Juneteenth and Joseph

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When I first began this blog, I was hoping to record a year in which I practiced the Church calendar. Staying faithful to weekly writing, let alone steadfast observance, has proven to be a challenge. Besides basic human busyness, I like new things; I’m a sucker for creativity and starting new projects. I’m not so great on follow through and completion. Sometimes, I am able to lean into discipline, doing things when I do not want to do them; other times, I give into rest, waiting, avoidance, or distraction. I’m not sure if that is a good thing, bad thing, or just a thing. But, nevertheless, that is how I roll.

I am learning that when I don’t write, I miss out on fullness. Only writing when I’m in the mood gives a slant of false positivity and lack of depth to my writing. If this blog is to truly be Life in Practice, then perhaps writing in the fullness of life would be beneficial. In an effort to practice writing in all seasons (and all moods), I have started to write on every Wednesday. I have made an inner commitment to faithfully write on Wednesday mornings, and publish whatever those reflections turn out to be.

That being said, this week is my only week off from seminary classes this summer, and I was totally tempted to skip blogging. However, this is a big week, and I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want any of us to miss it.

As I have ventured through the last seven months of blogging a “life in practice,” I have also bent my own rules a little by writing outside the margins of the Church calendar. I have also included current events and secular holidays in my posts. This practice of contemplating calendar (or days of remembrance) alongside what is happening here and now has been fulfilling and challenging.

How do our Church celebrations contextualize in the everyday, in this current day? How does my faith reflect into or live out through what we may call secular holidays? The Spirit resides in humans, not rites and celebrations, and humans can exist in both secular and religious spaces, bringing with us the capacity for the Infinite in all things.

So, this Wednesday, I turn my attention to two American holidays that will be celebrated this coming weekend- Juneteenth and Father’s Day.

{A little history lesson…}

Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom, commemorating June 19, 1865, the day when Union soldiers proclaimed the abolition of slavery to a group of enslaved people living in Texas. The Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863; however, not all enslaved persons were freed on that day. It took years for word to reach everyone, and years for slave owners to submit to this decree. The 13th Amendment was ratified in December of 1865, abolishing slavery in all forms, except as punishment for crimes. This loophole, “except as punishment for crimes,” left African Americans vulnerable to the enforcement of laws called black codes written by white lawmakers. Any African American found in violation of these codes could be imprisoned and used for slave labor. And so the system continued, now under a new name- the criminal justice system. Segregation, lynching, terror, and oppression are part of American history that leak into our unaddressed and often unknown biases and systems today.

While we celebrate Juneteenth this Saturday, we also recognize that racism and systemic injustice have been overcome in some forms, but they continue to rear their ugly heads in other ways. We celebrate freedom, and we commit to a greater flourishing for all. Juneteenth is an opportunity to rejoice and gather together as a community, and it is a day for acts of justice. Juneteenth is a holiday that can and should be celebrated by all Americans, because when African Americans were set free from slavery, all Americans were set free. When one of us is liberated, we all are liberated. When one rejoices, we all rejoice.

As a white woman, I struggle with how to come alongside those who are already doing the work of liberation amongst communities experiencing oppression. How do I support and bear witness without being part of the problem (i.e., taking over, taking up more than my allotted space in conversation, abusing my privilege, attempting to be a white savior, etc.)? Is Juneteenth even a day I can celebrate? How?

This is where Father’s Day enters the conversation. One of the greatest known human fathers of the Bible is Joseph, and it is to Joseph I turn this Juneteenth to show me how to proceed. In Joseph’s story, I learn more about what it means to be an ally to those who are marginalized.

The story begins as such: “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way” (Matthew 1:18). Joseph finds out that the woman to whom he is engaged is pregnant with someone else’s baby. According to Jewish law, Joseph has the right to have her publicly stoned to death. He can pick up a stone and be the first to throw, accuse, and condemn. Mary has moved to the margins of society, and now Joseph has to decide how he will respond. Joseph, “unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly” (Matthew 1:19).

In my opinion, Joseph is acting like a lot of complicit white Americans today. He feels badly for Mary. He doesn’t want to see her come to harm, but he also doesn’t want to associate with her and lose his own status. He chooses to hide her and to disassociate from her. He chooses to cut himself off from relationship with her.

Yes, Joseph spared Mary disgrace and death, but he didn’t want to get in the mess with her. Joseph didn’t know that God had an even bigger plan for all of this chaos and turmoil. God was going to transform Joseph by calling him to something greater. God had called Joseph’s fiancée to be the mother of Jesus, the son of God. With the words, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife (Matthew 1:20,” God was calling Joseph to be Mary’s ally.

If Jospeh took up this call, he would need to take up her public disgrace as his own, he would need to lay aside his privilege as an upright Jewish man in a religious, patriarchal society, and he would need to join her in her suffering. For the rest of Joseph’s days, people would shun him, mock him, refuse him, and disown him, not for who he was, but for what people thought of Mary. Saying yes to this call, Joseph would lay down his life, his future, and his status, in order to support her call to be the mother of Jesus. Joseph would join the social outcasts, becoming one of them, in order to see God’s purpose in Mary fulfilled.

This is what it means to be an ally.

As a white, middle-class, American, I have been born into a system that prefers me, acquiesces to me, and privileges me in ways not enjoyed by people of color. Being an ally means laying aside this privilege, becoming aware of it and refusing to access it to the detriment of others. Being an ally means taking on others’ struggle as my own, coming near to those suffering, and bearing witness to the marginalized’s pain. It means using what I have- talents, support, presence, friendship- in the service of seeing other people flourish. Allyship is forsaking society’s approval as I seek the welfare of the oppressed.

Practically speaking, this starts with educating myself. It starts with reading books and articles, watching films, and listening to podcasts on racism. Being an ally is an intentional commitment to learning the history of oppression, so that I can listen to current stories with a more informed and empathetic perspective. Educating myself also means accepting the invitation to enter welcoming spaces that could make me uncomfortable. Being an ally is going into unfamiliar spaces like protests, powwows, and my local Juneteeth celebration.

Being an ally also means supporting the people who are already doing the work. For me, this has meant financial support to places like my local African American resource center and the Equal Justice Initiative. It has meant watching, reading, following, sharing, and liking posts, amplifying voices, being an echo to the call for change while getting to know more and more of the stories.

Being an ally is being a listener- quick to listen, slow to speak. Being an ally is being an echo versus the dominating voice or opinion. Being an ally is joining in lament with my tears, my prayers, and my presence. The role of ally is one of listener and learner, not savior nor fixer. Being an ally means sitting in the tension, the anger, and the grief, without demanding quick fixes and premature reconciliation. Allies welcome confrontation without fear, refuse to fall prey to the temptation to flee, and choose validation of grief and anger rather than denial and blame shifting.

Empathy, humility, curiosity, and perseverance are the greatest strengths of an ally.

So, as I celebrate Juneteenth this Saturday, I hold the memory of Joseph in my mind and heart. I have much to learn. I have racial biases and blind spots that I cannot yet see, but I walk in hope that following the path of allyship is walking the way of love, the way to healing those broken places with me, within my community. I pray God continues to convict me and redirect me when I want to hide, deny, or disassociate. I pray God gives us all grace to live open to the possibility to doing better. My faith tells me that wherever there is dying to self so that others may live, there is always a resurrection. I’m holding on to that this Juneteenth.

One thought on “Juneteenth and Joseph

  1. Hi Molly,
    Your words made me think a lot about my feelings of wanting to “fix the racial discrimination problem urgently, yet I know that is not realistic. It made me fo an examination of my conscience, and I appreciate your words and your turning to St. Joseph. How beautiful. I thought I would share a litany that I sent out to the prayer s chain today, and celebrate that Juneteenth is now a National Holiday! It’s about time, right? Blessings to you………….Steck 🙂

    6/16/21 Yesterday, 6/15/21, the U.S. Senate passed a bill to make Juneteenth, the day commemorating the end of slavery in Texas, a federal holiday. Juneteenth is one of the oldest celebrations commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, marking the long-awaited moment of emancipation in Texas, where, on June 19, 1865, more than 250,000 enslaved black people received the news that they were free — over two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Please pray these prayers.

    LITANY FOR RACIAL JUSTICE
    adapted from the Association of Jesuit Colleges & Universities & an unknown author

    For our Church and Pastoral Leadership, may they listen to and embrace the urging of the Holy Spirit, we pray to the Lord.
    For creative and sustainable ways to achieve justice, equality, and equity for all people, we pray to the Lord.
    For all those who have died because of racial hatred, neglect, or indifference, for those loved ones who are left behind to mourn, and for the souls of those whose hearts remain cold, we pray to the Lord.
    For all those who are unemployed, underemployed, who long to work, for all those who struggle to support themselves and their families, we pray to the Lord.
    For effective and lasting change to the pervasive systemic and structural racism of police forces, the criminal justice system, social services, immigration, justice and peace organizations, and our Church, we pray to the Lord.
    For the conversion of our eyes, hearts, and hands so that those of us who are white, see and respond urgently to the call of our Black & Brown brothers and sisters, we pray to the Lord.
    For those who commit themselves to forgiveness and reconciliation, we pray to the Lord.
    That we grow in appreciation for our blessings and awareness of those areas where growth is still needed in how we live God’s call to justice and love, we pray to the Lord.
    That the rich history of Black people, in particularly Black Catholics, helps inspire a deeper sense of unity and interracial harmony in our Church and in our world, we pray to the Lord.

    Amen.

    Like

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