Rector's Blog: My Daughter's Sign
My Black Lives Matter sign is getting old. It’s starting to fray at the top and fade a bit. It’s looking a little shabby. We got the sign about two and a half years ago, in the Fall of 2020. It was election season, and it seemed like everyone had signs in their yard. We were driving down our street and my then-9-year-old daughter said that exact thing: “Dad everybody has signs in their yards but us.” And I said that was true and followed it with, “I’ve never been much of a sign person.” Which was both accurate and, I hoped, an artful dodge that would end the conversation. It did not.
“What if we got a sign too?” she asked. My gut reaction was to just say no. But I paused instead. See, I have been trying not to say no to my kids as a kneejerk reaction – not because I’m a nice guy, but because I’m not one. It turns out my kneejerk reaction tends to be curmudgeonly. I enjoy saying no. I’m working on that. And was especially working on that in the Fall of 2020 when everything seemed so impossible and difficult and my daughter’s life was pretty limited and isolated. So I paused instead. A sign, I thought, could cheer her up. Might be an easy win. So I said, “Well, if we got a sign for our yard, what would it say?”
She thought for a few seconds, and then said the name of the presidential candidate for whom she knew her mother and I would be voting. I explained to her that as a priest it was not a good idea for me to endorse a specific candidate publicly. She didn’t fully understand that, so I just said I didn’t want to put someone’s name in our yard. I really thought this might be the end of it. The car was quiet. We were almost home. The conversation would soon be over. Then she said, “What about Black Lives Matter?”
I knew that sign would be more polarizing than a candidate endorsement. I also knew I believed Black Lives Matter. Maybe more than anything, I was impressed with my daughter’s audacity, and convicted by the simplicity with which she suggested it. Because I must admit I did not have the courage to imagine putting that sign in our yard. I wondered if it would cause problems with any of my parishioners. I wondered if it would bother any of my neighbors. I wondered if they’d think things about me that weren’t true. I wondered if they’d find out things about me that were true. I wondered if a sign like that would be defaced. But I was proud of my daughter. So, I said OK. Well, that’s not true. I said let me talk to your mom about it, but in my heart, I had already said OK. And my wife agreed. I still wondered all those things, and so did she. But we got the sign and we put it up right in our front yard.
Nobody has defaced it. Nobody has even commented on it, to be honest, except one guy at a nursery my wife went to. She was showing him a picture of the front of our house asking him for advice on what kinds of bushes to buy and he gave her grief about the sign, saying she was getting political by showing him the picture. My wife hates confrontation and hates signs more than I do, and here she was hearing about it from a stranger at the nursery. She was courteously resolute in her response to him, which made him feel embarrassed. She chose boxwoods and he put them in the car for her.
Now it’s been nearly 3 years. And the sign isn’t looking so good. All the other signs in the neighborhood have gone away – most of them shortly after November 2020. And here we are with our Black Lives Matter sign, a White family in a White house in a White neighborhood. And I have to make a decision. Do we take it down? If we do, does that mean we’ve given something up? I heard so many Black voices opine that White people would treat the push for racial justice like a fad. That we’d lose interest when something else caught our eye. Like inflation, or gas prices, or Ukraine.
Do I get a new sign to replace the old one? Just keep it going? Become the house with the Black Lives Matter sign in perpetuity? Who is it for? Who was it ever for? I think about asking one of my Black friends if my sign even feels like support to them, but even typing that sentence is embarrassing. Can you imagine that phone call? In some ways, the sign has been for me. Which is selfish, but true. Because I got to feel like a good dad, and I got to feel like an ally for a while. And maybe like a rebel. A rebel who drives a station wagon and listens to Paul Simon.
I will say that the Black Lives Matter sign in our front yard has meant something for me because I have to walk by it every day as I enter my house. And every time I see it, I wonder if I am living into the commitment the sign represents. Like my daughter’s audacity and simplicity, the mere presence of it convicts me. Am I doing my part? Do I have real skin in the game, or am I just virtue signaling? Is the sign just an accessory, a decoration like those boxwoods?
I didn’t march in the summer of 2020. A friend of mine had organized a series of demonstrations in downtown Cincinnati. I was so proud of and inspired by her, and also, I didn’t go. I was very nervous about getting COVID. About giving it to a family member who was at risk of severe COVID complications. And we were putting our house up for sale and our dog died. And I was, frankly, a burnt-out emotional mess. I had all sorts of reasons that made sense in my head. They seemed like good reasons. Maybe they were weak excuses. Because a bunch of other people who probably had all those issues got out and marched. I don’t know.
And I don’t know what to do about this sign. But I do know that any commitment I make to racial justice, healing, and reconciliation should not be about me and my feelings anyway. The work isn’t about making me feel bad or good or guilty or proud. It’s not about bothering certain parishioners or impressing certain others. The work is about building a more equitable community for our Black siblings. It’s meant to be practical, and measurable.
I also know that I am not alone in any of this. I don’t have to figure it out myself. I’m part of a community. I am very grateful for my church community. They are serious about doing this work. They have pushed me and continue to push me to take seriously our part dismantling racism and White supremacy. We’re not perfect at it. And we’re not all always on the same page about how and what to do. But as a church community we are clear that we have to play an active role in changing the racial paradigm in our country, our state, our city, our own church. We are moving too slow. Except when we move too fast. But we are moving. Moving outside of ourselves, outside of our comfort zone, and moving into action to steward our privilege for the sake of our siblings of color. I believe deeply in the hearts of the people I serve. When I get mired in things like what to do with this sign, it is the relationships I’ve built here that pull me out and remind me God is leading us in this work.
And anyway, the sign wasn’t even my idea in the first place. It was my daughter’s. And I haven’t even asked her about it. I think that will be my next step.
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