White Supremacy and Me

By Rev. LeDayne McLeese Polaski

iStockphoto

As a child, I witnessed a rally of the Ku Klux Klan. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I was young enough to have been very confused by my mother’s fierce anger when the hand-made KKK signs started appearing in our neighborhood.

I don’t remember how she explained the group to me, but I vividly recall seeing the event itself as it was held early one evening in an empty corner lot alongside the state road which was the regular route into our neighborhood. Riding home in the family station wagon as the sun was setting, I saw hooded figures in bright white robes standing listening as someone with a ragged voice shouted over a loudspeaker.  I had a glimpse of flames rising high as we sped past. The fire was likely contained in a barrel, but in my mind it was a conflagration.  My vision could have lasted only the few seconds it took to drive by – but the scene has been seared in my memory ever since.

I recently asked my parents if they could confirm this happening. I hadn’t imagined it, had I? They indeed remembered the rally, and my dad was prompted (as he often is) to tell a story of how he recalled the event. A black friend of one of my older brothers had shown up at our house.  He’d been on our side of town, and the only route he knew home went along the same state road we’d just traveled past the rally. He wanted to be home, but he was too afraid to go the way he knew. My dad, who as a city police officer seemed to know every back road ever paved (or not), took the young man into his truck and together they returned to his home by a different route.

For years, whenever I have heard the phrase “white supremacy,” I have returned in my mind to that scene of flames, hoods, robes, and angry voices. Yet, in the past few years, I have begun to see white supremacy located not in an abandoned lot a few blocks from my childhood home but in a place far closer and more frightening – in my own heart and mind.

For most of my life, fighting racism was something I imagined I could do by focusing outside of myself. Only recently have I begun to grapple with the fact that my struggle is at least as much an internal one. As my eyes have been opened, I have begun to see how deeply white supremacy is a part of me.  I do not consciously think of myself or people who look like me as superior, but the vast majority of my friends are white – as are most of my co-workers and my closest ministerial colleagues,  most of the people at my church and in my neighborhood, and every member of my family. Even my Facebook page was a mostly white enclave until a friend posted the challenge “Do all of your Facebook friends look like you?” and I took steps to widen my circle of social media connections. There are exceptions, of course, but my life tilts in a particular direction, and I know I am not the only one.

This reality is not a coincidence. This is the result of my conscious and unconscious decisions within a society in which separation is often the path of least resistance. And this reality is not without consequences – it affects the way I understand the world — the stories I hear and do not hear, the things I know and do not know, and what I think of as normal, natural, and best.

I have unknowingly but regularly lived out of a supremacist framework in the groups I have joined (or not) and in how I have conducted myself within them, in the priorities I’ve set for my work and how I’ve gone about it, in how I have planned agendas and run meetings and taken minutes, in the decisions I have made and the ways in which I’ve made them, in the silences I have chosen to ignore or did not notice, in the way I have written job descriptions and conducted interviews, in the areas of my personal life in which I have focused, in the relationships that have received most of my energy – I could go on.

The same reality impacts the institutions that matter most to me. In the past few years, courageous people within BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz have raised their voices to name specific ways in which people of color have regularly experienced harm within our organization, an organization committed to peace rooted in justice, an organization with explicit commitments to welcome and inclusion. We didn’t see it. We didn’t mean it. Our intentions were beyond good. And yet, it happened and is happening.

Guilt and shame serve no one and cripple rather than motivate efforts for change. So how shall we move forward? The least that we can do is to recognize the depth of the work that is to be done and the flames of fear we’ll have to face to do it. No matter what path we choose, the road to Beloved Community runs through dangerous and difficult places, some of them closer than we’ve ever imagined.

Perhaps a different route will take us home for the first time.

LeDayne McLeese Polaski is the Executive Director of BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz (Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America). www.bpfna.org

One Day in Myanmar (Kachin IDP Camps)

By Gail Aita

This is the second of two posts by Gail about her sojourn in Myanmar (Burma) in early 2017. Click here for the first post.

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After spending four weeks at Myanmar Institute of Theology teaching, my husband Paul and I traveled to Kachin State and then to the Chin Hills. Both were adventures in and of themselves. We were greeted at the airport in Myitkyina by both Ja Ing and Ja Nu, two wonderful Kachin women who came to the American Baptist Women’s Ministries’ Conference in Washington, D.C. in 2016. We were then treated to a very fine dinner out with the women representing the Women’s Development Department of Kachin Baptist Convention.

The day started out with a visit to an IDP camp in Myitkyina, Kachin State. It was heart-breaking and uplifting at the same time: Heart-breaking to see the faces of the men, women, and children who have lost all worldly belongings: yet, uplifting because their spirits are filled with God’s love and His grace. Just look at those faces……and remember to pray for their safety, their health and their welfare.

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We listened to their stories, sang with them and prayed with them.

We visited three IDP (IDP = internally displaced persons) camps that Saturday.

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This was the smallest camp we visited. Their electric bill was 70,000 kyats/month (roughly $50 US at the current exchange rate) and they had to collect 2,000 kyats ($1.50) from each family which was, more often than not, difficult to do.

At the last camp, Waing Maw, which is the largest in the greater Myitkyina area, we were told to sit in the back of the van because we had to cross a bridge with a border check and westerners were not supposed to be going to that camp. While we were there, workers were putting up tents donated by the UN because they had just received 350 new refugees, many of whom were “double displaced persons” because the camps they had been in were also destroyed by the Burmese military in the fighting. There were well over 3,000 people at this camp.

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One of the ministries that I have been involved with at home has been teaching some of the Kachin women in the greater Seattle area how to sew, in particular “pillowcase dresses” and “self-binding baby blankets”. I have had help from a number of other American Baptist women in the area.  For two months prior to our leaving for Myanmar, the Kachin women have come to my home and have made 40+ dresses and 15 baby blankets. I also had some dresses made by women from other churches in the area. I had the privilege of being able to deliver those dresses and blankets to the folks in the camps. It was a gift of love from the Kachin women in Kent to those in the camps, and I was blessed to be the delivery person!

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Saturday was a long day filled with mixed feelings: despair and hope, tears of pain and tears of joy, but always an awareness of God’s love and God’s grace. Please continue to pray for the plight Kachin people and for peace in Myanmar.

Gail Aita serves as coordinator of the Western Section for American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

For earlier posts about the Kachin IDP camps, click here and here.

The Journey Begins Again

By Gail Aita

January-March, 2017

One of the reasons Paul and I wanted so much to return to Myanmar this year was to have some sense of closure. We have been going to Myanmar as voluntary missionaries and serving as Special Assistants to Southeast Asia and Japan since 2000. This was our ninth time going to serve and for eight of those trips we have taught at Myanmar Institute of Theology (M.I.T.) as well as the Pwo Karen Seminary in Yangon. We have both turned 70 this past year and have begun to slow down a little. In 2015-2016 Paul had five hospital visits dealing with kidney stones and complications from the surgeries. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time praying that we would be able to once again return to Myanmar, but knew from the outset that it may be our last long-term stay. (However, after having been there, we found ourselves often being asked to come back to teach and saying “If God wants us to return, He will give us the strength to do so!”)

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At M.I.T., the classes included not only English Literature and Poetry, as well as grammar, but also classes at the seminary concerning Ministry with Youth, Partnering Young Adults and the Elderly, Christian Education, and a class on Teaching Those with Special Needs and American Sign Language.  At the Pwo Karen Seminary, the students were most interested in learning English so we did a lot of role playing and singing.

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Unlike previous years, this year Paul and I had the opportunity to visit schools in the Kachin State and in the Chin Hills. We spent a little more than two weeks visiting and teaching at the Kachin Theological College and Seminary (KTCS) in Myitkyina and at the Chin Christian University (CCU) in Hakha.

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At each school, Paul and I both became reacquainted with those who were our former students. What a blessing it is to meet those former students who have gone on to become servants using their God given gifts to teach others.

And as a last note for now, I would like to share about a young teacher at KTCS by the name of Naw Din. Naw Din and his wife have three children of their own including a newborn baby just three weeks old. He and his wife have taken in twenty (yes, 20!) orphan children from the IDP camps. He does not run an orphanage. He and his wife have actually taken them into their home. They feed them, clothe them, send them to school, pray with them and, most of all, love them. They depend solely on the gifts from generous friends.  They are amazing.  I had the joy of spending a day with them, teaching them some English, some sign language, and some songs. We had such fun. I was truly blessed.

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Please pray for all the seminaries and colleges in Myanmar, that they will continue to teach God’s word and produce Christian leaders. Also pray for Naw Din and his loving wife and family as they share God’s love in the Kachin State.

**I would also like to mention that the opportunity to volunteer to teach at seminaries and colleges in Myanmar is a real possibility for anyone who is interested. You can contact International Ministries for more information.

Gail Aita serves as coordinator of the Western Section for American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

Easter Sunday–The Stone Is Rolled Away

By Mary Etta Copeland

This is the final post in our Lent/Easter series. To read past posts in the series, click on “Lent” in the tag cloud at the right.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance…. As she wept…she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus… but after hearing his words “Mary”, …she went to the disciples with the news ‘I have seen the Lord!’” (Selections from John 20: 1 – 18)

JESUS MAFA. Easter - Christ appears to Mary, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48389 [retrieved March 6, 2017].

JESUS MAFA. Easter – Christ appears to Mary, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48389 [retrieved March 6, 2017].

Throughout my just-completed 50 years as a choral director at the high school level, students became acquainted with my many quotations from a variety of sources. One with lasting impact comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Today we’ve arrived at a most significant point in our annual Christian pilgrimage, and while we celebrate amid great joy, the question to consider is what difference will this make in the coming year.

“Oh, my gosh! Look at all those Easter eggs,” said my four-year-old grandson, Jonny, as he looked out the window of a high-rise hotel. What those young eyes were seeing was not Easter eggs, but rows and rows of silk flowers marking graves in a cemetery. This memory from almost two decades ago brought two insights to my mind for this day of Resurrection: the excitement of what a child thought he saw, and the symbolism of the egg that we now recognize on this most holy of days.

While not specifically portrayed in the resurrection account, the egg has come to represent that huge stone blocking the tomb’s entrance and rolled away by the angels. I’m moved to recognize and admit to those stones which might be blocking the entry to living out God’s plans for our lives: stones of negative thoughts, such as “we’ve always done it this way,” or “what if it doesn’t work?” I am reminded of the distrust and fear we sometimes have of what God can and will do in our lives, churches, and AB Women’s Ministries Ministries groups; our blinded eyes and deafened ears to meanings of God’s plans and calls on our lives. I am reminded of the negative thoughts such as “I’ve done my share;” self-pride; indifference; selfishness…on and on come the echoes of stones blocking the living out of God’s call on our lives.

When we can actually recognize these stones blocking the fulfillment of God’s plans for each of our lives, in obedience to God’s call and with God’s leading, we can “roll the stones away!” With the same awesome excitement seen in the eyes and voice of a child, our lives can live forth that same echo…not just on Easter Sunday, but 365 days a year!

Mary Etta CopelandMary Etta Copeland is president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries of the Central Region.

Palm Sunday–Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

By Renée Langley

This is the sixth in a series of posts for Lent. Click on “Lent” in the tag cloud on the right to see other posts in the same series. Be sure to subscribe to the blog to get updated posts delivered straight to your inbox or feed reader.

Morgner, Wilhelm, 1891-1917. Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54247 [retrieved March 6, 2017]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wilhelm_Morgner_001.jpg.

Morgner, Wilhelm, 1891-1917. Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54247 [retrieved March 6, 2017]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wilhelm_Morgner_001.jpg.

Matthew 21: 1-11; Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29

“Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” This shout of praise is found in Psalm 118, as well as in the Gospels. In Matthew the people proclaim this when Jesus enters Jerusalem. It is a celebratory moment when the people recognize and receive their King. It is the culmination of the sentiment found in Charles Wesley’s Advent hymn, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”:

Come, Thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.

For all of us who have waited to hear from God, who have longed for a sign of hope in troubled times, it is a word of liberation to be able to say, “Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

But we who are followers of Jesus Christ also know that the joy of Palm Sunday will be followed by challenges to Jesus’ authority, his arrest and trial, his crucifixion and death – all in the space of less than a week from the cheers of this glad day! Such is the sad story of humanity, that joy can be turned to sorrow, that victory can be turned to defeat, that life can turn to death.

Of course, Good Friday is not the end of the story, either! Beyond the seeming defeat of Jesus comes the great good news that he is triumphant even over death. Perhaps we judge too quickly the people who shouted, “Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” on Palm Sunday. They did not fully understand who this “prophet from Nazareth in Galilee” really was. None of us comes to faith in Jesus fully mature, completely understanding what Jesus means to us. The development of faith and comprehension always takes time.

So, as imperfect followers of Jesus, let us lift up our praises this day to the One that came gently into Jerusalem, and let us celebrate that this day is filled with joy for the coming of the Savior, the King, into his own. Like the people that saw Jesus over two thousand years ago, we do not understand everything that he is and that he represents. But we can shout with others across time and space, “Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

renee-langleyRenée Langley is president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries of Michigan.

Fifth Sunday of Lent: Focusing on What’s Important

By Meghan Cubbison

This is the fifth in a series of posts for Lent. Click on “Lent” in the tag cloud on the right to see other posts in the same series. Be sure to subscribe to the blog to get updated posts delivered straight to your inbox or feed reader.

Based on Romans 8:6 (NIV)

National Gathering for Girls 2016

Being a girl who ministers to girls in a society like ours comes with its own victories and challenges, especially when teaching others about self-confidence when you have none. Even when I was asked to apply for the convening position of the AB GIRLS National Leadership Team, I often compared myself to past convenors, convincing myself that “I could never do that.”

Growing up in a Christian home, Lent was always something I was aware of and at least thought I understood. But looking back on my later childhood, I see that it was more of a game to me to see what I could give up the longest, rather than using it to reflect on Christ and my personal relationship with him.

This year, I seemed to go down a road that is becoming more traveled than not, by taking something on rather than giving things up; because, let’s face it, I usually make it a week before giving into my normal cravings of chocolate or soda. Plus, being a senior in high school I wanted to do something that actually meant something to me. So, having been struggling with a lot of negative self-talk lately, I took on the challenge of trying to find a new positive thing about myself.

In all reality, I think many of us are guilty of falling short by trying to conform our minds and the way we see ourselves to the world’s standards. But I’ll tell you from personal experience, this rarely makes the case better. For instance, when I try to work out in order to fit into a certain piece of clothing my friends will like, I usually give up within the first 30 minutes; I have no true motivation. The same thing is applicable during the Lenten season. If we go with “norms” of giving up soda or chocolate because we feel obligated to participate, we aren’t taking advantage of this time set aside for us to grow in our faith. So, instead, it’s important that we focus on what’s really important during this time: our relationship and understanding of God, and then we will be transformed by God’s spirit.

Meghan Cubbison is the 2016-2017 convenor of the national leadership team of AB GIRLS, American Baptist Women’s Ministries. This is her second year of service on the team.

Fourth Sunday of Lent: Never Invisible to God

By Deneen Ray

This is the fourth in a series of posts for Lent. Click on “Lent” in the tag cloud on the right to see other posts in the same series. Be sure to subscribe to the blog to get updated posts delivered straight to your inbox or feed reader.

Anointing of David, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55312 [retrieved March 3, 2017]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paris_psaulter_gr139_fol3v.jpg.

Anointing of David, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55312 [retrieved March 3, 2017]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paris_psaulter_gr139_fol3v.jpg.

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Have you ever been in a meeting or class and asked yourself, “Do I really know these people?” Or, better yet, have you been a part of a task force or school government/club and wondered, “Am I invisible? Do they see me, do they know me, or does my presence even matter to this group? And what, if anything, do I have to give back?”

At some point, we all go through life on automatic pilot. Yes, there was a time when someone got you up in the morning, reminded you of your bathroom needs, reminded you to study, get home on time, dress warm, etc. But as you move into adulthood, there is not much reminding. We just do things, visible to ourselves but perhaps feeling invisible in the greater scope of the world around us.

For me, I never truly fit in anywhere. I was not a part of the “it crowd;” every fashion don’t, I probably did; I wasn’t the loudest, nor was I a loner. I was the one who, when given a task, completed it in a timely manner. I was Ms. Dependable. I was the one you never give much thought to, because I always pulled through.

But to God…

God the Creator has meticulously created each of us with a specific purpose and gift for God’s Kingdom-building. This was from day one! Or, more accurately, Scripture says “before you were in your mother’s womb, I knew you,” (Jeremiah 1:5). So, “day one” for real…like, an “in-the-beginning” day one.

My point is that in 1 Samuel 16:1-13, David was out in the field on automatic pilot, doing what he normally did every day; meanwhile, God was activating part of his plan on David’s behalf. There are multiple messages in the text: to Samuel, to David, to the people of Israel, and to you and me.

I can relate to the heartbreak Samuel felt, after Samuel invested long hours with Saul and Saul still couldn’t, wouldn’t, and didn’t get his act together. Saul was feeling himself too much and forgot who was really in charge. Sometimes we have to move into the new season God has set up in obedience, expectation, and excitement.

The strongest, smartest, or richest person may not always be the one chosen for leadership. One who is obedient, faithful, a protector, hardworking, and who doesn’t mind being alone—this may be the kind of person God is looking for.

I am sure the criteria used in appointing Saul king were the same criteria that Samuel was using as he looked upon David’s brothers. But Saul was the king the people wanted; David is the king God wanted. I am sure the job description had changed based on the One now directing the process.

So, why is this important today, for you and me? It’s just a simple reminder that those of us who think we are invisible need to heed this reminder: You are very visible to a wise, meticulous planner who knows just when to step in and activate your purpose and gifts. Are you ready? Have you been studying your pre-purpose exercises? Are you open to the creative and innovative ways God is going to use you? Live life in full expectancy: God will reveals the plan when God is ready, so be prepared and be open. What things look like to us are not the same as what they look like to God. Trust the process, and don’t become impatient in the wait.

Turn that sleep mode off, wake up, and do you, girl! And if anyone has anything to say, you hit them with a “But, God…,” and drop the mic.

 

????????????????????????????????????Deneen Ray is national coordinator of AB GIRLS for American Baptist Women’s Ministries.