Seedlings and the Excercise of Power.
I am sitting at my favorite diner. My vacation at Cape Cod is done. I am quickly falling back into the routines of life. This morning I woke up, fixed the coffee, gathered my things together and went to church.
We had church in the sanctuary this morning for the first time since early March. Another taste of normalcy. Even with a two-page insert of all the things we needed to do to stay safe, with everyone separated and with masks, it was wonderful to be together.
But it was not normal. Nothing is. And won’t be for a while. We are in for months, maybe years of ups and downs and constant change as we figure out how best to live life.
And it is not just the virus. The murder of George Floyd and the subsequent riots and continuing protests had shaken so much of how we think and what we think about. A layer of life and prejudice that was often invisible to too many of us has come to the forefront, as it should. It has not been a flash in the pan, but continues. Even in small towns and rural areas, you see peaceful, but determined protestors.
Just yesterday, driving home, we drove through a crowd of protestors in Brattleboro, Vermont. Look it up. It’s likely smaller than where you live. And on the way to the diner today, I saw a small girl, maybe six or seven, standing on her front lawn on the main road, each holding a “Black Lives Matter.” sign. I honked. They cheered.
There is something different going on. At least I think so. I hope so. I pray so. I wrote earlier in the month about driving home the night after Martin Luther King was killed, driving through a part of town that was rioting. Cars burning. A frightening thing for a thirteen-year-old boy and his mother. and a frightening thing for our country. And yet, we have allowed things to continue so that every few years ago it keeps happening. Again and again and again. I find it hard to believe that fifty years later, we are still in a place where this happens.
All because we have not learned a basic lesson that most of us were taught in Sunday School and elementary school. That all men are created equal. And that we are to love each other.
We spent the week at Cape Cod. I was kind of dreading it. Cape Cod is one of my favorite places on the planet. But I always go in the off season, when most of the places are closed and there are hardly any tourists. You can walk the long beaches for hours and never see a soul, or at least, one or two. If ever there is a place to meditate and let your soul heal, it is in this place of few people and endless horizons, where the Atlantic waves and their rhythm lulls your mind into a place of peace. If there is heaven on earth, it exists on Cape Cod in October and April.
But I have heard what it is like in the summer. Madness. Half of Boston spends their weekend at the cape, and visitors travel from all over the country to settle in. Provincetown, right at the end of the Cape, where I like to stay, all opens up and there is a Mardi Gras atmosphere. So I was not looking forward to that part of this trip.
It turned out to be OK. The cape was only partially open. Hotels were closed. The restaurants were mostly take out only. There were lots of rules. and maybe half the people that would normally be there. Beaches filled up during the day, but mornings and evenings they were still mostly empty. We spent the heat of the days in our rented house in the woods of Wellfleet, cool and resting.
I didn’t do much. I mostly read and rested and thought. I had a lot of thinking to do. The events of the past few months have been dizzying to me. So much has changed. Physically, mindset-wise and spiritually.
And continues to change. Constantly. I needed some stillness.
On some of the beaches, they have done a lot of work, replanting the dunes with seagrass. Seagrass, if you are not familiar with, is an important part of the seaside ecosystem. These little tufts of grass can grow in the sand where nothing else grows. Their little root systems help hold the dunes together in face of storms. Despite their toughness, they are also very tender. Step on a plant and you probably kill it, and with it, you kill that little piece of what holds everything together. Step on enough of them, it all comes undone. So every now and then, it has to be renewed, to preserve something important and worth saving.
And that’s what the people of Provincetown, or the National Forest folks or whoever planted these vast farms of new seagrass across the dunes. They planted them. They fenced them in for a time until they grow strong. To preserve the dunes, the things that give the landscape culture.
This morning after church, we were sitting outside talking, One of my parishioners, a former Congregational pastor, asked me what I thought of all that has gone on since George Floyd’s murder.
That is not an easy question. No one condones violence and vandalism. It is horrible, even when you understand what it comes from. It is wrong, even if you get the “why”. But I think my answer surprised him.
“I am hopeful.” I said.
I am hopeful, because it has turned onto something else. Protests have endured. People who normally would ignore racism have joined the conversation. The diversion tactics so often used by racists have not worked. The conversation had changed and people, regular ordinary people seem to be saying “Enough. We don’t want to keep fighting this battle. The things we were taught in Sunday School and Elementary School still resonate with us, and it’s time for our nation to live up to those ideals.
Will change happen? I can’t say. But for the first time in my memory, the conversations and protests have lasted longer than a week or two. They have involved more than the people who are oppressed or the racists. It has gotten the sustained attention of people who NEVER got involved. It has gotten the sustained attention of the uninvolved and it has not evaporated yet.
Racism survives when we allow it. It survives when we ignore how it shows up in everyday conversation, in everyday treatment, in our leaders. We are not helpless. We can make it clear to people we won’t tolerate it around us, instead of just allowing it.
No one smokes in my house. Even my father, who was basically a chimney, smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, smoked in my house. I made it known I would not tolerate it. It wasn’t the easiest thing. He was my father, and he was used to getting his way. But it was surprising how quickly he adjusted.
Kids learn quickly what we will tolerate and what we won’t. The truth is, most people will adjust to what we tolerate and what we won’t. We often make the mistake that we are just one person, we can’t make a difference, but the truth could not be any more different.
Individuals can and do make a difference. In fact, it starts with each of us. If we are as consistent and persistent as racists, things will change because (and I do believe this) most of us want to believe what we were taught in Sunday School and elementary school – that people are equal, and all are to be loved. Not tolerated. Loved.
But we have to act like it and insist that we will tolerate nothing less. Today and every day.
I love the seagrass plantings. The reclamation of the dunes. They are a sign of hope. Of promise and declaration of what is important and worth saving.
I love the protests Not the violence, let me remind you, but the protests. I love them because they feel like the planting of seagrass, a reclamation of what is important, doing the work of the best of democracy and the best of who we are called to be as people. My hope and prayer is that we have the strength to stick with it, and find our way to making real progress. Out future depends on it.
You know what comes next.
Off my soapbox.