First, an explanation: Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick is the title of a book edited by Genevieve West. It’s a book of short stories written by Zora Neale Hurston, a black writer from the 1920’s and ’30’s. Zora died penniless and in obscurity, but her work was discovered later and she is described as an “outstanding novelist, skilled folklorist, journalist, and critic…who for thirty years was the most prolific black woman writer in America.” Her tales are both humorous and serious, taken mostly from the culture of the Deep South in the early 1900’s, but sprinkled with stories about northern cities as well.
A question church leaders in virtually every denomination have been asking for some time now is, “Where will the next generation of pastors come from?” A high percentage of pastors are approaching retirement age, and as our own Pastor Search Committee can attest, the number of available and qualified candidates for pastoral positions is small. Studies tell us that 50 percent of pastors leave the ministry within their first five years of service, and 90 percent of clergy do not stay in until retirement. Right or wrong, there is a perception that ministry is an increasingly difficult profession, one that is hard on those who are called. Many seminary students are not looking for pastorates; they’re taking classes for personal growth and enrichment.
The word “essential” has been used a lot over the past several months in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic—essential businesses, essential services, essential workers, etc. Essential businesses that provide essential services and should remain open include agriculture and food production, grocery stores, hospitals and other healthcare operations, pharmacies, garbage collection, water and wastewater treatment facilities, gas stations, banks, post offices, etc. Barbershops, beauty salons, theaters, gyms, museums, and bowling alleys, on the other hand, have mostly been on the nonessential list.
At the Virginia Mennonite Conference delegate assembly last Saturday (via Zoom), one of the topics of discussion was race relations. I am again reminded that when much of our lives as white people are shaped within the confines of neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and worship settings that are mostly or entirely white, whiteness just seems normal to us—the default. Every other color of skin is…well, not normal, different, diverse. (Why is white skin not considered different?) It’s easy to assume that racism is not a pressing topic. And it’s also easy for white folks to become defensive when the subject comes up, or when words like “privilege” and “white privilege” are used—because it feels like an accusation of personal racism, an indictment on our niceness. Someone put it this way: “White privilege doesn’t mean your life isn’t hard. It just means the color of your skin isn’t one of the things that makes it harder.”
There may be some who read the headlines of this devotional and turn away without reading it, thinking, “This is not my issue; I am not prejudiced.” Yet so many of us white folks have had very limited exposure to non-white experience. Part of that may be simple geography. Where I grew up in WV, for example, there were no people of color. Zero. Even though the civil rights movement was boiling in other parts of the country, my small world was mostly oblivious to it. While I did not grow up around people of color and had virtually no understanding of their experience of oppression, I did grow up in Appalachia where there is also a long history of people being exploited and left behind by the dominant culture…and even blamed for the challenges and problems they face that keep many of them entrenched in cycles of poverty, low income jobs, lack of education, etc.