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My Birthday Wish

July 24, 2020

Today is my birthday, but as the day dawns, my heart is heavy.  Last night I decided I needed to unfollow a dear friend from my past after she shared yet another post expressing fantasies of violence toward those with whom she disagrees politically.  I have confronted her on this before and she has expressed contrition and stopped—she is kind-hearted at her core, but she is in the circle of influence of others who are less so, including her pastor.  We have shared thoughts over Black Lives Matter, and she has acknowledged the reality of disproportionate police aggression against people of color.  But as the protests here in Portland have escalated, these posts have returned.  Last night’s—fantasizing injurious water-cannoning of “rioters”—made my stomach turn, and Diane turned away, unable to continue watching.  I just can’t have such hateful thoughts in my feed—it is hard enough to bear witness, which I must, to the real violence that is occurring on downtown streets every night.

Throughout my time in seminary I have wrestled with the nature of love and hate, violence and peace, poverty and greed, power and oppression, and community and conflict—all in the context of how, and for what purpose, we were created into these lives we inhabit.  I found no simple answers, but certain beliefs emerged stronger than ever, none more important than this: each of us is made in the image of our creator, and this obligates each of us to treat every other person, individually and collectively, as equally worthy of love and respect as we believe ourselves to be.  When this breaks down—when we allow ourselves to see another person or group as sufficiently different from ourselves that they are not worthy of this level of love and respect—hate takes root in our hearts, and violence, oppression, and conflict are quick to follow.

The Black Lives Matter movement has taken its current form in response to innumerable instances of police or vigilantes treating certain black lives as less worthy of love and respect than their own.  These lives have names.  Lloyd Stevenson, Trayvon Martin, Laquan McDonald, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd are among those whose brutal deaths have touched me most personally, but there are many others, and their deaths all meant something to somebody. 

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Showing love and respect for their lives means we must say their names and not let them be forgotten.  It means we must acknowledge the history of slavery, conflict, and racism that has shaped each of our lives and the cultural conflict we find ourselves in the midst of.  And it means we must commit ourselves to fighting the attitudes of mind, heart, and culture that lead each of us every day to treat some people as “others” less worthy of our love and respect.  Race is by no means the only way that we treat people as “other,” but it demands our urgent attention, today and always.

My birthday wish for myself—a prayer, really—is that I find my voice and my place in this next stage of my struggle to become more like the person I was created to be.  That is to say, someone who seeks to see that of God in every person, and to help each of them feel as loved and respected as I want to feel myself.  However, doing so in my individual interactions and relationships is not sufficient, for we as a society are much more than the sum of our parts.  So I wish to find new places where I can use my gifts and experiences to help us move forward through this difficult time, toward a society where each person feels valued and respected for the unique creation of God that they are.  And I wish to be joined in community with each person who shares this aspiration with me.

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4 Comments
  1. Cheryl permalink

    Do beautifully stated.
    Thank you Greg
    Love and virtual hugs your way
    Cheryl

  2. Lynsley permalink

    I’m replying through a haze of tears after reading your letter. You inspire me, Greg. Deeply. You always have, but this — this is touches my heart. If you look for people to join you in this effort, I’m willing.

  3. Kristine S Kiser permalink

    I support your birthday wish. Thank you for this!!

  4. Priscilla Longfield permalink

    A beautifully written powerful statement. Know you’ll do good things in this next chapter of your life.

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