate. A world where no person would see the need to begin building walls because belonging is not a thing to be earned or managed or constructed but a basic assumption. A table is not built with walls. The seats are not named as if to imply that some names don’t belong. The world as God’s table is not handed off to any group of people to manage. It is set. It is open.

In the Christian tradition, Jesus invites us to connect with this vision of God’s table when we gather around smaller tables like this one during our ritual expressions. The story is told that on the night before Jesus died he gathered his friends around a table for a meal. He talked of the symbolism of bread and wine. He wanted his friends to know that after he was gone they could still remember this moment and reflect on these symbols, keeping his vision of the world as table alive and going. And in this moment, we stoke the fire of love that we might set aflame the walls of exclusivity and division.

He took the bread, broke it and gave thanks for it. This is the bread of life, the bread of one world…signifying that all humans share the world’s sustaining gifts.

He took the cup, poured it, and gave thanks for it. This is the cup of love, a cup of one love…signifying the necessity of love for learning together how to live together. 

Prayer for bread and cup

God, we give thanks for the power surging through this ritual, for this bread and this cup. We are humbled and convicted while we eat and while we drink realizing that we are often satisfied with our small tables. We pray that our participation at this table awakens within us an awareness that we also sit at the table of human interdependency. In memory of the one who left us a story worth repeating, amen.

Communion Song – “Where the Streets Have No Name” – U2

Post Communion liturgy

Leader: These smaller tables are not meant to fill us. If we leave here satisfied, then we leave having missed the significance. This is not a table for us to get our fill. We come to this table to whet the appetite of our awareness and connect us with the hunger pangs of those who have been unjustly excluded from the table of the world. This table reminds us what we’re looking for; it’s not the place to find it.

All: Then we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.

Leader: Then by all means, keep looking! There are people at the table who are not seen, who are seen-through.

All: We are looking for God.

Leader: Yes, there are people at the table who are not seen, who are seen-through.

All: But where is God?

Leader: There are people at the table who are not seen, who are seen-through.

All: Then we should see them. Amen.

Closing Song – “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” –U2

3…2…1…Launch

Well, I’m gonna give this blogging thing a shot again. I’ve attempted it before but was very bad at it. Let’s see if I can be better at being bad at it this time around. For my first post, I’m introducing what you’ll find at the “About this Blog” page.

I struggle to call my experience and engagement with religion or god “faith.” But I haven’t a better word. There are a lot of days I don’t think about God, and I most definitely don’t think about God in the sense of some personal being somewhere out there taking account of my thoughts and actions. I encourage you to slog through my thesis section (be sure to read the main page first) to get a better feel for my faith and god and Christianity. It will explain a lot about how I approach being a Christian; it may not be headed in the right direction for most folks (and no doubt it’s probably too long and boring), but it gives some sense of where I’m coming from, helps trace how I got to where I’m at and gives shape to where I’m trying to go.

This blog will be an application of my thesis work to my thinking on any number of subjects from politics to religion, from sports to family, and even rants on things that annoy me. I hope it informs and encourages you, while also functioning as a way for me to control the thoughts that haunt me by imprisoning them in pixels on a screen.

I’m wrong a lot. And I welcome you telling me so. Please comment and contribute to what I hope to see resemble a conversation.

Thanks for dropping in. Stay around for awhile. Come back often. And, if you’re so moved, please share what you find here.