Like many churches in National Capital Presbytery, the Church of the Pilgrims is being intentional about racism during this liturgical season. A banner draped in front of the Communion Table proclaims "#blacklivesmatter," and each Sunday a member of the community gives testimony on "What 'Black Lives Matter' Means to Me."
As a contribution to the on-going discussion I moderated a 30-minute, after worship discussion of two poems, "ode to my blackness" by Evie Shockley, a black woman, and "Ode to My Whiteness" by Sharon Olds, a white woman.
Eight people came, men and women, white and black, 30-something to 70-something. We read each poem aloud, twice, and watched Olds read her poem on video (click here—the ode is 3 minutes in). Then we talked: "What is the poet saying?" "Have I felt that in my own life?
The discussion was thoughtful and frank. Everyone participated. Some people were moved, others not. Later I asked the participants to give me some feedback.
Bonny wrote: "After church I had put the poems you handed out on my desk at home, so I wouldn’t lose them. When I returned . . . I literally couldn’t wait to I reread them. I was surprised how good it felt to read them aloud …. several times."
Jenny, a newcomer from the UK, wrote: "I'm still new to this country and I'm struggling with the racism here, and shocked by how segregated society is, even in churches, so to find a discussion such as this gives me hope!"
The texts to both poems are below. Maybe you'd like to read them with people from your congregation.
Ode to My Whiteness
After Evie Shockley
By Sharon Olds
You were invisible to me,
you went without saying.
You were my weapon, secret from myself.
Whatever I got you helped get it for me.
You were my ignorance, because of you I was not innocent.
I did not see that.
You were my blinding light.
My dreams had a blank area in the center
taking up most of the screen they played on in my sleep,
a blazing circle that blanked out the core of the scene.
I thought it was my mother's violence, but it was you, too.
You the unseen fat which fed me in the wilderness,
you my Masonic handshake, you my silence,
you my collaborator,
you my magician's cloak of steam,
you my dissembler.
You mine, I yours.
Evie's blackness a dancer, you another,
the two of you shimmering together.
ode to my blackness
By Evie Shockley
you are my shelter from the storm
and the storm
and the troubled sea
* * *
night casts you warm and glittering
upon my shoulders some would
say you give off no heat some folks
can’t see beyond the closest star
* * *
you are the tunnel john henry died
i see the light
at the end of you the beginning
* * *
i dig down deep and there you are at the root of my blues
you’re all thick and dark, enveloping the root of my blues
seem like it’s so hard to let you go when i got nothing to lose
* * *
without you, I would be just
a self of my former shadow