Listening to the Truth: Reflections from a Pilgrim to Equal Justice Initiative's Legacy Museum
(from the perspective of a white woman, with thanks to Dr. Catherine Meeks, Executive Director of the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Justice)
“What will God do with us when we have listened to the truth?” What a profound query woven through scripture. "Pilgrimage", a sacred journey taken with an intent to encounter God, is an opportunity to wrestle with such questions.
An outgrowth of EJI’s years of legal work representing the poor, marginalized, and wrongly condemned, is a museum and memorial that have gained international acclaim. These spaces are designed to factually educate and as sacred areas to encounter truth. As I prepared for pilgrimage to the EJI sites the theme of truth kept resurfacing. Jesus tells us that He is the Truth, that knowing the truth brings freedom, and that the Spirit will guide us into all truth. In Genesis, we learn our brokenness, and need for reconciliation, resulted from believing a lie. Truth is clearly connected to life-giving; lies, to bondage and death.
While on pilgrimage, two truths struck me: 1) from our beginning as a country, the myth of race was a foundational narrative. This lie told us that there was a God-ordained and biological hierarchy based on skin color – white, at the top; black, at the bottom. Most if not all of society - politics, economics, education, etc., was structured around this idea. 2) even with the abolition of slavery, the lie of white supremacy has continued with devastating effects - lynching, convict leasing, segregation, urban ghettos, generational poverty and trauma, abuse of power in the criminal justice system and mass incarceration. We may have new laws and racism that is not as obvious today, but its effects are still deeply embedded in institutions and social structures.
So what happens when I live from a lie? A lie sets up a system in opposition to God’s dream of well-being for all creation. Physical bondage is obvious, but what about spiritual shackling? I sense it’s death-dealing. We are a nation living with an undercurrent of trauma and in the midst of a delusion. How much of our energy, creativity, and power for good is bound by anger, prejudice, cynicism, and general dysfunction based on racism? What would come if we lived from the truth that each person is of equal worth, not part of a hierarchy?
As I continue to listen to the truth, I notice my bravery and freedom - to be more compassionate and less judgmental, to engage in conversations that can heal, to work on real solutions and ask helpful questions, to encourage others. Presiding Bishop Curry said, our work should “help the demon of racism lose some of its power and to set the children of God free.”
What will God inspire us to do when we have listened to the truth?