1 John 1:5-9
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Oh, dear siblings so I have some confessing to do. I live in white privilege. I benefit from white supremacy. And with at least as much (probably more) of myself as I hate it and fight it, I also cling to it in those scared, hidden parts of my soul. This is my trying to be in fellowship with Jesus, confess, and be cleansed from this despicable unrighteousness.
A Story and a Confession:
A few weeks ago, I was driving down an old narrow street in Seattle. There was a large police SUV parked on one side with a sizeable side view mirror. I was tired and fretting about finding parking before I walked into a funeral I was late for...and I scuffed the police mirror with mine.
The officer was talking with residents that must have called him and I couldn't find a place to safely stop, so I circled around and came back.
When I got back, the officer was sitting in his car and looked to be working on paper work. He didn't see me.
I was a tired woman with discheveled hair wearing all black with very full pockets (I have a toddler...but this officer doesn't know it's toddler paraphernalia in my pockets and not drug or gun paraphernalia). One of my hands was in a pocket. Hey, it was cold.
With confidence - if embarrassment - I walked up to the armed man who did not see me coming. "I hit your mirror," I confessed with that sideways pained look of someone who made an annoying mistake but knows everything is going to be fine - if inconvenient.
He jumped the slightest bit when he saw me. Why on earth I didn't make sure I wasn't sneaking up on him, just out of kindness, I don't know. Then he settled and asked if there was a mark. "Yep. Looks like it," I said, "I'm sorry."
He was incredibly kind and apologized that he had to call his sergeant. "If it was up to me, I'd just go on with my day, but there are strict rules about any time something happens to city property. Hang on."
That hang on turned into 30 minutes of all parties being bummed out by how much work goes into a mirror scuff. His sergeant came. Another police officer came. They filmed me while they asked me if I was ok. They measured and photographed the scuff on both cars. They gave me an incident report number and almost apologized for it. "Will I have like a record or something now?" I asked.
"No. This is a different kind of incident report. It won't even effect your driving record. It's like a step below that. We just have to file something every time there's an incident with a police car."
I apologized again and said I'd be more careful. The officer shrugged almost as if to say: "Really, don't worry about it."
And I drove off to park. Blocks away. On a street with no other cars. Feeling mortified, tired, and entirely unimpressed with myself.
And then I wept.
There was no point in this interaction where I was concerned about my safety. I never doubted I'd be believed or trusted. I never wondered if the police officer would be afraid of me and lash out at me. I counted on my complete and utter safety every step of the way.
And my friends of color - especially the wonderful black family I was about to go grieve with - can't count on that.
Now, mind you, it's people who look like me that killed 17 folks at a high school a few weeks ago. It's people who look like me who shot up a church a few months ago and killed nine people of color at Bible study a couple years ago. It's people who look like me that sent bombs to kill prominent people of color.
Going back further, it's people who look like me that sailed across the planet to steal people and pretend they were property. It's people who look like me that committed genocide in North America. It's people who look like me that put our Japanese neighbors in America into internment camps.
My family has been in America since the Mayflower. You know what that means? Everything my family owns is essentially stolen or bought with money from stolen things.
People who look like me ought to scare people. If any color of skin could raise suspicion, people who look like me ought to raise suspicion.
I have this weird privilege of being a white woman. A white woman pastor who often wears her baby (ok, she's a toddler now but, can time just slow down for a minute please?). I'm always safe because people don't see me as a threat.
But let's be real, people who look like me have consistently been a threat. But because we're pale, because we belong to white men, we have the privilege of wearing all black with bulging pockets and our hands in them as we surprise a police officer and knowing - KNOWING - this event will end with us being entirely safe - save that scuff on the mirror and that dent in my pride.
And then I went and fellowshipped with this grieving family of color. They were some of the most amazing people I've met in my life. It was a humbling honor to spend time with them as they processed the loss of one hard working, lively, loving woman who anchored so many lives with a tenacious love.
Maybe - hopefully - each and everyone of them would have been as safe as I was that day. But I don't think they could count on it.
After the funeral reception, I took the long drive home to Everett. And. I. Wept. And. Wept. And. Wept.
My white privilege is an ill-gotten gain. And yet, as I thought about my daughter, I had to come to terms with my reality that I desperately want that privilege for her.
Really, I want no one to need that privilege. I want police officers to be peace officers. I want police shootings of unarmed people to end. Period. I want police shootings of any people to end. That's what I really want.
But if I can't get that, I'll take the privilege for my daughter.
And that reality hurts. And it is sin.
Friends who look like me: will you join me in a moment of grief. Can we mourn together that we are addicted to our privilege, that we don't fight hard enough for our siblings of color because, at the end of the day, we're pretty safe and there's always tomorrow... There is a lot of work to do. But it seems like maybe some of that work begins in honesty, pain, grief, and calling a sin a sin.
White supremacy is a sin. Maybe it's not something you're into. But maybe you benefit from that. And maybe you - even just in the deep recesses of your soul - rejoice in that benefit. When we're honest about that shadow that lives deep within us, we can invite light in.
As the good book says: "If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and Jesus his Son (that brown man killed by the state) cleanses us from all sin."
And we know that light will lead us into the streets. Maybe onto I5. And certainly away from white supremacy.