My Church is Whiter Than Yours

Stop me if you’ve heard this one:
What’s black and white and red all over?

Well, today the red could be found in my frustrated face as I read the editorial section of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. On the celebration of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr, our statewide newspaper devoted its entire editorial page to the honor and memory of Robert E. Lee. Yes, the Confederate General. And while I get that today is also Robert E. Lee day (why, I have no idea) there was nary a mention of MLK. Not one iota. And this happens Every Single Year.


So maybe the riddle instead should be “what’s white and red all over?” since there was absolutely no black to be found.

But my frustration didn’t begin with today’s editorial. It began yesterday in church, of all places. Yes, my church is predominately white, as are most Catholic churches in Arkansas, and probably, most Catholic churches in the US. But I’m not really talking about the color of its members. I’m referring to the color of its messages. Or lack of color.

Even though I’m 52, I don’t have all the answers. Shocking, I know. (And weird, since some of my children seem to have all the answers.) Actually, it seems that as I’ve aged, I continue to have more questions. And race relations certainly fall into my category of MWMSA – Married White Male Seeking Answers.

When these difficult questions arise, where do I turn? When the events of Ferguson unfolded, I looked for some calming, sensible guidance. Some words of comfort, some challenges, some moments of united prayer. Hoping I would get this from my Church, I received deafening silence. And yes, I could certainly do this on my own, but remember, I’m Catholic, and spontaneous prayer is not really in my wheelhouse. But alas, nothing was mentioned. No acknowledgement of the events, no attempt to bring The Good News into today’s current events. I was at a loss.

Fast forward to this weekend. What a perfect opportunity to tie HIS message to the message preached by MLK. A message of equality. A message of non-violence. A message of hope. A challenge to change. Instead, what message was delivered? In all honesty, I can’t remember. Shame on me.

And now today, the official holiday honoring MLK, I am greeted with an editorial page devoted in its entirety to the “gentleman” Robert E. Lee. Several have reminded me that officially, it is Robert E. Lee Day too. As a life-long Southerner, maybe I should understand that, but I don’t. Even Jesus doesn’t get that much ink on His Day! But to totally omit any acknowledgement of Martin Luther King Day in the editorial section of the only statewide newspaper is offensive – to blacks, whites and any other color we used to describe our physical differences. And it happens Every Single Year. You think I would have learned by now.

When a trusted and beloved institution – my Church, and a respected, reliable source – my daily newspaper, fall short of my expectations for inspiration and guidance, where should I turn?

Social media, why of course? Good grief. What is this world coming to? But the fact is that at least two inspirational messages on this subject were found through my social media channels.

First, my friend Sarabeth Jones issued a challenge last week to all the “white people.” It posed the same questions – what can we do? What do we need to do? How do we deal with this?

White people, we need to do better.
If you are the slightest bit awake to what has happened this past year, you know that race is still a huge issue for us. And surely, surely, you realize that we all have a part to play in this. This is not a black issue – please don’t let the fact that you live in a culture built by and for whiteness tell you that. Please be smarter, willing to go a little deeper, willing to be less sure that you have the answers. We – all of us – have the responsibility to take care of our own mindset, baggage, understanding. At the very least, we have responsibility for that.

For her complete message to us white people, and all other colors, go here

Shortly after that, I came across a post from a parent of a Catholic High School student. Being a graduate and father of two recent graduates, I was once again captivated by prinipal Steve Straessle’s message he delivered to all CHS Students last week:

Boys, on Monday, we are out of school in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Now, it seems counter-intuitive to miss school in honor of a man who worked – that’s worked – tirelessly to bring about change in our society. However, honoring such a man is important. Dr. King saw injustice, peacefully rose above it, and inspired a nation. Not only did he advocate for those who were institutionally disadvantaged, he nurtured a change in heart for those who let hate be their guide. Great men see things the way they are and work to make those things into what they should be. Great men stand up when others prefer to keep their heads bowed. Great men take action when others prefer to be bystanders.

That was Dr. King. That is Dr. King’s legacy. Honoring that legacy is what makes us human – it’s what makes us a nation. And like Presidents Day – another day we are out of school to honor men who worked hard (and yes, I say that while noting the irony it entails) – we are out of school on Martin Luther King Day but what a waste it would be for that day to be a day off – a day off from work, a day off from exploring our consciences, a day off for doing good.

So, you will not be at school this Monday. But, your teachers and I challenge you to wake up on Monday and do something good. Something good. Read a book. Volunteer. Go for a long run – or – even better, a first run. Pick up trash in your neighborhood. Collect cans for our Dr. King can drive to benefit Helping Hand. Just. Do. Something. Good. You don’t need examples from me…you will know it was good by the way you feel once you complete it. The funny thing about truly great men like Dr. King is that he doesn’t need you to honor him. What great men truly want is for their lives to inspire action. Get outside on Monday. Get into the game. Do not be a bystander.

We are about to watch a clip from Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech.” Know that he wasn’t just speaking to that crowd at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, know that he was speaking to the generations. Know that he wasn’t just speaking about getting along, he was speaking about true and abiding love. Know that he wasn’t just speaking about racial strife, know that he was speaking about doing something good.

Allow yourself to be inspired, boys. Allow yourself to take action.

Thank you Sarabeth, and thank you Steve.

Those are the messages I’ve been looking for. Messages of inspiration, messages of hope, and a challenge.

I’m not giving up on my Church, nor am I giving up on the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Although Robert E. Lee is often praised for the way he surrendered to the Union Army, I am not going to surrender my hope just yet. Inspiration and leadership still are in abundance. We may just find them in unexpected places.

Happy Robert E. Lee Day!


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4 Comments on “My Church is Whiter Than Yours”

  1. Very poignant words about a sad, but true fact regarding our great state-wide paper. It happens every year. I’m glad you found solace in messages from those in your social media network. Happy MLK Day.

  2. […] friend Paul wrote a really lovely piece about the difficulty he feels as a white man trying to get a better understanding of race in […]

  3. […] But even though I love Arkansas, we still get a lot of things wrong. Including MLK Day. […]

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