Provincial Minister Mark Soehner responds to the racial unrest in our country.

The protests after the death of George Floyd have led us to a moment of crisis.  A crisis is a turning point, a moment of both opportunity and danger.  Today’s moment has been compressed in the pressure cooker of quarantine and economic pain.

Protests in the United States are actually important ways for us to change, when ordinary means don’t work.  I do not condone the destruction and looting done by a few of the protesters.  But no one can stand by while someone has a foot on the neck of another, lest we all become complicit by merely looking on.  In his recent statement Pope Francis said,  “My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

The friars this week have received material to begin to discuss the concept of “white privilege”.  And while that is probably too complicated to explain in this short column, my letter to them has developed it a bit more.  What can most of us do?

9 novices with BLM posters

Novices at the Interprovincial Novitiate at Old Mission Santa Barbara shared these quiet but powerful messages.

I think it’s important to engage in conversations that matter with people of ethnicity other than our own.  We could ask, “How did you experience the protests?”, “How did we historically come to this moment?”, “What is the one thing important for me to learn from your experience?”  Our dialogue can make us richer and wiser.

Secondly, we need to work for specific actions of justice.  The scholar Dr. Cornel West used to say that “Justice is what love looks like in public”.  If we love others, we need to work to change laws so that everyone can receive health care, that everyone has access to safe housing, decent food and gainful employment.  We need to vote for laws that protect all human life, and at this moment, for racial minorities.  At this time, that black lives matter.  Justice is what love looks like in public.

And always, we need to pray.  Those who move into God begin to experience certain periods of unknowing, confusion, embarrassment.  Spiritual masters have called this a “dark night”.  Sound like this crisis?  I think so!

This crisis puts into sharp focus our spiritual smallness and collusion with powers of evil. Those in relationship with God feel as though God is breaking open their own smallness. Just their recognition of their spiritual impasse is a gift.  Then the Spirit provides healing, a balm in Gilead, that makes the wounded whole.  God helps us to see one another as brothers and sisters, to develop new ties that bind as members of God’s Beloved Community.  Only deep prayer will help us to see our interconnectedness, that vulnerability with each other IS a treasure, that we belong to each other, to God, and to the universe.  Yes, this moment of crisis can help us to demand that Black Lives Matter.  This crisis is a turning point for all lives to matter.