Charlottesville: We Do Not Get to Go Back to Sleep by Sarah Schwartz

“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn."  -Martin Luther King Jr.

White sisters and brothers, can we have a quick huddle?

What we saw this past weekend in Charlottesville was horrific. It was repugnant and it was evil. I know that you know that.

What I'm not sure you know, what I'm not sure I really know, is that racism doesn't always come waving a Nazi flag or wearing a white hood. It does not usually identify itself as obviously as it did at UVA.

It's easy to condemn (and then dismiss) events like Charlottesville as a handful of fringe extremists who represent a strain of racism that was largely eradicated post Jim Crow.

What I'm not sure we have ears to hear, white sisters and brothers, is that racism, in all of it's ugliness, is alive and well in 2017. 

It is present in housing,

in education,

in the surgical precision of voter suppression,

in health care,

in the criminal justice system,

and scores of public policy.

It is the nation I love's original sin.

As the Reverend Dr. Barber has said, "To say you are against white supremacy without standing up against the policies that embolden white supremacists is hypocrisy."

If that makes you uncomfortable (I didn't own slaves! Why do you want us to feel guilty for being white?) let me assure you— no one is trying to make us feel "guilty for being white".

What they are trying to do is wake us up.

If you're still uncomfortable, that's ok. You'll work through it—you'll live. Frankly, your and my discomfort is less important than the tears of Micheal Brown's mother, the child sized casket of Tamir Rice, or the shattered spine of Freddie Gray. It is not as important as the motherless children of Meagan Hockaday, or the 29th birthday Sandra Bland never made it to.

As a follower of Jesus, I do not get to claim I love my neighbor—hell, I don't get to claim Christ—if I do not listen and respond to the suffering of my sisters and brothers of color.

We do not get to go back to sleep.

***

What do we do?

Listen. Listen, listen, read, listen, and then read and listen some more. Listen to understand, not just to respond. People of color are the experts on their own lives, and they should not have to work so hard to convince us that what they experience is real.

Voices to listen to:

Rev. Dr. Barber

Austin Channing Brown

Christina Cleveland

Bryan Stevenson

Drew G.I. Hart

Organizations to Support/Ways to Get Involved:

Southern Poverty Law Center

The NAACP

Campaign Zero

Equal Justice Initiative

***

Friends, the gospel and ways of Jesus are not partisan—that is, they are not owned or fully embraced by any party or label.

But in as much as the political impacts the well being of our neighbor, the gospel is most definitely political.

As Jonathan Martin says, "If the cross makes anything clear, it is that God is never indifferent. God is never aloof. God is never 'above the fray.'"

We do not get to go back to sleep.

GRIT by Sarah Schwartz

Remember how last fall I said that my new work rhythm meant I was going to have more time to write?

Oops.

I know that the internet has been getting along just fine without my regular contributions, but regardless, I wish I had just a little more margin in my life to give to my corner of it, if only for myself.

Also, remember how last summer, in a you-wouldn't-believe-it-if-I-told-you unfolding of events, I was offered the job of my right now dreams, and received word that my masters program was reducing it's requirements, moving graduation from something I thought would happen on The 12th of Never, to something I can practically taste? Remember how it was all too good, too specific to be anything short of a reminder that I'm exactly where I am supposed to be, doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing?

Shortly after I settled in to my new job, I had lunch with a colleague (and friend) who introduced me to a project she had been working on in her not so spare time—GRIT.

GRIT, she explained, was an acronym for gifting, resilience, insight, and tenacity—characteristics she wanted to see cultivated in the young women at the university where we work, where research shows that despite performing (and in some cases, outperforming) their male peers academically, young women consistently underestimate their intelligence, skill sets, and leadership abilities, creating what social scientists refer to as the "confidence gap".

GRIT, she continued, would be an official tool of the university, a blog with content and resources aimed at closing that gap, and helping young women see themselves as they actually are; strong and capable, funny and wise, winsome, creative and bold. It's initial incarnation would be in the form of an online resource collective, with the hopes of it eventually turning in to a brick and mortar women's resource center.

Would I be willing to help get this thing off the ground, she asked?

***

If getting to be a part of GRIT was why everything seemed to move at the speed of molasses in the first half of my twenties—my masters program, my job opportunities—I'd do it again a thousand times over.

Because on a clear, chilly evening this past February, as the GRIT team and I filled coolers with LaCroix and set out boxes of blueberry donuts, young women poured into the space we rented for our official launch party.

Where did they all come from? we asked, eyes wide, and then filling with tears. Is this really happening?

The room was nothing short of electric. I spent most of the evening eavesdropping on conversations—young women swapping names, majors, and stories—offering encouragement, making each other laugh, and calling out the best in one other.

I didn't know there were other women asking these questions, or who felt this way.

I wish I had discovered something like this sooner.

This gives me so much hope.

Sisterhood is one of the most powerful forces on the planet, and that night, it made me want to slip off my shoes lest I disturb holy ground.

Later, I stood on the ledge of the room's brick fireplace, and invited them to open their hands as we prayed—

God of Sarah and Hagar,

Naomi and Ruth, Esther and Deborah,

God of Mary and Elizabeth, Mary and Martha,

Mary Magdalene, Lydia,

and all the unnamed women of scripture,

as you anointed these women

with the oil of faith and calling,

so anoint women everywhere.

As you blessed these women with finding

the courage and strength,

persistence and perseverance within them,

so bless women everywhere.

As you transformed the world

through the vision and work of these women,

continue to transform the world

through the vision and work of women everywhere.

 

From California to Florida, from Chile to Uganda,

may women continue to form and build community

in ways that birth justice, love and peace among us.

In their labor, keep them focused, strong,

steadfast and unwavering.

God, bless the women who continue to work tirelessly,

often unnoticed, but full of beauty and power,

for all manner of good.

Continue to make them vessels of your sustenance;

instruments of your peace;  an inspiration to all.

Amen.

(Erin Matteson)

***

So here I am, six months out from graduation, and the mysterious whatever is next—wholly overwhelmed by the timing and kindness of our behold-I-am-doing-a-new-thing God.

From time to time, in the months since the launch, a barista in the campus coffee shop, or a student worker behind the register at the bookstore, will ask if I'm a part of GRIT, and smile as she explains how it's the thing she didn't know she needed.

Our God is ever and always moving to bring about freedom for the unlikely and the left out—women in particular.

He knows what he is about.

A Blue Dress, Pansies by Sarah Schwartz

Gram wears Grandpa's gold wedding band on a chain around her neck, along with the delicate silver heart he gave her for their anniversary—was is 25 or 40?—it's hard to remember, there being nearly 70 in all. In the center of the heart sit six small diamonds, bought with the labor of Grandpa's calloused hands—a stone for him and each of their babies.

I'm home for a wedding, held in the small Catholic parish where Grandpa's Dad grew up going to mass, in a town where his last name belongs to half the population. I don't think I've ever heard the story of how Grandpa's parents met, and so I ask Gram.

At 87 years old, she can recite most of our family history in impeccable detail, but this is a story where she can only offer a guess—probably church, after he moved across the river. Sitting down and recording Grandpa as he explained who we come from, and how we got here, was something I always meant to do, but never did. The dead don't just take their secrets.

With a trembling hand, Gram raises a glass of red wine to her lips, making the ice rattle noisily against the glass (don't tell the wine people, she says, but she's always thought red wine was best served cold).

She has just returned from a weekend trip to the dusty town of her childhood several hours south, where she laid fresh flowers on her mother's grave; her husband's recent departure a reminder that none of us have as much time as we'd like, and should go and do what we've been meaning to go and do.  Living in Grandpa's hometown meant that her history never received quite as much attention as his, but lately, stories of her tribe have begun to pour out of her, as if she doesn't want them to leave the earth when she does.

I remember the open casket, she says, recalling her mother's funeral, a woman not even 40, and Gram, only 9. She was in a blue dress, holding a bouquet of blue pansies.

I want these details to live inside of me forever, and so I repeat them, slowly, as if to etch them into the deepest recesses of my memorya blue dress, pansies.

***

I think of this as I wander Grandpa's shop, opening drawers of dusty pieces of furniture, hoping I'll stumble across some long forgotten treasure. A carpenter by trade, and a child of the Great Depression by circumstance, he could never be convinced to throw anything away. On the left side of the shop sits a shelf of empty peanut butter jars filled with screws, nuts, and bolts, above me hang no less than 35 kerosene lamps, and to my right, a set of unfinished kitchen chairs covered in sawdust.

In the final years of his life, Mom and Gram would get rid of things when Grandpa was in town for a doctor's visit, or at the Elks Club making brunch on Sunday mornings. Nine times out of ten, he never noticed that there was one less wooden barrel sitting out in the barn, or that his pocket knife collection was missing a Swiss Army.

We talked a lot about death growing up—maybe that's normal, when you share a home with the elderly, I don't know—but when he'd scold us for trying to throw away something he could "absolutely use", we'd tease him about how long it was going to take us to sort through his shop when he went. He'd just smile, and chuckle from somewhere deep inside his round belly.

Not all of it was peanut butter jars and rusted over carpentry tools—the treasure was out there, too. The cedar chest he built Gram for her high school graduation, just before he proposed. My quadruple Great Grandfather's medical degree from the Netherlands. The piano his mother grew up playing in the family farmhouse we have shared since I was a small child.

Maybe holding on to everything was his way of making sure certain things didn't leave us when he did.

***

Among the most sacred moments of my growing up life were the first few hours of Christmas morning each year, when the six of us—Mom, Dad, Gram, Grandpa, Kate, and myself—would gather to open presents before the extended family arrived for brunch.

As they grew older, I found myself watching them intently, so as not to miss anything about the way they looked on those mornings—Gram in her mint green bathrobe nestled in a maroon armchair, and Grandpa, suspenders holding up his Levi's paired with a white tee shirt in a wooden dining room chair beside her.  I wanted to memorize the lines in their faces and the sound of their chiding each other for buying gifts, when they had specifically agreed not to this year. (This was always the agreement, and it was never upheld.)

I wanted how Grandpa's scratchy cheek felt against my lips, and cadence of his gravely voice saying, "Thank you, sweetheart," (emphasis on the t at the end of sweet and heart) to take up residence in my bones so as to never leave me.

***

The reality I am grappling with now is this— no matter how hard I try to absorb every small detail, there will inevitably be things that slip through my grasp. There will always be some part of their magic that escapes me, stories I was never told, or will forget if I was, as well as pieces of them I will be unable to capture with words after they leave.

Bud has been gone a little over a year now, and some nights my chest contracts with the realization that my children will not know the sight of him perched in a green lawn chair, talking to the rows of corn behind the barn (it helps them grow, he'd say), or the smell of Jack Daniel's mixed with sweat that he'd carry after rewarding himself for a hard days work. They will only have my incomplete retellings, and it will not be the same.

But that will not keep me from telling them—the same way Gram tells me of blue dresses and pansies.

Life Comes Back by Sarah Schwartz

It rained something fierce during the wee hours of the morning—the sound of the steady drops woke me around 2:00am, where I spent a few sleepy moments confused as to where I was. Had I gone home to Oregon? No, no, this was my bed in Southern California, where it almost never rains, and yet, there it was—the sound of earth receiving much needed water, under the cover of darkness. I fell back to sleep.

A few hours later, my alarm went off. The rain had stopped, but the ground testified to the outpouring, shimmering in the sunlight.

I noticed the snow-capped mountains in the distance as I drove to work, only ever visible in the aftermath of winds strong enough to wipe away the smog that permeates Los Angeles County.

A handful of years and a remodel ago, what is now my office, was my friend Alicia's work space. A few years my senior, Alicia worked at the university where I was completing my degree, and had welcomed me to use the space as my own, should I need a moment of quiet, or a private place to shed tears—something, that at the time, I did only as often as I breathed.

I try not to dwell the sensations of that season, but if I close my eyes, I can quickly call to mind it's lead vest like heaviness, or the salt water waves of sorrow that threatened to drag me beneath the surface of the sea.

***

The door of Alicia's office now lists my name—Sarah Schwartz, Graduate Assistant—and earlier this week, I sat by it's floor to ceiling windows that overlook the campus' main walkway, and scribbled a note on the title page of a favorite book.

Dear ———,

This is the book I wish existed during my own shipwreck. I hope it finds you like a friend.

It's ok if you don't (or can't) believe me right now, but I promise, one day—life comes back.

-Sarah

***

Life does, in fact, come back.

Slowly, in fits and spurts, through the hard work of dragging your ass to therapy and taking your medication, and through the faithfulness of friends not so impressed by you as to not tell the truth. It comes through time and the worn edges of poetry books and the albums you listen to endlessly, convinced someone stole your journal and put it to song.

It comes through small miracles—bumping in to that person who said something they probably thought was insignificant, but set a piece of you free, or was a balm to a wound you previously thought would never stop smarting. It comes through yoga for your tight back and spontaneous drives to the ocean to catch the sunset, and through wine on the back porch with it's perfect view of the neighbor's lemon tree.

It comes through celebrating your people like you just got word that birthdays will soon be illegal, and not resisting when they celebrate you in like fashion. It comes not so much through making peace with your flesh and blood frame as much as it does falling in love with the curve of your own hips and the tips of your mile long eyelashes.

It comes through the full body exhale of forgiveness.

It comes through weekly family dinners with your six best friends, and the way your Grandmother says your name.

It comes through the first, and one thousandth time you say aloud, "I can't do this alone."

But life does, in fact, comes back.

***

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

-Derek Walcott

Rules (Stories From Exile) by Sarah Schwartz

If you haven't heard, Nish Weiseth is back in business with Stories From Exile, a writer's collaborative bringing you stories written by outsiders in Christianity, politics, and culture. This project has already been a balm to my soul during these trying times, and I can't wait to see where it goes. Head on over, and check out my latest piece, Rules.

Rules

Keep your legs shut, you are only as good

as the parts you keep covered up

only as pure as what hasn’t been

touched, won’t you tell me again

the rules for my body?

 

Tell me how I should

be treated with respect, unless

a Supreme Court Justice is on the table

until, you have to treat them like shit

won a primary,

before

just locker room talk became the

unrepentant prayer that covered

a multitude of sins.

(Catch the rest of the poem over at Stories From Exile!)