DO NOT BE AFRAID
By Cheryl Carson, CFP Associate Executive Presbyter and Anti-Racism Committee Member
And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Matthew 28:2-6a
As the two Marys approached the tomb, they encountered a messenger of God proclaiming that Jesus Christ had risen. It was clearly an overwhelming experience, but the angel exclaimed, “Do not be afraid.” It seems whenever someone has a direct encounter with a messenger of God they are offered the calming invitation to set aside their fear.
As Easter people we are called to new life in Christ. I am on a journey to new life by learning and incorporating anti-racist practices into my life. I became especially committed to this effort after the murder of George Floyd drew attention to the horror of a police officer intentionally suffocating a defenseless Black man. It seemed like we white folks might finally see what our siblings of color have been telling us for years. I was hopeful we might muster the conviction to bring about change in our systems of white power. Sadly, it feels like the fervor for justice has waned. When we encounter God’s truth, we need to heed the invitation, “Do not be afraid.”
In my own journey, I’ve had a number of occasions when I’ve been called out for unintentional racially insensitive comments. They were painful, especially since they were in a group setting and I felt embarrassed by the public correction. Rather than approaching it as a learning experience, I approached it with a defensiveness that showed my white fragility in all its glory.
As a result, I find myself overthinking my responses in a multiracial group. And when I stifle my authentic self, what I end up saying sounds ingenuine. Recently, I was a part of a group conversation where some white people expressed similar fears of engaging in courageous conversations around racism. A person of color asked, “What are you afraid of?” I’ve really been pondering that question. My “go to” answer is that I don’t want to say anything offensive or racist. But if I’m truthful I’ve been afraid to experience the discomfort of being called out for saying something offensive. I don’t want to feel shame or embarrassment. When we encounter God’s truth, we need to heed the invitation, “Do not be afraid.”
When the Florida legislature recently passed a law that forbids teaching anything that makes a person (and it really means a white person) uncomfortable, it caused me, as a Certified Christian Educator, to think about the role of discomfort in learning. I love this tip from the Harvard Business Review article by Peter Bregman, “When You’re Learning, You Should Feel Uncomfortable.” It says, “Being a beginner at something can feel awkward and embarrassing, especially if you’re used to being an expert. But those feelings are the inescapable growth pains that come from developing and improving. To get used to the discomfort, know that it’s brave to be a beginner.”1 Most of us who are white are beginners at having to challenge our white supremacy. But let’s be real, the systems upon which our country was built were constructed to benefit wealthy white men.
So, I invite all of you who are white like me to take a risk. The presbytery’s Anti-Racism Committee sponsors opportunities for multiracial conversation, learning and action. Why not participate in one of them? We’ve created a six-session study to go along with our Anti-Racism Statement and are looking for churches ready to have a discussion around race. WARNING: YOU MAY EXPERIENCE DISCOMFORT! But rather than run from it, why not sit with it for a while--heed the invitation, “Do not be afraid.”
Our presbytery Book Club is also reading “The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.” Why not join in reading the book and discussing it together on Thursday, May 5th at 1:30 p.m. in the presbytery office conference room or via zoom? Email me if you’re interested in either opportunity.
I want to close with a note of gratitude to my sisters and brothers of color. It is not up to you to teach me or to help me understand. But I am thankful to have you as partners on this journey. I have learned so much from your stories, our challenging discussions, and our adventures together. Thank you for walking with me in this season of growth.