PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — My Lenten Discipline

This year, as my Lenten Discipline, I decided to devote 30 minutes a day to deep and intentional anti-racism reading and reflection. I selected a few books that have been on my “meaning to read” list and put them next to my recliner.  Every evening after dinner, if I have time before a meeting, or before bed if I don’t, I pick up a book and spend time reading. After I am done, I put the book down and spend at least five more minutes praying, writing or meditating on what I read.

In addition to finding this a wonderful discipline that I plan to keep up after Lent, focusing on this and other topics as they unfold, I am allowing myself to be immersed in the kind of transformative thinking that I espoused last June in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd.  

At the time, I planned on spending my time listening, rather than commenting, working hard to hear voices that were not reflective of my own. Too often, when topics come up, I rely on my own experience and perspective, or listen to those who echo my thoughts, and I knew this was a time when I simply needed to shut up and listen.

Now, nine months later, I am aware that even though the news cycle has moved on, the realities of systemic racism and its impact on people of color have not changed. Therefore, it is imperative that I take time to learn more, understand more and move from understanding to action.

That is one of the reasons I chose to focus on anti-racism. According to Kenda X Ibrami, author of “How to Be an Antiracist” — one of the books sitting by my recliner — “anti-racism is a process of actively identifying and opposing racism. The goal of anti-racism is to challenge racism and actively change the policies, behaviors and beliefs that perpetuate racist ideas and actions. Anti-racism is rooted in action. It is about taking steps to eliminate racism at the individual, institutional and structural levels.”

Too often, people believe that simply being “not racist” is enough to eliminate racial discrimination. The problem with this approach is that it fails to take into account a person’s unconscious bias, as well as the institutional and structural issues that uphold racist behaviors, attitudes and policies.

Saying “but I’m not racist” is not enough because very few people actually admit to being racist. In fact, being accused of being a racist raises hackles faster than anything. People who are not directly impacted need to move from saying “that’s not my problem”  to directly addressing a system that is biased against other people.

The  first book I read is “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo. I think this is a great place to begin learning about the topic of anti-racism because it addresses questions people may have with stories and then provides factual evidence, ending with action items, if you care about truly making change.

Oluo tells relatable stories that bring home the issues and explain things in a straightforward manner. While I “knew” the answers to the questions she addresses in each chapter (for example, What is Racism, Why Can’t I Use the N Word, Why Can’t You Touch My Hair, and What is Cultural Appropriation and Intersectionality), I was given a deeper understanding of issues and new language to explain it as someone who wishes to be an anti-racist.

I am only at the beginning of my journey but already feel it impacting my thoughts and responses, is imperative if one wants to move beyond just being a bystander to someone who is committed to a world where, in the words of St. Paul, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

As a person of faith, I can’t simply rely on lip service in a world where people are treated differently based on the color of their skin. Nor can I accept it. Jesus modeled again and again how we treat each other, as he ate with the tax collectors, touched the lepers and healed the Samaritans. His mission was to embrace all people as children of God, created in the image of God, and he was killed for rocking the boat and messing with the system.

One of the passages of Scriptures that embodies what I am seeking to do is I Peter 1:13-15: Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct.” 

The call to anti-racism is a call that moves me beyond conformity to what I thought I knew to really listen to the experiences of others and learn from it. In that listening, as a disciple, I need to recognize what is holy, not what is easy, and in so doing, prepare for not just words, but action to make a difference.  

In other words, the call to anti-racism is a call to live what I believe.


O God who heals, open our ears to hear the cries of others, our eyes to see the injustice that surrounds us, our hands to act with and conviction our hearts to respond with mercy. In the name of the one who calls us to repent and who offers forgiveness and a way forward, we  pray. Amen

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