The Strife of a Racialized World

Navigating the Strife of a Racialized World

Ubuntu: I am because you are.
– Southern African Proverb

Imagine a world where one sees another and identifies that there is a sacred interconnection albeit mysterious with that person based solely on being equally created in the image of God. I long for such a world. Conversely and sadly, we live in a racialized world, one that does not emulate the dream of God. The need for racial reconciliation and healing is a journey and what I call our “lifetime work.” Julian of Norwich’s popular optimism (“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”) will start to come true as members of the human family lean into ubuntu, which is translated as “I am because you are.”

Navigating the strife of a racialized world comes naturally for me, a Black Episcopal priest who is a native Mississippian serving as the rector of a large, predominately White parish in Memphis, Tennessee. Indeed, I bear myriad stories, experiences, and observations about the sin of racism. Fortunately, I am not polarized by them as I choose daily to see the image of God in all people. This navigation path was imparted to me by my parents, grandparents, and an array of wise mentors who could talk about race, hope, and the dream of God for hours. 

The realities of hatred, bigotry, exclusionary behaviors, micro-aggressions, inequity, injustice, and beliefs by some of White supremacy are revealed in diverse ways across all spaces. In some circumstances, the confluence of these forces has resulted in violence and death that are horrific parts of our past and present. I believe such unrest will be in our future if the Church fails to act proactively concerning the last two vows of the Baptismal Covenant:”Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” We energetically respond, “I will, with God’s help.” We also unknowingly or knowingly either minimize or disregard what comes with racism despite the hurt and harm it causes the human family.

Thanks to an omnipresent God, community, an unwavering faith and prayer life, and a discipleship grounded in my affiliation with SSJE, I manage “chaos better” as I follow Jesus, the way of Love. The wisdom of SSJE blesses my pilgrimage with practices to better navigate the questions and challenges of strife, particularly matters of race, which I believe are the “elephant in the room” almost everywhere.

My hope concerning race matters remains constant, and I am encouraged when I share in and see commitments to the courageous work of racial reconciliation and healing. This I see closely in the parish I serve, where increasing numbers of parishioners are participating in “Sacred Ground.” A program of “Becoming Beloved Community” – the Episcopal Church’s promise to racial healing, reconciliation, and justice in our personal lives, ministries, and society – Sacred Ground reflects on chapters of America’s racial history, while weaving in threads of family story, context, class, politics, and more that are parts of the tapestry of one’s own life. It is one example of the transformation that comes with intentionality. 

Followers of Jesus are called to walk by faith and not by sight, which I know makes navigating the strife of a racialized world possible and hope-filled. With God’s help, dedication to the concept of ubuntu, and prayerful action, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” 

The Rev. Ollie V. Rencher is Rector of Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Memphis, Tennessee, and a member of the Fellowship of Saint John.

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