Midweek Message, May 18, 2022

“I’m from Western New York.”


That’s what I say when somebody asks me where I grew up. If they ask more specifically, sometimes I say, “Chautauqua County”, or “Mayville” or just “south of Buffalo.”


It’s my custom to check the local and national news early on Sunday mornings to see if there’s anything that needs to be addressed in worship. The New York Times headline felt like a blow to my gut: another terrorist attack of racist violence, this time in Buffalo. Pretty near my hometown. I was further horrified to read that the attacker drove to this neighborhood because it was a place with a high concentration of Black people nearest his hometown. His hometown that is a lot like mine, I imagine. If he had lived in my hometown, he would’ve ended up in the same place.


This month we’re talking about family and culture, as part of visioning about who we are and what we bring to the church. For me, an indelible part of that culture is also where I’m from.


Nobody told me I was white until I was in college, and certainly nobody helped me think about what that meant. We talked some about diversity and civil rights, but there were vanishingly few people of color in my public high school, and most of them were either adopted children of white parents or part of marginalized families from the lower income parts of our town. I thought only occasionally about race, and I didn’t think much about how my town came to be just so white.


Now I know some of that history. A history of racism and colonialism. A history of violence against Native people, and undoubtedly later against Black people and other people of color. I learned what a sundown town is, and I learned more and more about all the subtle and not so subtle ways that a town can enforce white supremacy.


So, some kid from a town like mine got a gun and some armor and drove to Buffalo to kill God’s beloved children. He got a different racial education than I did, one explicitly grounded in violence and hate, but both of our educations came from a place of white supremacy.


I don’t regret where I grew up. I love the people who raised me, and I love the places that shaped so much of who I am. And I learned other, better lessons there: lessons about what it is like to stand in a wild place covered in snow, more silent than any place I’ve ever been. Lessons about how queerness and diversity can survive and thrive at the margins, and how the Spirit makes places to hold Her children. Lessons about how church can be a place of survival and thriving for the likes of me. Lessons about community that has each other’s back, scrappy suspicion of big institutions, and a willingness to drive a dodge neon in just about any weather conditions known to humanity.


But there are things about where I grew up, the context that raised me, that will continue to haunt me. I believe that God calls me to use the gifts of that place to dismantle the demons of that place. Creation grounds me when I wrestle with my own white supremacy. My community holds me when I need to mourn for what’s lost. And my church helped me learn what it is to be brave.


Blessings to you, also, as you wrestle with the place, you’re from, the stories you carry. Spirit journeys with us and is calling us home.


Til the day when all of God’s Beloved will shop for groceries in peace:


Yours in the Gospel,