Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sitting Vigil for Sandra Bland

I am so overwhelmed (and probably overheated and dehydrated, but mostly overwhelmed) with feelings from sitting vigil for Sandra Bland. I hope I can put something coherent together, but right now what I have is tears.

There are some powerful, faithful, loving, beautiful women, mostly but not all women of color, sitting vigil out there. They prayed for me, and cared for me, when I went to support them. And I saw God.

They all name Sandra Bland as their sister, although they know her from her videos. Through them I met her, and I weep for the loss of her life. But her voice, her passion, her call from God to work for social justice in the south are alive. Not just alive, but set loose, raging with love through Waller County.

There were men sitting vigil too- strong, wise, beautiful men. It may have been the only place I've ever truly seen the men be lovingly present without trying to take leadership away from the women. That is a beautiful thing.

I got to be there when one local man was released from the jail. Those who sit vigil regularly tell me that only the white men talk to them, the rest refuse eye contact and conversation and food- they're pretty sure they're being intimidated inside the jail not to talk. Whatever is making the women and people of color afraid to talk to those sitting vigil isn't making the white men afraid, so those sitting vigil receive them with open love, offering water, food, a phone to use, company while they wait for a ride, and a loving ear. Within moments the man released from jail was part of the group, and someone walking up would have no idea in what manner he had joined us. What a miracle, that white men being released from the Waller County jail are receiving love from those who remember Sandra Bland. This is how God changes the world.

I had heard the words, but not really felt in my heart, how gender as well as race plays out in the white power structure of Waller County. I heard it in the voices of the local women who are literally afraid to join us, but will sneak by for a word. I heard it in the gendered insults used against Rev Hannah Adair Bonner ("that lady who calls herself a minister," "wicked witch of Waller County," "high priestess of hell."). The white power structure hates that women are speaking out, hates that women of color are speaking. Their voices are the most dangerous challenge to that power, so let's keep lifting them up.

Rev Hannah is a target, because to them, and hear this literally, a white person speaking against racism is doing the devil's work. They do not know that lifting up the name of Sandra Bland, a woman they killed, is Christ's work. They do not know that Christ is found in the people they oppress. There is literally a spiritual struggle: whose side is Christ on? And the powers and principalities are resisting. But I cannot state how strong the prayers and presence of these faithful women are. And the force of love that is the atheists sitting with the people of faith.

They think that putting up barricades, cutting down shade trees, will stop these women. They vastly underestimate the power of love that is here. Barricades will not stop questions, or silence prayers.
The leaders here say they can feel the heaviness: not only of the jail and of Sandra's death, but of this contested land: stolen from native people, battled over with Mexico, filled with people forcibly brought from African to work the plantations, the last ones freed in Texas. I, with a different sensitivity, couldn't feel that heaviness. All I saw was the power of love in those sitting vigil. It will transform that land, I have complete faith.

And I heard over and over again from them what I will end with here: "Say her name. Sandra Bland. Everything else is just chatter."

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