I’ll readily (although not happily) admit that I am pretty naive about race. I grew up in the dark about my own white privilege, my own native prejudice and naive misconceptions. I moved to another country, with its own complicated racial history and culture, and I was more lost than ever in the fog.
I am also often a little slow of understanding. So when a person I had never met before commented on leaving the suburb that I serve because of how dark it had become, I was at a loss for what he meant. He tipped his head to one side and said with a wry, twisted grin, “Know what I mean?”
I gave him a blank look, baffled, then relieved to be rescued by the opening up of the line and the opportunity to do what I had come to do: to offer the prayers and condolences of my parish to a bereaved family, in the name of the Light that overcomes the darkness of death.
That wry grin, that odd tilt of the head stuck in my craw, though. I was puzzled. “Know what I mean?” Light dawned, and I was thunderstruck. I left under an ominous black cloud, furious that I had been unwittingly co-opted into someone else’s vision of a community I am growing to love, full of the children of God; furious that I had let it happen.
But that’s the thing about being me, isn’t it? I get to be naive, and slow on the uptake, and thus to escape the embarrassment of responding to a stranger’s throwaway line at a funeral home visitation full of flowers and family secrets and sighs.
“He said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their crosses daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for the sake of the gospel will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels’.” (Mark 8:34-38/Luke 9:23-26, combined)
I’m so sorry I let you down. God willing, one day I’ll do it right.