All The Holy Innocents pt.2

Erica Garner died earlier today. She was 27. And she leaves behind a 3-month-old baby boy named after her father, Eric.

I am so done.

Erica’s death should be counted in the Black maternal mortality statistics; but it won’t be.

Erica had an asthma attack that caused her to have a heart attack.  But we won’t talk about how African Americans are more likely to have asthma and die from it…
According to the CDC’s 2015 summary of the most recent asthma mortality data, black Americans have a higher asthma death rate -at 23.9 deaths per million persons- than non-Hispanic whites (8.4 deaths per million persons), Hispanics (7.3 deaths per million persons), and other non-Hispanics (10.0 deaths per million persons).

Erica’s foster mother was with her when she died, and Erica’s child is probably going to have to go into the system (at least for a little while); but we’re not going to talk about Black children and the foster care system. [really, I’m not. because it upsets me]

Erica had been fighting for justice for her father since the day he was killed by the NYPD…so much so that the NYPD messed with her family at the hospital. But we’re not going to talk about the policing of Black bodies. [again…really, I’m not. because it upsets me]

I am so done.

If I ever get to preach on Holy Innocents Day, I would use the traditional passage from Matthew, I would also use this, from Jeremiah…..

Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
   lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
   she refuses to be comforted for her children,
   because they are no more.
Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
   and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,
says the Lord:
   they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
there is hope for your future,
says the Lord:
   your children shall come back to their own country.     [Jeremiah 31:15-17]

Erica is not coming back, so we should weep for her. But Eric III is alive. And if America saw him as a Holy Innocent instead of a potential threat, there would truly be hope for the future.

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All The Holy Innocents

Today is Holy Innocents Day on the liturgical calendar.  It’s the day I consider most on the calendar. Especially this year.

If you haven’t heard, Erica Garner is lying near death at a New York City hospital. Four months after giving birth. You remember Erica, don’t you? The daughter of Eric Garner; the man whose death at the hands of the NYPD was captured on video. The man who gasped “I can’t breathe.” Erica is 27 and had a heart attack (brought on by an asthma attack).

There has been a raft of articles/stories/studies that have come out in the last few months focusing on the Black mother and infant mortality rate. The numbers are heart-rending…Black babies are three times more likely not to make it to their first birthday. Black mothers are three times more likely to die in the first days after giving birth. Black babies are more likely to be born premature and, regardless of length of gestation, weigh less at time of birth. Black women with college education have worse birth outcomes than white women with high school or less education; so socioeconomic status does not enhance health outcomes. This does not even get into the issues of infertility and crisis in pregnancy.

Racism kills. From the womb to the tomb.

On the day after Christmas the following appeared in an op-ed,
“A recent study asked pregnant women what was their biggest fear during pregnancy….. Caucasian women said gaining weight and having a healthy child. Do you know how African-American women responded? Fear of bringing their child into this world. Fear that their son may be killed because of the color of his skin. When I shared this with obstetricians, they were shocked. How many are screening for that type of chronic stress during the visit? What are the effects of that type of chronic stress during the entire pregnancy?”

Sit with that for a while.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, it’s Holy Innocents Day. While the biblical story is about the slaughter (by the State) of all Jewish male babies under the age of 2, I’ve always thought that it was about more than just the babies.

As we are learning, generational trauma affects all aspects of life (and DNA, as research is showing). What if we understood Erica and her baby as part of those Holy Innocents whom Herod called to be slaughtered? How would it looked if the church started paying attention to those who are left behind after the slaughter? (this, of course, assumes that the slaughter ends) What would it be like if the church understood that one of its missions was to work with the communities most affected by trauma (along with calling out what Herod is doing)?

If I ever get to preach on Holy Innocents Day, these are the questions are what I would be asking. And calling for the church to remember Erica and her baby are some of those Holy Innocents.

more later.

The Time of Jubilee

Last night, for some reason, the idea of Jubilee came to mind. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Jubilee, it is a command given to the Hebrew people for when they entered the Promised Land. Here is the command (from Leviticus 25):

8 You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years.
9Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land.
10And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.
11That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines.
12For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.

13 In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property.

Now, technically, Jubilee year is about property and slavery. [it’s complicated, but this slavery was different than U.S. chattel slavery] But let’s use our imaginations.

2018 is the 50th anniversary of vote to fund BAC (Black Affairs Council). With all that happened in the years that followed, I’m not calling for a traditional celebration. But I do think that there needs to be some honoring of that decision. And, inviting those who got wounded/hurt/burned in the ensuing aftermath to “Come Home”, because Unitarian Universalism was their home.

To go even further, what would it look like if we took the idea of Jubilee seriously next year; not just with those who left because of the “Controversy”, but all people of color who have come the way of Unitarian Universalism over the years only to be cast aside at the altar of whiteness.

Maybe something could be done in conjunction with the Commission on Institutional Change to gather groups together with the central question asked of them being based on the concept of Jubilee, “What would Unitarian Universalism looked like if there was true liberty–if people were free enough to bring their entire selves in and make Unitarian Universalism home?”

There is joy to be had in the toiling that we are going through right now. This next year, we should talk about that.

The Life (and Soul) You Save May Be Your Own…..(the Alabama Vote and Unitarian Universalism)

I’ve been trying to find the right words to describe this moment and I’m not sure these are right. But I shall try anyway.

A few months ago I wrote about how, often, Black women are placed in the role of Mammie; taking care of and protecting white people (white women in particular). Or “saving” them. This is certainly playing out in discussions of the Alabama Senate vote.

Quick recap of the facts…98% of Black women and 93% of Black men voted for Doug Jones. 63% of white women and 72% of white men voted for Roy Moore. If this had been any other special election, Roy Moore would be Senator-elect. This time was different. Because Black turnout increased while white turnout was slightly depressed. And Doug Jones won.

A common refrain as the news came out about the vote and who voted was that Black people “saved” [blank]. That blank could be democracy/Alabama/America/etc. This concerns me. And the reason it concerns me is that this centers white people. That’s not what the Alabama vote was about.

Black people did save with their vote. The people they saved were THEMSELVES. The fact that white people got saved in the process is secondary.

Roy Moore was patently unfit for office BEFORE news of his sexual predilections for teenaged girls became national news. Still….Moore almost won because white supremacy is……….

Black people in Alabama turned out in larger than expected numbers because they knew they would be the hardest hit if that man won. The man said that America was “great” when we had slavery, after all.

One last time…Doug Jones won because Black people voted to save themselves.

Now…..what does this have to do with Unitarian Universalism?

All the work that BLUU is doing is about Black people saving their own souls. If, in the process, Unitarian Universalism grows into the religious movement it claims it wants to be, then that’s a bonus.

Along with that…while y’all are in a thankful mood, listen to Black women. Pay Black women. Let Black women lead.

Yes…this is a little self-serving. But it’s really not. I’ve seen Black women in this movement who have been trying to get Unitarian Universalists to understand the stakes of not confronting white supremacy for years. I’ve seen how they have been treated. It has not been pretty. Maybe now, after the turmoil of the spring, that will change.

I have more thoughts, but they’re not fully formed yet. So more later.