Monday, September 18, 2017

There's a New Mary in Town

I think that loss is a two-sided coin, with grief on one side and a gift on the other.  I’ve become so convinced of this that, at moments of loss, I acknowledge the grief and wait for the gift.  Today, I was at the funeral of Mary Robinson White, a beloved leader of my family and community, who passed away a few weeks shy of her 95th birthday.  A death at that age is not a surprise, and we can manage it with a certain grace.  But however much time we have with our loved ones, it is never enough, and we grieve the pleasures of their company.  I kept thinking, “I’ll never get another Christmas card from Mary White” and it made my heart ache. 

At the funeral, I was listening for the gift, and here’s what I heard Reverend Onaje Crawford say:

“Mary, Mother of God, and Mary Magdalene – move over, there’s a new Mary in town!”

What was the quality that elevated Mary White to that blessed circle of women?  Mary, Mother of God, is adored for her willingness, Mary Magdalene because she had the wisdom and spiritual grace to became the apostle to the apostles.  It is not lightly that one makes such a comparison, and the comment was made laughing, but not in jest.

Mary White achieved in her life that most rare of Christian virtues: radical acceptance of every person she ever met. Her acceptance touched us all, changing us, opening our hearts to tolerance and joy. She did not preach virtue that I ever heard. She just lived it in every breath of her life. 

And so the gift is that we got to see what the world might be like if we actually – each and every one of us – followed the teaching of Jesus, to love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. I feel so honored to have known such a Mary. 
Mary White, center in blue, on the occasion of receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Orange.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Whose violence?

I was in St. Louis September 14-15, 2017, to speak at the Pulitizer Arts Foundation.  While there, Sophie Lipman, the public programs and engagement manager, took to me to see neighborhoods and meet local activists.  Everyone I met on Thursday, the 14th, shared their anxiety about the Stockley Decision, which was expected on Friday, the 15th.  This was the case of Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis police officer, who had killed Anthony Lamar Smith after a high speed chase.  Stockley was recorded as saying he was going to kill Mr. Smith; Stockley was also accused of planting a gun on him.  Activists in St. Louis were deeply involved in the protests in Ferguson, after the death of Michael Brown.  Their agitation was evident, their pain at the situation deep.

Their emotions, I thought, were resonances of the harsh reality of segregation in the city.  They explained the "Delmar Divide," a boulevard that divides the city into white and affluent and black and devastated.  The landscape is so shockingly different that I gasped when at the difference when we crossed from the black neighborhood into the white neighborhood.  One of the activists I met was new to the city.  She shared that when she first started to travel around the northside, she would weep at the catastrophe.

When the inevitable "not guilty" verdict was delivered, the protests sprang up, decrying, once again, that a policeman could not be punished for obvious murder.  As the anger erupted, and some violence flared, Mayor Lyda Krewson was quoted as saying, "We understand the desire to disrupt but we will not understand the desire for destruction or for harming people.  We will protect all our residents."

One doesn't have to spend more than five minutes north of Delmar Boulevard to feel the hollowness of this statement, and the decrying of violence on the part of protesters.  The systematic violence of racism and class oppression is the great violence in St. Louis, as elsewhere in the United States.

We might make a new chant, to follow, "Whose streets? OUR streets": "Whose violence? THEIR violence."