Pastor's Corner: A Letter from Rev. Kenny Rigoulot
Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. As I write this newsletter I find myself searching for words of wisdom and compassion that can move us toward healing and reconciliation. I know that my words alone are not enough. We need to take time to reflect on racism, ask others (especially those whose voices have been silenced) about their experiences with racism, connect with others through empathy and compassion, and expand our understanding of racism and how it negatively effects all of us. My fear is that we will become defensive or dismissive. My hope is that we will be vulnerable and receptive.
I want to begin by saying that I need to do more to reflect on my own biases and privileges. When I was graduating from seminary and looking for my first church, the guidance counselor suggested that I include a picture of me and my family because it would show search committees that I was a young, white, married, heterosexual, well-educated, middle class, able-bodied man with a beautiful wife and children. When I asked if that had any bearing on whether or not a search committee would be interested in me, she said that it certainly wouldn’t hurt. I must confess that this was one of the first times I considered how privileged I am.
When Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while jogging, I was horrified. I was also confronted with the truth that I have never once worried that my teenage son who regularly runs around town would be seen as a threat or intentionally hurt by someone else. Why would anyone assume that a black man running in the street is running away from something, rather than just going for a run? While I was being interviewed for a podcast with our friends at First United Methodist Church, Rev. Daniel Hawkins mentioned that he walks with his girls around the neighborhood to make sure his girls are safe. Then he mentioned reading about Shola Richards, a black man living in Los Angeles, that always walks his dog with one or both of his daughters so they can help keep him safe. Parents should protect children from potential threats, children should not have to protect their parent from being seen as a threat.
These are things that we need to think about when we consider how racism impacts people today. We need to spend time reflecting on our own biases, privileges, and experiences to see what we can learn about racism in our world and in ourselves. I want to suggest that we need to connect with people of color and others who may not look like, talk like, think like, and vote like we do. I do not suggest doing this on Facebook or other forms of social media. I think active listening is best done face to face – whether that is in person or on a screen (social-distancing). We need to ask others about their understanding of and experience with racism. We do not have to affirm that their perspective is the only way to see things, but we need to try to understand where people are coming from. We need to connect through empathy and compassion. How would you feel if you were in their shoes? How are your experiences similar to and different than theirs? How can we love our neighbor (or our enemies) if we are unwilling to listen to them?
We need to expand our understanding of racism and how it negatively impacts all of us today. We need to start with prayer, thoughtful reflection, and meaningful conversation. Then we need to take action. We need to promote peaceful protest, political action, reform, and renewal. We cannot fight hate with hate. We must overcome hate with love. We cannot wish this pain away or dismiss it. We must enter it, face it, reflect on it, hear from others about it, discuss it, and do our best to overcome it.
Earlier this week, a young person messaged me and asked why I had not addressed current events on my Facebook page. I do not want my silence on Facebook to suggest that I am not concerned about current events or that I am not praying for the families of those who have lost loved ones due to police brutality and people of color who fear for themselves and their loved ones. I am hoping we will listen to those who have not been heard and stand with those who have been pushed to the breaking point. I am praying for peaceful protests and political action that will lead to systemic change, the renewal of minds, and opening of hearts. I am praying for the safety and well-being of those who are protesting, as well as those who do their best to protect and serve every member of their community. I am visiting with my friends of color, as well as friends in law enforcement. We must resist the urge to demonize or dismiss the other – whoever the other may be. We must strive to see the image of God reflected in all of God’s children. I know that my words alone are not enough to bring the healing and reconciliation we so desperately need, but I fear that saying nothing would send a message I do not want to send. I hope we will support peaceful protest, political action, systemic change, and most of all, love of neighbor! I am trusting that faith is stronger than doubt, hope is stronger than despair, and love is stronger than hate. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ help us forgive ourselves and others for the racism in our world and in our hearts, may the love of God help inspire us to love all of God’s children, and the power and presence of the Holy Spirit enable us to work for justice, reconciliation and peace.
Rev. Kenny Rigoulot