It is me. It is you. It is us.

Want to be a part of lasting and real change?

— Read about and consider a real contribution to this local initiative —

Fund race, equity and justice resources in our local libraries

 

And now?  Allow me to introduce myself.

I am the Rev. Melinda Teter Dodge.  I use the pronouns she/her/hers.  I am white, cis-gendered, and I was born into a rebellious, anti-institutional group called Generation X.  My mom taught me three important things (among many):

  1. to question almost everything;
  2. to not waste your time memorizing anything that you could just look up; and
  3. that – if I was ever bored?  that was on me.  Our world is far from boring.

But my mom?  She didn’t teach me to be racist or anti-black.

I was born into and I am a product of white privilege and a systemically racist culture that has infiltrated and impacted my world, my schooling, my housing, my choices, my life.   I was born white and I have inherited a privilege in this country like none other. Anti-blackness and racism are woven throughout us all in the U.S.

And that includes me and my life.

It is me.  It is you.  It is us.

Anti-blackness and systemic racism is so insidiously interwoven into who and how we are and who and how we become that most whites  (including myself) do not have an awareness of its existence in the vast majority of our hours on Earth.

What a privilege that is, in and of itself.

Our nation’s inherent anti-blackness and our broad systemic racism is something that I have been aware of since my college years.  But awareness and action are far from the same.  I will confess that a deep feeling of hopelessness to affect real change has had me in its grips for years.  And?  My very own privilege and complacency has stopped me from acting as fully as I could or I should.

But?  As an ordained elder in the church, as a leader of younger generations and a a few suburban Southern California churches, I trust that this era that we are in — is different.  I want to – and I need to – trust that the Holy Spirit … she is moving amongst us all right now and change is here.

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Earlier in June,  I had a particularly impactful week that further deepened my own awareness of systemic racism and its all-too-human impact on life itself.  On Monday, June 8, the morning of George Floyd’s memorial service in his hometown of Houston, Texas, I participated in an organized, multi-pronged funeral procession that covered all points of Los Angeles County.  Our procession began at CSULB, where we prepared our vehicles, and then symbolically processed into DTLA, meeting up with the other three processions.  Then, together, the 1000’s of us converged upon downtown Los Angeles to hear from Los Angeles Black Lives Matters leaders and speakers who had organized us all.

White clergy were asked to stand in the back, and hold the line with the LA County Sheriffs patrol … who was there for reasons unknown.  So, I stood in the back, toe to toe with other white clergy; I stayed for a number of hours in the hot sun (mask included/safely distanced), holding the line with the Sheriff’s force.  Holding the line while listening to stories of deeply personal, painfully raw interactions with LAPD.  Holding the line while listening to persons tell of brutal abuse and killings at the hands of the very people – that we entrust to protect us.  Holding the line with some of those very people that I was hearing were agents in a diabolical, anti-black system that perpetuates the abuse of black lives and has since its inception.

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But then, four days later, on Friday, June 12,  I was invited into a zoom conversation with Long Beach Police Chief, Robert Luna.  Here, I found myself toeing a very different line.  This was a line of listening to narratives of officers who have dedicated their lives and hearts to protecting our city and streets.  I heard narratives of persons who are feel immense shame for the actions of others who “wear the badge,” and many of whom are fearful everyday on the job.  I heard from officers who are asked to/expected to do far, far too much in a system that has (again and again) underfunded, under-resourced deeper needs of our communities.  Indeed, I heard tales of a massive system that underfunds the need, and then leaves the aftermath to the police to manage.  (houselessness, mental illness, gangs, addiction, domestic abuse, child abandonment, human trafficking, hunger … to name a few)

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I cannot claim to know the intricacies of police work, training and funding nor the abuses of these servants that has happened and continues to occur throughout our nation and communities.

I cannot claim to know the centuries of demeaning and abuse and generations of lives gone underfulfilled of our black brothers and sisters nor their pain, loss, despondency, or despair.

I cannot claim to know what it is to not have my experience of being born white in an anti-black nation.

But, I can claim an awareness.  And I must.  I can and I must claim an awareness of my own implicit bias, and that I sit in a place of white privilege that I was born into and as a child of God in the United States.

Even more than that?

I must claim to be a disciple of Christ who knows with her entire heart and soul that this is not the kingdom for which Jesus lived and died so that we would know a better way.

I must claim a way that professes my awareness of the world in which we live as well as  the narratives, the his- and her- and their-stories of persons that have far different experiences than I do.  I must claim a way that opens my own ears and heart and eyes to that which must be told and heard and I must make way (as best I can and should) for  new paths that must be forged and opened before us all.

It is this that I have been praying over.   I have been praying for the knowledge, the steps and the courage to participate in meaningful, respectful, effective systemic change that will contribute to the dismantling of anti-blackness, racism and white privilege in our homes, communities, institutions, nations and world.

One step that I have taken is to engage in conversation with other parents about “raising race conscious children.”  I am practicing this work, and I highly recommend it to you and yours.

Raising Race Conscious Children

 

And I have been collaborating with other faith and community leaders in Long Beach on an initiative to fund race, equity and justice resources in our local libraries.  This is the fund that I mention earlier in this post.

Click here to learn more!

Continuing a walk with Christ and with you, I remain your sister in Christ,

Pastor Melinda

 

 

Good Shepherd, indeed!

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“Young Shepherd”

By Ed Brambley from Cambridge, UK [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

This week, I have been preparing to lead our church’s Sunday morning “worship dialogue” virtually on Zoom.*  In some ways, it’s difficult to believe that less than two months ago, most of us had never heard of online gathering tools such as Zoom.  And now?  I am using it multiple times daily, and as you know, I do find it tedious as some days I’m zooming for hours on end!

But, I am also deeply thankful for the technology that will allow us to gather in dialogue on Sunday as the church of God.  Thanks be to God.  We will hear live music from Derek Gordon and Dr. Josh Palkki.  We will pray together.  And, we will read and discuss two scriptural texts from the morning’s lectionary:

  • Psalm 23
  • Acts 2: 42-47

Now, I am going to be honest with you.  When I first saw the readings, I wasn’t sure what to do!  I mean …  Psalm 23:  what more can possibly be shared about these particular verses in our tradition?  What more could we possibly learn, discern, or discuss?

But then, as I thought some more and pushed back on my initial reaction (I’ve learned!), I thought: this is the perfect Psalm to read and discuss right now.  It is so deeply meaningful to so many.  It brings memories, images, comfort, and peace.  It recalls ages and stages of life, people, times — to each of us — recent and long-time followers of Christ.  So, I look forward to hearing and sharing together this beautiful song of David.

As you prepare to join me, please take a few minutes to review Psalm 23 with these questions in mind:

  • What does this Psalm mean to you?  What is one memory that you could share about Psalm 23?
  • If you were to share Psalm 23 with someone who had never heard it before, how would you introduce it?

We will also be taking a look at Luke’s depiction of the early church in the Book of Acts 2:42-47. Personally, in my church leadership practice, I have been led by these exact verses for many years.  I have returned to them again and again.  They are as meaningful to me as Psalm 23.   And?  I’ve been utterly stymied by them, too.  I’ve been brought to frustrated tears by them, wondering: where have we fallen short as the church of Christ?  Why aren’t our churches today reflective of this idyllic, early church in the Book of Acts?  If these disciples could do it: why do we fall so short?

But, reading these verses again — through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic — I’ve begun to see this early church not as a litmus test for our successes or failures … but as a vision to live into; as the Rev. Robb McCoy reflects on the Pulpit Fiction podcast:

“These verses depict what it looks like when it all works, when we are all listening to the shepherd’s voice.”

Here’s another pro-tip!

Looking so much to seeing and being church with you all,

Pastor Melinda

  • If you would like to join this Sunday, contact Pastor Mark to receive the Zoom Call login information.  Things start at 10am!
  • E: MSturgess@LosAltosUMC.org