Lenten Reflection 2: The Rev. Tom Sinning
I was raised above a shop where my grandfather and father had a small plumbing business next to a railroad yard, a livestock auction barn, a fertilizer plant, and the Sioux River in small town in South Dakota. The most culturally diverse people I knew were a family in our neighborhood whose adult daughter had Down’s Syndrome, a couple whose son had cerebral palsy, a man who suffered emotional issues from WWII, the hobos, from whom my friends and I heard stories at the bum jungle, and Shorty, an old hermit who lived in a dugout burrowed into the riverbank and lived off some small pension and taking care of the city dump in his backyard. I wasn’t aware of how Black porters on the passenger trains stopping in our small depot were a result of societal racism. I couldn’t see that I had any particular privilege, especially when I helped Dad clean out someone’s backed up toilet.
Growing up in this environment, racism wasn’t an understanding for me until I was impacted by TV news showing beatings, police dogs, and fire hosing of Black people in the South, and even then it was like this news was coming from a far away place that had nothing to do with me.
My perspective was further changed when, as a student at the University of South Dakota in spring 1973, much of the national news focused on the occupation at Wounded Knee, which brought a piercing awareness of the institutional and societal racism just miles from where I lived.
I don’t reflect on this as a narrative of naiveté, but rather, a background of how I spent much of my life’s journey living in my head with only, what seemed, detours to my heart and into the world.
This week Dr. Meeks moves us through invitation and seeing, to our mutual task in Part 3 of Unweaving the Web. Some of the questions are really challenging me.
- If you are white (which I am), how has this part of the journey with race been for you?
- If you are white, do you find it difficult to see yourself as being wounded by racism? If not, why not and if yes, how?
- When confronted by silence, what do you do? Do you welcome it? Do you invite it to sit with you even if it brings pain?
- How does a newly awakened person avoid becoming immobilized by the fear of offending another or simply appearing foolish?
- Can you take a bit of time this week to reflect upon any conversations about race that you have had in the past, and how you found them?
- Can you listen to conversations on race or engage in them without wishing or trying to change the subject?
As I work on unweaving the web in my own inner community and faith community, I reflected on a poem by 14th century Sufi poet, Rumi:
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the guilt, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.