Almost as soon as “Black Lives Matter” began to trend on Twitter, people began to respond “All Lives Matter” said the Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad. But, she said, as philosopher and New York Times columnist Judith Butler wrote, when people responded “All Lives Matter,” “people misunderstood the message. Not all lives are understood to matter, and we have to name the lives that haven’t mattered.”
Lundblad preached at the 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “Vanishing Innocence,” and the text was I Peter 2:9-10.
“I agree [with Butler] and think most people would agree that black lives have not mattered enough. But I also want to claim my innocence. My ancestors were from Sweden, and they knew hardship and never owned slaves. I wanted to think I was a good white person. I wanted to be like Atticus Finch, and now I have lost him,” she said.
Lundblad had been invited to speak at “The Rally in the Valley” in Arizona in February.
“It is an event for retired Lutherans who give up snow shoveling for Lent,” she said. “The Bible study was 1 Peter 2, and I wanted to address it in my keynote speech — really a longer sermon. I asked them what do you think of, ‘Now you are a chosen race?’ One said yeehaw, another hallelujah and others said grace. After all, they were Lutherans.
“Someone in the back said, ‘What race?’ ” she continued. “The congregation had heard ‘chosen’ but not ‘race’ or they thought it meant all people, not a particular race. That gathering was even whiter than this one — if that is possible — but they did not think of themselves as ‘racial’ people. They don’t think about race because they do not have to negotiate race.”
Lundblad cited an essay by Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns. In the essay, Wilkerson noted two events that happened about the same time: the raising of the Confederate flag over the South Carolina State House in April 1961 to mark the centennial of the beginning of the Civil War and the publication in July 1960 of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Lundblad described the end of the courtroom scene in the book, where all the black members of the community stand as Atticus Finch leaves the room. The minister of the community tells the Finch children to get up and stand because their father is walking by.
“I wanted to be Atticus Finch,” Lundblad said. “Now the flag is down and we have a new book, an old one really, and the elder Atticus Finch is a racist. I want my Atticus back.”
Wilkerson challenges us to confront that wistfulness and realize that we have never escaped racism’s roots, Lundblad said.
“It shapes our beliefs, behaviors and actions, and we have to examine it in a profound way, especially white people,” she said. “Let us not ask black people to do our work for us. We have to unmask our mythic conscience and wake up to the truth about an America that never was.”
It is hard to get past guilt, Lundblad said. When innocence is taken away, white people can no longer say, “My family never owned slaves. “
“White privilege is real,” she said. “We can’t just admit our guilt, ask forgiveness and go about our lives. What do we do now? We are stuck, and we need to get unstuck and we will not get completely unstuck this morning. This is sacred work, holy work and I don’t want to stay stuck.”
She suggested that white people need to examine what it means to be white, and it will not be easy. It is something white people have not had to think about.
It is holy work, she said again.
“We should refuse to compare repressions,” Lundblad said. “African-Americans are the only ones whose ancestors came here as slaves, not on their own.”
White people should support affirmative action because it is as close to reparations as will ever be made, Lundblad said. She cited Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay “The Case for Reparations,” saying that in 1860 the value of slaves as assets was worth more than all American manufacturing, railroads and productive capacity.
“Slaves were the single largest financial asset in the entire American economy,” she said. “How can we make reparations to their descendents? Affirmative action is one way to make a dent.”
She suggested that people fund scholarships for African-Americans at their mostly white colleges and get friends to do the same. She said retired people should continue to vote and to support voting rights.
“People should support the Martin Luther King Center here at Chautauqua so people of color can meet and talk with each and with people whose color is bland,” Lundblad said.
She said again that this is holy work, not political or sociological.
“Bishop Timothy Hoyt said that the bottom line of black preaching is the universal parenthood of God and the universal kinship of all people,” she said. “I hope that would be the bottom line for all our congregations.
“Whatever race we are, we are a chosen race for once we were no people but now we are God’s people,” Lundblad continued. “This is holy work. I hope that, wherever you go after Chautauqua, you will bring this holy work and passion to wherever you live. Once we let go of innocence, we can embrace the holy calling of God. So may it be.”
Pastor Scott Maxwell presided. Heidi Thorsen, Christian coordinator for the Abrahamic Program for Young Adults and a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, accompanied Amanda Bottoms, a voice student at Chautauqua working on her master’s at Juilliard, on “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” The Motet Choir was singing for the CLSC Recognition Day ceremonies at the Hall of Philosophy. The Robert D. Campbell Memorial Chaplaincy supports this week’s services.