The following is a first-person reflection from a member of a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation in the Synod of the Trinity region. During this time when the pandemics of both the coronavirus and our culture of racism cannot be ignored, this series titled “Through My Eyes” allows for those in the Synod’s bounds to share openly what they are experiencing on a regular basis. This is not meant to be a political forum, but instead a chance for people to express their personal feelings about what they are seeing and feeling during this unique time. If you have something to share, email Synod Communications Coordinator Mike Givler (firstname.lastname@example.org) and your reflection will be considered for use in this series.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lisa Paulette is an elder at the Presbyterian Church of the Mountain in Delaware Water Gap, PA. She is a retired intelligence analyst, having served 32 years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Lisa serves as a borough council member in the Borough of Delaware Water Gap. She is currently the president of the Board of Totts Gap Arts Institute. Along with her pastor, Sherry Blackman, Lisa serves on the Board of the Alice Visionary Foundation Project, which is a Kenya mission.
It is strange and trying times we are experiencing today. I do appreciate the continued connectivity and fellowship of our church family. For at least the last three months we have suffered together through the trials and changes of the worldwide pandemic. It has meant a lot to me, and I know through our communications it has held us strong.
During our Wednesday church social hour, we amuse ourselves by sharing how we spend our time in self isolation, as I grow in my passion for pottery and other artistry, I spend some time on online pages… and the blessing/curse of the internet allows us to “meet” new people from all over the world, photos and all.
Recently, a friend of mine introduced me to a page that was set up at the start of the pandemic called “The View From My Window.” Basically, people from all over the world submit photos of their view, and I have to tell you some are quite spectacular. I even found myself doing the most to show how fortunate of a view I have. I wanted to compete with the best of them… if only from my window.
Last week, one of the participants from the U.S. submitted their photo – it was a view of their city burning and on fire… smoke in the distance. It immediately received comments of sadness and support. The post bore no political affiliation or comment, just shared the sadness of this person’s reality.
Almost instantly, a few participants contacted the page administrator to have it removed. Comments flowed in admonishing the infiltration of their happy place. “We come here to escape and share our view,” they said. And I thought to myself, how so many of us refuse to acknowledge a view of life beyond our own windows (if not our window of life).
For me, the past few weeks have been crushing to my very core on becoming aware of yet another senseless murder of a Black American Man – in our streets – even sadder at the hands of law enforcement officers. My stomach has been in knots waiting, praying for not only the family of George Floyd, but that a swift and just response to this tragedy would be presented sooner than later. Unfortunately, it did not come.
In the midst of it all we are still trying to move beyond a pandemic that knows no color or station in life. We gather on Zoom, we check in on each other via text or email and you ask, “How are you?” “Are you OK?” “Do you need anything?” I stand here today to tell you my friends, I am not OK. I am uncomfortable, very uncomfortable.
And I need you to be uncomfortable. While for three months others have been sharing complaints of wearing a mask, social distancing and bars being closed, I have come to a realization that I have been uncomfortable for 59 years. Now is the time for you to be uncomfortable, as I have lived a life of being afraid and uncomfortable in a world and a country I claim as my own. Fear of violence, uncomfortable and angered by disrespect and unfairness, dismayed of stereotypes and assumptions, and tired of having to spend my life disproving those stereotypes. Afraid for my children, especially my son who works the 2:00 -10:00 shift in a city where there is a 9:00 curfew – my son, a black man on the street.
Do I need anything? Yes, I need you to focus, focus on the issue at hand. The continued systematic racism and violence against people of color.
I need you to not search your checklist to prove that you are not racist – and that includes your friendship with me. Here’s what I need: I need is for you to find a way to be anti-racist. And you can start with the view from your window, or across your room at your family members. I need you to educate yourself with issues that do not make you feel good. I need you to speak and act against racism… like nobody’s watching. I need you to put forth an effort to end racism in this country.
Because you believe my life and the lives of other people of color are as important and special to our God as your own. What a privilege for those who can proceed through life with the sheltered view from their proverbial windows. How privileged to be able to ignore the reality of suffering and oppression beyond your view. If we are to make a change, you will have to be uncomfortable. Imagine, a small portion of discomfort for you could mean the life of many others.
I will have not conversation or a debate about the looting that has occurred, I will not try to explain to you the difference between the vigils the peaceful marching and the opportunistic looters of varied race nor the subversive infiltration of the cause to further racial discord. In turn I would ask you to do some research, open your eyes to the reality that sustains your privilege. Work to glean the understanding we need to make a change. I would suggest you research the Red Summer, or read about the destruction of the Black Wall Street. Hold your officials accountable, call out racism when you see it or become aware of it and demand change. It will take work, and it will be uncomfortable.
In 2016, Pope Francis said: “We cannot remain spectators before the suffering of so many people who are worn out by hunger, violence and injustice. What does ignoring the suffering of man mean? It means ignoring God!”
My friends, I’ll leave with this John 15:13 – Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. I am not asking you to lay down your life, but I am asking you to be uncomfortable.
I am not OK.