Paula Shepard

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
Homily
6-19-2022

For all the things that COVID has given us some have been gifts. One gift that I’m grateful for is
my neighborhood. I have two small dogs—Money and Marley. We walk around the
neighborhood at least twice sometimes three times a day. Before COVID I didn’t recognize the
details of my neighbors.
More than two years later I love them. I know which homeowners have dogs. I know which
ones drink coffee and which one’s grill outdoors. Two times my neighbors have died, and I
mourned. Two of my neighbors DO NOT like each other, but I like them both. I notice the
content of my neighbor’s trash bags. The residents of the house on the corner are some of my
very favorites even though they don’t speak much English. The newest neighbors don’t yet
have a garage door opener. Behind me and catty-corner is a couple that just had a baby. I have
only ever had a glimpse of the couple but the car in the driveway has a new “Baby on Board”
sign in the window. I know all this not because they told me. It’s because I noticed.
I have so much love for my neighbors and a least half of these people have never seen me or
only know me as the lady who walks her dogs carrying a Walmart bag full of their poop.
In the 70’s a tv show called “Bewitched” had a character named Gladys Kravitz who was the
comic nosy neighbor. I see the resemblance I have, but I love them.
If people perceive me as Mrs. Kravitz okay. Let’s say how I perceive myself it is almost never
how other people perceive me. I was once a part of a week-long retreat where at the end of
the week everyone at the table had to write one word to describe each other person on a note
and then we each got a little pile of notes of words that described us. Then the rest of the
table mates looked at everyone’s notes and decided which of those words described me best.
The word they chose was for me was DRIVEN.
I was shocked and hurt. I did not want to be driven. I saw myself as professional and
everything but driven in an obvious way that anyone would notice.
What do other people think about you? Usually, it’s none of our business.
I would like to bring this together with today’s reading. The argument was still taking place
between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Paul writes to them, saying the ancient
Jewish laws were important. But he writes that they should imagine that the Law was the
babysitter or nanny. It was a guide until faith came in the form of Jesus Christ. He instructs
them that the law cannot save them now. Of course, I’m paraphrasing, but Paul writes that if
the Law can’t save you then only faith can and so the Gentiles don’t need the law.
These faith vs works passages appeared frequently in my church growing up. The paster made
an argument that it didn’t matter if you behaved as a Christian, because all that you need was
faith in the form of a vow to follow Jesus–one time. The pastor missed the point. Paul wants
Galatians to move forward and leave the Gentiles in peace. We can be better, kinder, and truly
love all our neighbors.
Next, Paul moves on to equality in Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither
slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
How many times have you heard a sermon on “Who is your neighbor?” That is not this
sermon. Instead, I want to tell you about a large Church with a big summer revival coming up.
The Annual Faith and Freedom Conference is held at a Bible camp. Activities planned are Bible
studies, kids’ games, and gospel music. It is mandatory that all attendees profess a belief in
Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
I’m going to quote their website. “The church wants to extend the blessing of Christianity to
all, regardless of color or race. We do not hate other races or religions but ask all to
acknowledge that the United States was founded as a white Christian nation.” End quote.
They feel intruded upon by the increase of a non-white, non-Christian population. They insist
that that foundation should include a majority white population firmly in control of all aspects
of government. The name of this church is The Knight’s Party of the Ku Klux Klan.
The KKK is complicated. They have had 3 or 4 different manifestations and there are a lot of
grassroots organizations that attempt to emulate the KKK. First, they appeared after the Civil
War during Reconstruction. They faded over time.
The second time the Klan emerges is around World War One. Some whites claimed non-whites
were taking all the jobs. One tool was intimidation. Statues were erected to honor the
Confederates. Jim Crow laws appeared that you probably know made voting almost
impossible. That was just one part. In Alabama there was a law that it was unlawful for a negro
and a white person to play together or in company with each other at any game of pool or
billiards. Oklahoma City passed a law that prohibited black bands from marching with white
bands in the same parade. Do you see how they are similar? They keep people apart. I told you
recently that knowing my neighbors endeared them to me. The opposite happened as a result
of Jim Crow.
Billie Holiday sang about lynching in her song “Strange Fruit.” She sang,

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
During the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, which was just one event of many American
massacres, 35 blocks of homes and businesses belonging to the black community were burned
to the ground. The people never came back and for hundreds of them it was because they
were dead. The others fled. Official records say 39 people died. That is not true. Maybe those
are all the records show, but the number is likely over 300.
John Franklin Cox lived with his family southeast of the city. He owned a wagon and so was
called on to transport dead black bodies to the Arkansas River where they were dumped. He
was just a farmer. He was also my great-grandfather. The details were widely known and
completely unspoken. Eventually the KKK faded again.
In the 1950s and ‘60s in response to integration and well, just the presence of black people,
The KKK came back again. Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Addie Mae Collins, and thousands of
others were martyred. Small steps of progress including the Civil Rights Acts were brought
about. It was ugly. Our own Larry and Ruth Lewis marched for justice in Selma and other
places. For those of you who are not knowledgeable about John Lewis and MLK, Selma was a
big effing deal. The Lewis’ and hundreds of thousands of others would not stop until changes
were made. But it was not enough.
Today the white nationalists and the Oath Keepers and the KKK have websites. Hatred is subtly
becoming normalized again.
In 2012 a black teenager, Trayvon Martin, was walking home and was shot by a vigilante who
was afraid. The courts decided the killer was standing his ground.
Americans began to see again that the “just wait for progress to happen” movement. It wasn’t
moving anything. Americans started once again shouting in the streets. Black Lives Matter.
That’s a yes or no question.
When I was a child, probably a little bit older than Ezra and John Mark, I remember listening to
family members who were contemporaries of him refer to Martin Luther King Jr. as a
troublemaker who encouraged riots and violence everywhere he went. Barely a generation
later, we know that my family members and lots of others were on the wrong side of history.
Fringe people on the edges of the movement may have occasionally been violent, but the
movement had no time for that and continued moving on and pushing forward.
Today some biased media sources are repeating that blunder. They make thinly sourced claims
about BLM and try to scare old white people. Once again, people who believe this are on the
wrong side of history. Some people even think that if they are not a user of the n-word that
they are not behaving in a racist manner. A show host named Tucker Carlson claims all the
time that there is a group of liberal elites that are trying to replace Americans with 3 rd World
voters who are Hispanic because they want to bring more voters to their side. That is a RACIST
statement. It doesn’t even have the n-word in it.
I cannot claim to know if there is a secret cabal of ultra-liberals that are up to no good, but the
handful of ultra-liberals are losing and it is fairly easy to break down all of the false claims
made by right and left wing extremists if you try one more news source. Worries that there
will soon be more Hispanic Americans is kind of silly. Not one more immigrant needs to appear
in America for the country to be majority non-white.
Tucker Carlson refers to Legacy Americans. Legacy Americans are old white men. I don’t even
have to explain that. It is blatant racism and again. It is not the n-word.
For over 230 years our country has put systems in place to make society more orderly. There
are laws that have come and gone when they are no longer relevant. There are company
policies and school rules that were put in place. The Episcopal Church even has a Constitution
and Canons. There are too many policies to count. I really wish there was a field of study that
could examine the laws, rules, policies, and canons to see if they harm people. Sometimes
they don’t even begin with the intent to hurt people. Oh wait, there already is a field of study
for that—it’s called Critical Race Theory.
Somehow a political movement has misled Americans into believing that a policy that harms
one person is fine if it benefits one person. Talking about it is even a problem. Racism is not
nearly as simplistic as portrayed. Racism more broadly sympathizes some and is skeptical of
others. What it leads to is 9 black bodies in a Charleston church.
Racism is not always obvious. It is always evil and a sin. If someone said to you that your words
were racist, would you listen and consider if what they said was true? Or are you going to
react defensively and say, “I love everybody! I don’t say racist things!”
Remember, the Knight’s Party of the Ku Klux Klan has published on their website that they are
not racist either. I guess it is hard to know if you are racist these days, but how do other
people perceive you? I’m told I’m driven. What would the little one-word notes say about your
children? Do they go to school and torture 15-year-old girls with mean words?
Me? I want to be a listener. I’m a middle-aged white lady who doesn’t know the life that
Marcus does. White supremacists live among us and are our neighbors and politicians and
they speak violent words without a worry in the world.
Will you be one of the Jews trying to make Gentiles be Jews? It’s exhausting to think that way.
When you are looking sideways to inspect others you cannot also look ahead. If you are
talking, you cannot be listening. And you must slow your brain down to appreciate that
someone is making coffee in your neighborhood. There is life in Jesus and there is life outside
of Jesus.
Amanda Gorman, an American poet, spoke:
When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us

We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all

Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid

We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be

We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia

will be the inheritance of the next generation

If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children’s birthright

For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it

Amen

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