A message from Iliff’s President to the Iliff Community over the past weekend:
Let us begin with a sacred silence as we feel the impact of yet two more black men shot by police. Let our sacred silence continue as we remember the five police officers gunned down in Dallas. Let us remember the families and friends of these men and the communities in which they lived. We are angry, afraid, grieving, tired, at wit’s end, and looking for answers and a greater responsiveness that leads to solutions.
Dean Hernández and I recently attended the Biennial Meeting of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) in St. Louis, just ten miles from Ferguson. Daniel Aleshire, who has led ATS for over two decades, tied our meeting to Ferguson and to the racism and the violence that corrode our cities. Aleshire called the over 250 theological schools represented at that meeting to examine how race and white privilege affect their life and mission as institutions. A panelist, Dr. Leah Gunning Francis, formerly of Eden Theological School in St. Louis, shared from her recent book, Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community. Today, her words hold me: “sparking leadership and awakening community.” Taking leadership and being responsible to community requires that we remove the distance we use to protect ourselves from the causes and effects of racism. In another setting in which I worked, two charges guided our leadership: be “keepers of the questions” and a “nerve exposed to pain.” No avoidance. No fear of seeing ourselves-just a call to work toward justice.
There is no doubt that we as Iliff care deeply and take all of these matters to heart. Still, we are in the process of becoming even more fully formed and courageous. There is more for us to do in entering the struggle and, in Dr. Gunning’s words, “sparking” leadership and “awakening” community. In the next days, as members of the Iliff community gather with others among the various congregations and organizations of which each is a part, I encourage all to stand with their communities as a nerve exposed to their very real pain. We will be providing leadership among a grief-weary people. A lot of folks are used to being judged or ignored. Some are just beginning to see their privilege. Some are struggling to move from guilt over privilege to just-action. Some are just beginning to believe they have a voice. Some are using their voice and asking, “How long, O Lord – how long?”
As we encounter resistance from systems and individuals, may we ask those essential questions that expose and clarify. In this way, I believe we will be living in our most honest selves in the complexity and confusion of the moment and allow justice to grow out of strength and relationship.