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My mother was an equal opportunity disciplinarian. By this I mean that my mother dealt out discipline fairly, swiftly, and judiciously. One time when I was growing up, my mother took me and my older brother with her to run some errands. At one point during our errand running my older brother—probably more out of boredom than malice—gave me a shove. I responded by calling him a name. My mother responded by telling my older brother that if he pushed me again a spanking awaited him when we got home. She responded to me by telling me never to call someone a name, and that if I continued this practice, I could anticipate that my mouth would be washed out with a bar of soap. She then told both of us that there would be no dessert for either of us that night. With my mother discipline was swift, sure, and just. I learned a valuable lesson that day many years ago. You don’t call people names.
This memory came back to me recently as I was thinking about all that has gone on and continues to go on in our city with the death of George Floyd, as well as all that is going on in our country and our world with COVID-19. It is clear that given the current situation, “stressful” doesn’t begin to describe the upheaval in our community and our world, as well as the turmoil in our individual lives at this time. Unfortunately, contributing to this uproar and turmoil are some—particularly some in leadership positions who should know better—who are resorting to finger pointing and name calling.
We need to be honest and clear. Name calling and finger pointing are never appropriate. And we need to call each other—and especially our leaders—to accountability when we/they do this. In a speech in October of 2017 former President George W. Bush alluded to this issue when he said: “We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions—forgetting the image of God we should see in each other."
We are all created in God’s image and likeness. We are all beloved sons and daughters of God. When we fail to remember this, when we point fingers and call names, we are failing to see the image of God in one another. I just wish my mother were alive to give those who do this a good talking to, and threaten to wash out their mouths with soap if they continue this practice. Alternatively, though, perhaps if God sent us all to bed without dessert for a few nights, perhaps we might remember and take seriously the most basic fact of our existence: we are all beloved children of God.
In the late 60’s, I was a camp counselor. I remember having a group of young Girl Scouts out in canoes on a very sunny day. Back in the day, sun protection was a brimmed hat and a t-shirt. So after a few hours, as the sun rose high, I asked some of the campers to please put their shirts on over their swim suits. One of the campers, Rita, called out “Hey, we get sunburned too, you know.” The girls had quickly identified that I had called out names of only the white campers. I still remember what lake we were on, how many canoes of campers I had, and how shocked I was, at me. I was concerned about protecting just some of my campers. Why had I assumed that dark skin was impervious to sun burn? That was over 50 years ago. Sadly, I still make assumptions and judgments. I’m still learning.
As a global community, we have been learning for a number of months now, how to manage the pandemic of COVID-19. The learning curve has been steep and much of our leadership has been strong and smart. We have stayed home, we have experienced the locked doors of businesses and our beloved Basilica, and we have worn masks and stopped hugging. It has been a huge effort; a lot to endure, but we were making it.
Then suddenly, on May 25, the pandemic for many was all but forgotten as we reeled in anguish and sorrow over the murder of George Floyd, another other tragic, needless death. Our inboxes filled with messages, responses from schools, businesses, news organizations, and churches--giving counsel, offering support, stating positions, and grieving.
The Pandemic of COVID-19 was surpassed by the Pandemic of Racial Injustice. Similar to the multiple changes COVID-19 demanded, a myriad of changes are demanded in response to racial injustice.
I need to change. I learned to decrease my exposure to COVID-19 and I must learn to increase my exposure to racial injustice.
This is an unprecedented or at least a very uncommon period in our history, a time that is for some, creating extra responsibilities with new methods and technologies, and for others an agonizing wait for unemployment checks, a frantic search for an open pharmacy or grocery, all while working to maintain a hopeful place of refuge for children and family, in all, an overwhelming task. We are busy, we are uncertain, we are grieving. Additionally, we are hopeful, we are praying, we are working, we are protesting.
So much has changed for so many of us in so many ways in a rather short time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and so much must change for so many of us in so many ways in what has been an agonizingly long time due to the pandemic of racial injustice.
I hope that soon I will again be playing with and listening to and rubbing sunscreen onto the little arms and shoulders of my grandchildren. I hope also I always remember that there are many other children requiring understanding and protection.
By Cathy Edwards