August 3, 2021
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Woke

I say stupid things. Not really intentionally, but sometimes the circuit leading to my mouth bypasses the brain. This can be a dangerous thing in our culture today. I grew up with the limerick that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

Today’s PC culture has forgotten this. It looks for opportunities to hold on to “words” as if it is as bad as shooting someone.

It did not take a year of discernment to know that sitting on someone’s neck for nine minutes is never acceptable. We all saw that immediately. I did not see it as a race thing; I saw it as an a$$hole thing. Even as a white kid I grew up being leery of cops. I had several run-ins with “Officer Chaz” in high school and I was basically a good kid. I often recall noting that it was not the brightest and most dedicated kids in my high school class that went into the police academy. The police I dealt with were not like the ones we saw running into burning buildings on 9/11, but ones who write tickets to fill quotas and have a heck of a pension plan. Yet, I always respected that in some neighborhoods, being a cop is a tough and dangerous job. They too have the right to action that ensures they will get home to their families safely after their shift. I often told my kids in their younger years to stay away from cops and, if they were not doing something wrong then they did not usually have to worry about them. But, in an emergency, make sure that they always call them.  

Then COVID and George Floyd hit. My views changed. They sent swat teams to churches and let cities burn in riots.

I can understand the burn and angst. I did not mind the protests, until chaos broke out. I never saw why this emotion gave people the “right” to break into stores and steal Nike gym shoes.bWorse yet, the very same politicians who sent swat teams to churches during the pandemic, were letting cities burn in riots.

What does this have to do with Greg saying dumb things?

It seems as with many commodities in the COVID recovery, there is a shortage of big boy pants. Today, words do seem to “break bones.” I am not justifying harsh rhetoric. I am pointing out that before a person is tried, judged and found guilty of white supremacy, stop the conversation. Point out the comment and allow the person to respond. In this newly “woke” culture, I was “called to the carpet” on a comment I made two months earlier. I did not even remember the offhand attempt at humor I made until it was pointed out to me. I owned it. I apologized, just as I would have if the offended person had made the point during our conversation. Rather than a “hey, that’s not funny” or a “what do you mean by that comment?” adult conversation, I was now a poor representative of a ministry. That is when my “burn” set in. Of course, I jumped the hoops necessary to make the issue go away. It was never about my comment. It was a judgment of  my so-called “white supremacist” history, judged by people who did not know me. Worse yet, this judgement was coming from those who are in ministry. The biblical contradictions for this are too numerous to list.

We all need to own this trend that we seem to be dealing with on a regular basis now. Cardinal Gregory recently noted that “we do not really know how to speak to one another.” I agree with him that we all can be “clumsy in introducing issues of race into our conversations.” This clumsiness can add to easily offending others when the intent to offend was not originally there. It seems to me that we all need to take a step back and discern his call to “tone down our rhetoric especially in today’s climate.” I need to be more sensitive to the words I am using. Things that do not offend me may still offend others.

Words can hurt, if we let them. Yet, we need an adult approach to this. Jesus was nailed to a cross, not a victim of insensitive comments. Too often we respond to comments in judgement. However, we often respond not to the person, but indirectly to others or via outlets such as Instagram and Facebook. We point out the injustice, without ever getting to the point of praying for the person as Jesus tells us to do.

Racism has always been an issue. I trace its roots in people failing to see the Imago Dei in others. Scientists tell us that genetically, we are all 99.99% alike. Imagine the harm we have justified through the ages in that 0.01% difference. Fr. Bryan Massingale, a theology professor at Fordham University, reminds us in an article in the National Catholic Reporter that racism is the antithesis to being pro-life. He tied being “unconditionally pro-life” as a commitment to challenge unfair social policies and attitudes that mask support for racism. The pro-life movement is not diminished when issues other than abortion are added to the discussion. It is only enhanced.

We can all agree that dumb comments can diminish the issues of race inequity, just as priest jokes moderate the healing needed in the pedophile scandal. It would be wise for us all to tread more carefully. However, insensitive comments are not sitting on someone’s neck for nine minutes. The latter act is much more intentional. When it happens, we need to respect each other enough to call such comments out. Let the resulting conversation be the one that Cardinal Gregory notes that we fear. Retribution is never the goal. Understanding and communication is. We all need reminding at times to refocus our views and see through the lens of the Imago Dei.

After a year of fear and emotion, let us get rid of the stupidity. They sent swat teams to churches and let cities burn in riots.

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Written by
Deacon Gregory Webster