Pastoral Letter: June 1, 2020

Dear people of God:

I feel the need to start my Monday morning by writing to you in reflection on the events of this weekend here in Omaha and throughout the country. The killing of George Floyd has ignited another round of protests, accompanied by violence, as we face the ongoing reality of racial divide and disparity in our society.

The Presbyterian Book of Common Worship’s prayer for Monday morning includes this line: “We pray for understanding to live according to our faith.” What guidance does our faith provide this morning?

First, the Bible (in the prophets, the Psalms, the epistles, the teachings of Jesus) consistently calls people of faith to begin by self-examination. Before pointing a finger or denouncing someone else, you and I ask ourselves, “What role do I play in this situation?” I find it imperative to begin with the reality of white privilege. I admit I had only a vague sense of what that meant until your Church’s Men’s Book Club read Debby Irving’s Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race. Her well-written, careful analysis of her own life’s story as a middle-class white woman from New England gave content and understanding to the benefits I had only sensed as a white person in America. Before my white siblings rush to make proclamations about anyone, or to assert that you have not been privileged, please read the book, take its lessons to heart, and examine your own life. That is clearly an understanding to live according to our faith: examine your own life.

And take seriously the pain of others. I suspect that most of the violence and vandalism have been committed not by protesters passionately expressing their pain, but by opportunists taking advantage of the situation to commit mayhem. Kathleen worked in one of the neighborhoods most affected by the racial violence in Cincinnati in spring 2001 and she knew many of the neighbors; they knew firsthand who was protesting and who was taking advantage of an opportunity to loot. Please don’t let the violence of some distract you from the pain of those who live with realities most of us don’t grasp. These realities are many, but can be summarized as: if you’re black, and in the “wrong” neighborhood, you become a target. I can hear the angry responses from some of you already, but please, in the name of Christ, read, reflect, and pray.

As always, pray for our city: not only for peace, but also for justice. I hope that we will learn more about the story of the killing of James Scurlock, because rumor and sensationalism easily abound on social media. People of faith should be patient and await proper investigation and information from reliable sources of news. This morning’s psalm was Psalm 57, which includes this affirmation: “In the shadow of your wings will I take refuge until this time of trouble has gone by.” That is our hope not only for ourselves but for all who feel threatened, whether by opportunists or by police, by the authorities or by those who seek to undermine authority. As you live out this week, pray for understanding to live according to our faith.

Pastor Bob