On Sunday February 15, members of five faith communities huddled into the warmth of the Decorah Congregational UCC’s sanctuary for a few moments. The usual church services had been canceled so that together we could walk together in the Walk of Solidarity. Weaving through our small town, we added folks along the way. People stepped out from the warmth of their homes or faith community as we passed and joined in. Others surprised us by being ready and waiting at the Whippy Dip. Still others would join us at Luther and assemble en masse there.
The Walk was organized as a part of a continuing Decorah-wide initiative cultivating conversation about race. It was an opportunity to be a visible testament that we in the Decorah community recognize systemic racism not only exists in places like Ferguson, Cleveland, and New York, but also in every community, including ours. AND we hoped it would be a visible call for all of us to be a part of bigger conversations that span generations, build relationships, and allow each of us to see the beauty and uniqueness of someone we might call “other.”
I have continued to think a lot about that morning and what the role of faith and the church may be. The sign that led us sits in my office right now. Its mere presence feels like an important reminder and call. It reads in bold letters, “Be the Church.” Under that, phrases speak of the church in action: “Forgive Others. Reject Racism. Fight for the powerless. Enjoy Life. Love God.”
Folks have continued to ask me why I think the Walk was important or what it was all about. So here I offer the words I shared that morning as we gathered before the Walk.
Why walk? It’s currently -6 degrees. There’s a chance of a bit of snow. I’m dressed in so many layers that my long johns are wearing long johns.
Why walk? That is the question for this morning.
Why walk? For me, because I must. What I see is people’s well-being in jeopardy, their humanity in question, their very lives taken. Black people. Brown people. People who do not look white. And I see that folks are at risk not just in Ferguson or New York or Cleveland, but in our own city, our own churches, our own classrooms, our own circles.
What I hear in our world and in our community are people being told that they are “less than” either in word or in deed or in depiction, buy adderall rx that their experiences of racism “can’t be that bad” or that it’s “all in their head.” When we refuse to acknowledge that there’s a problem, we stand no chance of repentance, no chance for turning around (that’s what that word repentance literally means), no chance for a new way of life.
I hear some say, “It’s all just so complicated,” and they throw up their hands either in frustration or dismay. “It is complicated,” they say. It is.
Which is why I must walk. Because I don’t have the answers but I do have a body. I may not have all the right words or a seven-step plan on how to end racism, but I can show up and let myself be seen. And in doing so, convey in my very being that I’m paying attention, that I know there is a problem, that I understand to get to the time and the place where all lives matter, that today we must say, in particular, black lives matter. I walk because I may not have words, but I will not be silent. The words of Martin Luther King, Jr., echo in my ears. He said, “We will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”
Why walk? Because my faith can’t just be an act of my head. It cannot be just neat theology rattled off in the safety of a pulpit or a newsletter or a familiar pew. It cannot be just thoughts and questions and doubts and meditations. It cannot just happen in here (the church), it must be lived out there (outside).
For, me, faith sinks deep, gaining compassion from my heart, wisdom from my gut, a little flexibility from my hips, a bit of stamina from my knees, until it arrives at my feet. These feet know the power of standing up, of showing up, of being attuned to who and what and how the Divine One is calling us to be. Today, faith is in my feet. That’s why I walk.
The Walk of Solidarity may have been in our corner of Iowa, but the need for faith to be our feet continues. And there are many opportunities for us to speak up, to listen, to be present, to effect change. Is your church working for racial justice?
To learn more about what the UCC is doing, visit http://www.ucc.org/justice_racism_index
—Laura Arnold, Pastor at Decorah Congregational UCC and Iowa Conference Program Support/Adjunct for PATHWAYS (Lay Education)