Does it make a sound?

It’s one of the oldest philosophical saws: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?”  For most of us, the practical relevance of the question is roughly akin to another ancient conundrum: “How many angels can dance on the head of pin?”


But what about this one? “If my congregation is totally white and we don’t even know anyone who isn’t, does racism actually exist?”


Is racism and white privilege a matter of any significance to people who live in a state where in 2014 the African American population was estimated at 3.4%? Is racism and white privilege a matter of any significance in a conference where the percentage of African American members is well less than 1%?


By now you all know that during Lent the staff of the conference are all writing about racism and white privilege. By that fact alone you know that we (at least) think this IS a matter of significance even for churches which are overwhelmingly mono-racial.UPDATED rich podium


America in general and American churches in particular have fallen in a dichotomous trap. It goes something like this:  If you are willing to say out loud that you are uncomfortable with the demonization of Muslims, then you are a person who doesn’t care about violent religious extremism.  If you are willing to say that you believe that the 2nd amendment to the U.S. Constitution is relevant and operative today, then you are a person who isn’t concerned about rampant gun violence in our nation.  And, if you affirm the mantra “Black Lives Matter” then you must be a person who hates police and doesn’t care about their safety.


I don’t buy the necessary validity of those three dichotomies (nor their mirror images, for that matter). And, I believe that church can and must be a place where we swallow hard and engage the hardest and most uncomfortable conversations.


I don’t buy valtrex generic know for certain whether you harbor a racist bone in your body, but it alarms and depresses me to acknowledge that in spite of my effort and intention to the contrary, I still do. By God’s grace, I’ve made progress over the years, but to continue making progress, I need to face the distance I still need to travel and keep having difficult – and sacred! – conversations about race and the myriads of other ways human beings are alike and different.


There are many ways to have these conversations and many resources to facilitate them. I’ll name two:


  • Chicago Theological Seminary has produced a short video clip (and accompanying resources) on the topic of “white privilege.” Many white folk are perplexed at the notion of “white privilege.” I’d encourage you to watch the video and then sit down with a group of open-hearted friends and talk it over.
  • This fall (Friday, October 21, to be exact) Drake University professor Jennifer Harvey will lead a day long continuing education event for us based on her recent book “Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation.” Dr. Harvey’s book is not a comfortable read for many of us. But it’s important. I hope you’ll come.


Many church folk understand Lent as a time for purposeful and risky introspection in preparation for the observances of Holy Week and Easter. Maybe God is calling us – the people and churches of the UCC in Iowa – to engage in a variety of conversations about our own privilege and the ways we are often oblivious to those privileges and to those who don’t share them.


I don’t know whether that falling tree makes a sound, but surely there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God when the people of God get serious about facing up to things we’d rather ignore.


Lenten blessings to each of you!



Rich Pleva
Conference Minister
UCC in Iowa

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