“When You’re the Only White Person in the Room”

There’s a very fine new article posted at CNN.com this morning, called “When You’re the Only White Person in the Room.” Written by John Blake, it’s about the experiences of white people who have spent significant time as the minority race among mostly black people — what it felt like, what they learned. I read the first paragraph as I was flipping quickly through my daily routine of websites with my morning tea in front of me, intending just to do a quick scan, and then found I had to keep on going. Every time I figured I’d gone far enough, time to click elsewhere, another insightful paragraph kept my attention.

What a complicated business is race and striving to live with justice and compassion — at least, I suppose, to this Catholic white guy who grew up in rural western Pennsylvania and now lives in rural central Minnesota. That background and present experience set the stage for a pang of anxiety and guilt when I read this in Blake’s article:

The Public Religion Research Institute recently caused a stir when it released a poll that said three-quarters of white Americans have no nonwhite friends. Some commentators invoked the survey to explain why some whites seem clueless about racial sensitivities: They know no people of color to give them a different perspective.

Easy to comfort myself by saying race doesn’t matter to me, I can treat a black person the same as I treat a white person, think of her and respect him the same as I think of and respect all the white people who fill my life and consciousness. And then comes this passage from Blake about “declar[ing] as a white person that you don’t see race”:

DeYoung says that’s actually a subtle way of insulting people of color.

“It diminishes people to not see their race and their culture,” says DeYoung, who wrote a memoir about his racial journey entitled “Homecoming: A White Man’s Journey through Harlem to Jerusalem.”

“The reality is that race affects people’s lives, and if you can’t see race, you can’t see the life they’ve lived.”

Plenty more there to think through. Thanks to John Blake for the good read.

Pope Francis’s wedding ceremony bears his mark

A month prior to the opening of the first of two major synods of bishops on marriage and family life, Pope Francis will preside over the celebration of the sacrament of Marriage tomorrow in a Mass at the Vatican. Twenty couples will be involved in the rite. It should be a beautiful and remarkable moment — though note that it’s not a first, even in recent history: John Paul II celebrated large public wedding ceremonies twice during his pontificate, in 1994 (the Year of the Family) and the Jubilee Year 2000.

As it happens, tomorrow is the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. It seems to me that it’s a wonderful day on which to celebrate marriage. The truth about God bringing life, grace, joy, and salvation out of difficulty, suffering, struggle, and dying is an important encouragement to all who work daily through not just the joys but the frustrations of marriage and family life. It will also be, for many, an articulation of something they’re already keenly aware of. This truth at the heart of Christian existence and doctrine is also at the heart of married life. I can’t wait to read the Pope’s homily for the occasion.

On a more down-to-earth level, here are some important details about tomorrow’s ceremony: Among those who will be married by the Pope, there are some who have been living together and some who already have children together. (Catholic News Service’s report is here.) If you think this just happened by accident, you’d be crazy. It would not have happened without the express approval, and perhaps the explicit intention, of the Pope. Either someone at some point said, “Holy Father, there’s this couple, they…. What would you think about…?” and the Pope said “Yes, absolutely.” Or, more likely, the Pope, in early planning discussions about this event with his people, said, “I want you to make sure that included in this group of couples are….”

Why would he want such a thing? After all, the fact that he is including these couples on the roster of those he will marry tomorrow will only confirm once again for some Pope Francis’s poor judgment and ineffectiveness as a defender of Catholic doctrine. But clearly the Pope wants to again to emphasize the importance of not putting up barriers to people encountering Christ, of the Church and its leaders having “the smell of the sheep,” and perhaps most of all, the importance and centrality of mercy.

For example, CNS reports:

One of the brides, identified only as Gabriella, has never been married, but she had a daughter when she was quite young, she told the Italian daily La Repubblica Sept. 9. Her grown daughter will also attend the ceremony at the Vatican, Gabriella said.

Gabriella’s fiance, Guido, has had an annulment, the newspaper said.

“We’ve known each other for five years and our wanting to get married in the church stems from no longer wanting to live in a union and with feelings that are deprived of some of the sacraments,” the couple said.

When their parish told them about the possibility of having their marriage in the church presided over by the pope, they said they were shocked. “We didn’t feel worthy, because of our age and personal background.”

And the Church — and this Pope, who says of himself “I am a sinner” — says: Well guess what, Gabriella, you’re not worthy, but none of us are. None of us are worthy of the grace of Christ, none of us are worthy to encounter him in the sacraments, but he comes to us anyway. Come.

The worship aid for Sunday’s Mass is here (.pdf file opens).


A title and publisher for my Murray book

I’ve mentioned before the biography of John Courtney Murray I’ve been working on for about three years now. Though I have written and published two other books (and a few more pseudonymously), this was probably the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book. Murray’s story — which is a theological adventure story — is dramatically intertwined with the origins of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom.

My book will be published by Liturgical Press in late spring 2015. That’s just in time for the 50th anniversary, later in the year, of the remarkable conciliar document.

After much thoughtful consideration and discussion with my fine colleagues at Liturgical Press (I work there, too), I can tell you that the title/subtitle of the book shall be

Struggle, Condemnation, Vindication:

John Courtney Murray’s Journey toward Vatican II

Cover creator

I had the treat, yesterday afternoon, of meeting the person who designed the really great cover of my book, Faith Meets World. That designer is Wendy Barnes of Liguori Publications. I’ve always liked that cover, and I told her so once in an email soon after the book was published. But yesterday we ran into each other at a meeting of people involved in Catholic book publishing, so it was a pleasure to introduce myself, say hello, and let her know again how much I like her work.

Here’s a quick picture we took yesterday, and of course, the cover in question.

Wendy Barnes2Faith Meets World cover

“We may not be murderers, but we are inheritors.”

“To Be White and Reckon with the Death of Michael Brown,” a new piece by columnist Courtney E. Martin at the On Being website, is a fine one. It all leads up to a powerful closing paragraph:

The only way to honor Michael Brown and his family, to honor all Americans who reckon with the scourges of racism every single day, is to own that we may not be murderers, but we are inheritors. We must talk to our ugliest ghosts. We must work on strategies to dismantle structural racism. We must express our outrage at what is happening out there — in Ferguson, in Staten Island, in Oakland. But, we must also investigate what is happening in here, inside every one of us — our own unexamined privilege, our own patronizing cure-alls, our own fears. We are not bad. We are not good. We are part of the tragic story and the opportunity for transformation.