I am weary. I have to be honest about that. As my hands tap on the keyboard, each word feels like a weight pressing on me. But I know God is here; so, I can continue.
Let me start by saying that I am no one important. I am just a lay Catholic woman with too much time on her hands and too much grief built up. So, this is my way of saying, “Help me, I’m drowning under the weight of all of this.” Let those of you who have an ear, listen.
I am a convert. I hail from ol’ country Tennessee, a place that makes me think of fireflies and porches, Sunday dinner time, my grandmother with her kind eyes, and skinning my knees as a kid. Tennessee reminds me of the other pains I experienced there, but also of the joys. It is the place where I first almost fell in love, where I went to prom, and where my father and my grandfather are buried. It is my home.
It is also the place where the Ku Klux Klan was founded, in the city of Pulaski. I‘ve never been there and I don’t think I will ever go there. I’m too afraid of what I might find: that, in all of those abandoned hollers, there will still be Klan marching.
I am no stranger to the scourge of Racism. Not now, and not years ago when the man at the grocery store called me a “f*ck*ng n*gger” over a parking spot. That moment still burns in my mind when I think of it - and it hurts in my heart, too. There is scar tissue where that man and his Racism left their mark.
But that is Tennessee, which has always held the worst and the best things all at once. It is where my family has lived since the time of slavery. It is also where I found God, decided to convert to Catholicism, and attended Mass, clumsily saying the responsorial psalm before I really knew what it was. Tennessee is where I fell to my knees in front of a stunning crucifix and, looking at Our Lord, understood for the first time what it cost for me to have eternal life. I am still reckoning with that truth.
The Church is home, too - she is home and hospital for my sick and weary soul. She is where I go to seek beauty and peace. She is where I run to be with Our Lord, the only man who has ever loved me unconditionally. And yet, I have struggled to find community within the Catholic Church. I have struggled with the lack of representation I’ve noticed within her walls and among her congregants. I have labored to find a place where I felt my Blackness was not a target, but rather something to be celebrated.
I have labored to find a place where I felt my Blackness was not a target, but rather something to be celebrated.
I find myself wondering where the representations of Black saints are or why the priest in my home parish posted “all lives matter” on his Facebook page. Or why, when I spoke in opposition to that, he unfriended me without a word. That felt like a cold knife in my stomach. He was the man who baptized and confirmed me - my shepherd. And he said, with those three words, that my life did not matter. In his homily one weekday, he didn’t speak on the sanctity of George Floyd’s life; rather, he defended the Racism that policing is steeped in.
Suddenly, the place where I once sought solace became a place that felt as foreign to me as if I were in another country. I have wasted many a sin on this anger. I still don’t know how to let go of it, though I am trying. Forgiveness has always been difficult for me. I find it hard to forgive someone when they keep doing the same things over and over again. But that’s what Jesus tells us to do, so...I’m trying. I’m being gentle with myself in the process and I’m trying to be gentle with others, too.
Forgiveness feels like a knife when Racism is not acknowledged by those in the Church who have platforms from which to speak.
Forgiveness feels like an impossible task when I turn on the news and see people who look like me, like my mother, like my brothers, like my kin, dying at the hands of police. Forgiveness feels like a knife when Racism is not acknowledged by those in the Church who have platforms from which to speak. Forgiveness is grief that feels like fire when I hear all of my people saying, “I can’t breathe.” I have to check my own breath.
I’m not sure that I can breathe when I see a litany of names of the dead go across my social media feeds.
I’m not sure that I can breathe when I see Gloria Purvis’ show cancelled on the same day that Abby Johnson posts a video saying that my culture needs to be “redefined.” It feels like an affront to me, who grew up without my birth father in the home, not because he was “running around on my mother,” but because he served in the Army for twenty years of his life, and that was ultimately what contributed to his death.
I’m not sure that I can breathe when I think of my little brother walking down the street and looking “intimidating” to someone, simply because he was born Black.
I’m not sure that I can breathe when I think of Abby Johnson’s son and how he might grow up with that kind of message coming from the mouth of his own mother and father - those who the Catechism says are the “first heralds” of the Faith to their children (CCC 2225). I can’t stress enough how important these “first heralds” are to the sustainability of a child’s life. For those of us who have struggled to have a family that reflects the Holy Family, Jesus and Mary mean so much. And having the Church as the place where we can commune with them means just as much.
It feels hard to breathe just writing these words and thinking that someone who reads them may not see what all the fuss is about, or understand why we’re speaking about these issues.
Quite frankly, I am trying hard not to slip into despair. I know that the tomb is empty, as the rapper Lecrae reminds me. I know that this can’t be solved only by human means, but damn it, do I want my white brothers and sisters to say something. I want them to say, “What’s happening is wrong and I don’t support it.” I want them to say, “I stand with you,” “I stand with Gloria,” and “Abby Johnson does not represent pro-life activism.”
It is in times like these that I feel that the Church isn’t my home, that I didn’t inherit the same things as my white brothers and sisters in Christ, that there is something wrong with the way I was made, that I am just another statistic waiting to be cited in an Abby Johnson video, or that I am George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, or Elijah McClain.
It is in times like these that I feel that the Church isn’t my home, that I didn’t inherit the same things as my white brothers and sisters in Christ
It is in times like these that I feel that it doesn’t matter that my kin’s blood is crying out from the ground, that so many of us are deaf to it, and that if I don’t see myself reflected back to me in the Church, it’s because I'm not meant to be there.
I know that all of these are lies from the enemy, but faith can be hard to hold onto when I see yet another body, yet another unjust killing, and yet another casually racist tweet or Instagram post.
I love the Church. I subsist off of her sacraments, off of the Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord, and off of the prayers of Our Lady. And I have fought for every inch of my faith; I’m still fighting.
The question I have is, who will fight with me?