A message from our Interim Pastor regarding the Philando Castile verdict

A Sermon after the Nonguilty Verdict
Pastor Joy Smith

Ezekiel 2:1-5 The Holy One said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2 And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. 3 He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation[b] of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord God.” 5 Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.

 2 Corinthians 12:6- 12:10 But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, 7even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. 8Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong

I am an educated person.  I grew up during the Civil Rights era, and my southern parents always taught me to respect everyone regardless of the color of their skin.   I listen to NPR and watch PBS.  I have participated in many workshops on white privilege, always led by non-white women and men who were patient and very tough.  I joined in vigils following the Charleston Massacre, Travon Martin, Michel Brown, Eric Gardener and after the murder of Philando Castile. In the 80s I marched in a protest lead by Jessie Jackson and Coretta Scott King to remember the lynching of 3 young black men in a small town outside of Atlanta.  And more recently, I was challenged again – while attending the ASDIC Circle upstairs in the Parent Room.

I do not consider myself a racist like the KKK.  I have been hyper-vigilant about racism in me and in my children.

I thought I was doing okay.  But I wasn’t really listening, not deeply. 

Especially, since the death, trial of Philando Castile here in St. Paul – I found myself defensive, nervous, wondering how to talk, respond.  I actually have been depressed about all of it – wrestling with guilt, shame, mostly confusion- unsure how to understand whiteness or blackness or Native-ness, or how to hold hope.  I am more wrapped up in racism than I have admpay attention to in a long time. And I have risked little to change it. 

Sociologists call it “White Fragility”:  That means when I experience even a little racial tension, I cry, get angry, argue or leave the situation all together. I can do that because my skin white. And then nothing changes. When I react it is embarrassing – but again that is because I am white.

Since the massacre in Charleston, SC –  the conversation about race in America moved to the national front.  After rampage, churches and people of faith responded immediately with horror, condemnation of the racism, deep sympathy (or at least, it feels deep), prayer and presence and public cries for change.  It was a horrific act, and easy to respond to.  But to take on the responsibility of racism– that is not so easy.
There have been some powerful symbolic changes – the confederate flag battle in South Carolina; other southern states doing the same – Amazon and Walmart no longer selling products showcasing the battle flag.
But – protecting voting rights are stalled in southern states; economic opportunities are not equal; the justice and penal systems are stridently racialized; the education gap between white students and students of color in Minnesota is higher than ever.  White women are paid more than African American women who have PHDs.

And then the “theory” that the health of black women begins to deteriorate in early adulthood because they face with segregation and racism in every part of their lives …. ‘It causes stress on people that really impacts how they function.  It impacts their cortisol levels, it impacts their brains [and] it impacts the babies that are born.’”1

This is fatal racism that permeates the structures of our society. And because I am white, I keep benefiting and protecting it in ways that I don’t even see.  We don’t intend to be racist.  But we do benefit from the way things are, and from the way we do and don’t see things.

God’s response to this penetrating sin, societal structures that benefit some and oppress others, remains what it has always been: God taps  prophets to speak truth to power and provoke change.

Dr. Jennifer Harvey (some of you will remember she spoke at the UCC Conference a couple of years ago) is the author of a book titled “Dear White Christians” For Those Still Longing for Racial Recognition”.

Her core message is that we have to stop talking about reconciliation when we talk about race and racism.  She clarifies, while reconciliation is at the very heart of the gospel.  But – we have not done the hard work.

 

Maybe if we had truly listened to angry, truth-telling black voices in the 1960’s. And followed those prophets – like Jesus, Dr. King, Monsieur Romero who literally died for their commitment. We wouldn’t be where we are today.  Maybe.
But we expect/want it to be easier than that.  Maybe, if it were white people dying instead of black, or Native, or Hispanic, maybe we’d see things a little differently.

 

To be about prophetic work, the holy work, to dismantle racist structures, we have to spend more time listening, and listening, and listening, and listening.  Not explaining, not defending, not entitlement, not insisting we are right and you are wrong. But listening, listening.
Only after South Africans told their painful stories of apartheid – did the Truth and Reconciliation Commission begin to consider any reconciliation between individuals.
The work of national reconciliation never ends; because we must listen, and listen, and listen again, those of us, who like the way things are – and those of us who profit in unseen ways, those of us who never quite get it.  And as we begin to hear, and to understand – we need to repent — to think anew, to accept our complicity and regret our role in unjust structures, and to earnestly desire change.

Dr. Harvey calls us to reparation – literally, actions to repair the brokenness, the injustice.  Concrete actions, beyond listening and listening and listening.

Reparation does not only mean writing checks to descendants of those who had been slaves. I wish it was that easy- because it demands so much more.

Reparation means more than lighting candles, praying at vigils and marching down I94.  Don’t misunderstand me – all of that is good and important.  Keep doing it.

But for true change, it means unsettling lawmakers to change politics that can break old cycles.  It means creating a scholarship fund that might right educational disparities.  It means using white privilege in changes that undermine white privilege.

When we engage in these kind of actions, and then allow reconciliation to happen as it is supposed to happen – authentically and honest and not pressured by our discomfort and our power.

This is a weekend for “Dear White Christians” to reflect upon America’s uniqueness, (Harvey says) which is a better description than “exceptionalism,” a term that is loaded with racism, arrogance, ignorance, and injustice.  Because alongside remarkably powerful principles and insights, America was also founded, economically and morally, with genocide and slavery.  It’s a complex heritage.  And the better we understand it; our racially divided society has a chance.

 It is a risky commitment to be a prophet. Jesus says that prophets are sometimes killed, and unfortunately only valued after they are dead.   If you are interested to take on the role – here is a job description:

Prophets are called by God, not self-appointed.
Because they are called by God, prophets are inspired and empowered, to speak with divine authority
Prophets are courageous and strong, yet humble; they do not speak for themselves, but for God, the way of Jesus, the good news
Prophets cannot expect to be popular, understood, or accepted
Prophets never go it all alone; Jesus gathered 12 , and sent them out in pairs – remember when Bree Ann Newsome scaled the flagpole in Columbia, South Carolina and removed the Confederate battle flag, she quoted scripture and had a companion who caught her.
Prophets are not responsible for the response of others, but simply to be faithful to God’s call.

“Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them. … Do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words … and do not be dismayed by their looks … You shall speak my words to them” (Ez. 2:5-7).  Pause ….

May it be said of me/you/Cherokee Park United Church-  that there is indeed a prophet (probably more than one) among us who speaks up, who listens and listens and listens, who sees in new ways and repents of the old, who engages tirelessly in acts of reparation.

Perhaps, maybe we can glimpse the possibility of true reconciliation.  At least we can be faithful to that good news, and trust in the power of Christ to keep us honest and at it.  Those are my thoughts after Philando Castile’s tragic death was dismissed on Friday.

Amen.

 

Cherokee Park United Celebrates Milestones

On the 49th Anniversary of creation of Cherokee Park United in early June, several milestones were celebrated. Two members were honored for 50 years of membership. These people joined Cherokee Heights Presbyterian Church the year before that church merged with St. John’s UCC to form Cherokee Park United. Three lovely young women were honored for their recent graduations. Congratulations and blessings on these special people and their achievements!

We March with PRIDE!


Cherokee Park United
marches in the (Ashely Rukes) Pride Parade in downtown Minneapolis, joining with UCC churches to support our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. Please cheer us on at the parade on Sunday, June 25 at 11am. Plan to attend some of the other wonderful events of PRIDE weekend. A complete list of activities is available at https://www.tcpride.org/

Cinco de Mayo Parade

On Saturday, May 6 the Cinco de Mayo Parade marches south on Wabasha and Cesar Chavez Street in a colorful, spirit-filled procession.  Come join us!  Cherokee Park United will be there with our float.  Look for us in our church T-shirts and with our puppet friends.  Plan to stay for the food, festivities and fun after the parade.

Following worship on May 7, the Outreach Ministry team will host a special Fellowship Hour in honor of Cinco de Mayo. There will be Mexican pastries and a piñata for the children. Bienvenido!

West Side Wednesday

Come make new friends and celebrate our multicultural world at West Side Wednesday on May 3! Join us at Cherokee Heights Elementary School (694 S. Charlton St.) from 5:30-7:30 pm (note the time change from other West Side Wednesday events) Cherokee Park United Church will be there with our puppet friends, encouraging all to look for us in the upcoming Cinco de Mayo Parade Bring your friends, neighbors and family to enjoy a delicious dinner, activities for all ages, and the opportunity to learn more about our local schools and community organizations. For more information about West Side Wednesday, call 651-500-1059 or e-mail [email protected].

Spring Art Fest: Healing Spirit; Hidden Wounds

Cherokee Park United Church will sponsor a Spring Art Fest April 28 through June 4. The exhibit is entitled Healing Spirit; Hidden Wounds. Alice Savitski will show her Mixed Media art in the sanctuary. Ellie Leonardsmith will display photos from her project What We Hide in the Parent’s Room. Both exhibits focus on human struggles and healing connections through art. The Art Fest is part of the St. Paul Art Crawl on Friday, April 28, 6 to 10 pm and Saturday, April 29, 12 to 8 pm. Both artists will talk about their works starting at 7 pm that Friday. The exhibit will be open on Sundays and by appointment through June 4. Please bring your friends and come to see this amazing art.

Mardi Gras & ASDIC Fundraiser

Cherokee Park United is proud to be the site for the 3rd annual Antiracism Study and Dialogue Circle’s Mardi Gras Celebration.  This year, ASDIC is raising funds to incorporate as a 501(c)(3) at this event. Join us for a home-cooked feast of Cajun, Creole, and Brazilian food, DJ and line dancing, mask-making, games for kids, and good company.   Wear your favorite Fat Tuesday costume!  Tickets at the door will be $12 or $20 for two tickets. The event is on Saturday, February 25 from 7-11 p.m. For information please call Okogyeamon at

Inquirer’s Class

Wondering about membership at Cherokee Park United Church?  A two session Inquirer’s class will be held on Sundays, February 12 and 19 at 6 to 8 pm.  We will meet in the Parent’s Room, accessible by the Manomin Street door.  Learn about the history, connections, and common life of this vital faith community.  Please contact Pastor Joy at [email protected] or 651 227-4275 to register for the class.

Community Connections and Conversation: Climate Change and Our Response.

Join us from 4 to 7 pm on Saturday, February 11 in the Social Hall.. We will screen Leonardo DiCaprio and Fisher Steven’s film Before the Flood. After sharing a light soup supper,  a Cherokee Park United member active in environmental issues will facilitate a discussion about this compelling issue. Please invite your families, friends, and neighbors. (Suggested age 10 years and over). A free-will offering will be taken for the meal. Please contact the church at [email protected] with questions.

Support West Side Schools! : West Siders for Strong Schools

Join us at Humboldt High School on January 25th.
Cherokee Park United is partnering with West Siders for Strong Schools to promote special events at West Side Schools this year. Beat cabin fever and join the community at Humboldt High School on January 25 from 5 to 7 pm.

Humboldt is at located at 30 Baker St. East.  It’s the night of the school’s Winter Concert so music will be in the air. There will be a delicious free dinner, family-friendly activities, and the opportunity to learn more about local schools and community organizations.   Bring your family and friends and support learning in our neighborhood! More information is available at 651-500-1059 or email info@ westsidestrongschools.com.