Saturday, September 13, 2008

Am I my sister's keeper?

I sat amongst the N-word this weekend -- at Candler's Women in Theology Women's Retreat, if you can believe it. How ironic that I would take up residence with this word up in the North Georgia mountains, where I am told it's a frequent guest. I'm still in shock, moreso that it would show up at a women's retreat -- with an invitation at that. It knocked on the door late Friday night right in the middle of story-telling hour.

There we were sitting around on the floor in our pj's listening to an audio of an interview from a woman who is a part of Candler's oral history project. The project chronicles the lives of Candler alumnae and community leaders in an effort to preserve their stories and those of other influential women. The facilitator of the story-telling hour wanted us to hear some story of the "red apple." Don't ask me what the red apple story is about, because all I remember hearing was the "N" word spilling out of this woman's mouth on the computer . At least that's what I thought I heard, but didn't want to think I heard. The word was never put in context, nor were we warned that the language from the interview might be somewhat jarring and insensitive and offense. It just showed up, knocking us across the head like a baseball bat.


Immediately, those of us of the browner, darker persuasion looked at each other as if to say, "I know I didn't hear what I think I heard." No one said a word. Again, we didn't think we really heard the word uttered, especially in this setting. I mean, it was a Christian-related retreat meant to bring us closer together as women of Candler -- not divide us. This was the place where we should have felt free to share our stories, share insight into who we are. Surely divisive and insensitive language would not be found in this place.

It wasn't until later -- around midnight -- when my other classmates and I retired to our bedroom that we began to dissect the conversation: "Hey, did you all hear the word nigger come out of that woman's mouth?"

"Did she say that, " I asked. "I thought I heard it, but wasn't sure. I was in the back and wasn't as close in as you all were."
"Oh, no, that's what she said," said one of my roommates.
"Well, we need to address this," she said. "We can't let this go or they will think that this is okay."
"Well, let's put it on the floor in the morning at breakfast," I said.

And that's what we did -- had a good old fashioned as we say in the black vernacular, "Come to Jesus meeting". For nearly an hour, we shared with the rest of the group our thoughts on the word and the dehumanizing legacy it carries. We confessed to being instantly disengaged from the activity the night before and our reluctance to re-engage. But I must admit, what baffled me and others was the fact that there was a discussion over whether the clip should be used. So it wasn't an oversight.

You know when you have to ask a question like that, that's the answer. It's like when a woman questions whether her skirt is too short. If you have to ask the question, again, that's the answer. "Yes, the skirt is too short."

In preparing for my Old Testament class, I was just reading about the story of Cain and Abel. Cain asks, after being confronted by the Lord for killing his brother, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

The Lord responds, "Yes!" We are all our brother's keeper, which means we have a responsibility to one another. And part of that responsibility means that not only are we our brother's keeper, but held accountable for the way we treat and relate to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

This weekend was eye-opening of a much larger problem that exists and must be eradicated within the walls of Candler. My hope from this weekend is that the message was heard and internalized. My hope is that -- as a friend of mine shared -- there was a realization that our liberation is bound up in each other. It was a good opportunity to engage in honest dialogue and set the stage for improved racial equality and relations. We can no longer act like the Cain's of the world, pleading ignorance to what's going on around us and being oblivious to the effect our actions will have on someone.

We are bound as Christ followers to become our sister's keeper. Isn't that what ministry is all about

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