Stranger in a Foreign Land

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

I must admit that every time I go to our nation’s capital I do feel like a tourist…probably because even though I have been to Washington, DC, over two dozen times, there is always something new to see. Most of my visits have been a day or two or even only a few hours after a meeting and before catching a plane.  This year’s “must see” is the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Just a stone’s throw from the Washington Monument on the Mall, it catches the eye of passers-by.  I heard many ask “What is THAT supposed to be?” as they see the three-storied silhouette of a corona representing faith, hope, and resiliency.

Guides directed us to elevators and escalators (there are 4 additional stores below ground level) and suggested we take the elevator to begin our journey.  As we descended we went back in time…exiting in the midst of the 1400’s Transatlantic Slave Trade.  I was beginning to feel like a stranger in a foreign land. As I moved past the horrors facing black brothers and sisters in colonial America, some things came back to me from history books. I realized the Revolutionary and Civil Wars had been taught to me from an all-white American perspective. Was this a fair deal for any American? Economics and the cotton industry governed the life of enslaved workers who often picked cotton from sunrise to sunset, and since cotton was such a sought-after commodity to make durable clothing for those who could afford it, often those who picked the raw material could not afford to purchase the finished product. Such economic enslavement was just the first of many surprises the Museum held for me.

Segregated drinking fountains

Emotionally, I struggled past stories of people I “knew” better like Thomas Jefferson, Phyllis Wheatley, Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nat Turner, and Harriet Tubman.  The era of segregated railroad cars and lunch counters as well as Jim Crow featured a moving memorial to Emmett Till and one of the airplanes of the Tuskegee Airmen.  I was getting closer to home since one of our neighbor’s uncles was an airman.

Marching on through the museum with the Movement, I found myself in MY era: the 60’s, with its huge protests, student marches, and prejudice of every kind.  The memories of war, black classmates, and Kent State flooded my mind.  I stopped into a sound booth that invited museum goers to leave our own stories for future museum goers.  With an audience of another senior citizen in the room, I shared about a college roommate who was African American from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She was an art major and quite interesting. She was a good student but never went to the library to study with me after supper.  She often asked me to bring back a book for her or to Xerox a particular required reading assignment that was on reserve. She told me she never went out after dark.  In her town, she lived with a curfew and even her father came home from his job as a cab driver by 6 o’clock!  I found this unbelievable.  This was the first time I’d heard of “sundown laws.”  Growing up in Chicago and educated in Iowa, these were foreign concepts. My recorded story stopped at this point but the woman in the booth with me told me she liked hearing my story. We visited, and I processed my own hearing of my story.

She was an educator from Atlanta, and as we talked I realized my roommate had been a victim of systemic racism.  The existence of “sundown laws” not only prevented her from studying in a college library, they had prevented her father from earning a good living for his family because he was not allowed to drive his cab after dark when there were higher fares charged and perhaps more people out for a “night on the town.”  My own life has been touched by systemic racism that shows itself in the economic, political, and educational facets of American life.

I am no longer a stranger in a foreign land but am finding myself a stranger in my own country!

From our Summer Newsletter

A Contemplative Perspective from the Northside

S. Brenda shares contemplative insights on issues of social justice and advocacy.

by S. Brenda Lisenby

This past year, our community has been engaged in a strategic process. One of the ways in which we have felt led is to increase our awareness of and participation in social justice and advocacy. What does this mean for us as Visitation Sisters in an urban monastic setting? The following is Sister Brenda’s reflections on what contemplative action looks like for a community dedicated to prayer and presence in north Minneapolis.

Our Visitation charism has been described as “prayer and presence” or “prayer and community.” When we are present to one another we receive the gift of community. Community life is a place to grow in love and humility. And just perhaps, the lessons we learn as we live community can help us as a society, so I share with you what it has meant to me to be a part of this Visitation community at this time in our country’s journey…. (click to continue reading.)

The Work of Christmas Begins…

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

It’s a shut down day at the monastery. The guests have gone home. We’ve bustled — been on the move in a monastic fervor this past Advent and ongoing Christmas season. We’ve rung in the New Year.  And now we rest. Or now, according to poet, Civil Rights activist and theologian, Dr. Howard Thurman, the work of Christmas really begins….

This piece has traction in my heart this day. Perhaps it will speak to you, too? I’m posting it as text, and in a special a cappella version arranged by Dan Forrest. 

The Work of Christmas Begins.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

–by Dr. Howard Thurman

A MANTLE OF JUSTICE

By Deacon Dale from Ascension Church in north Minneapolis, and a friend of the Sisters

(Based on the First Sunday of Advent’s Readings)

First Candle of Advent

First Candle of Advent

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents when I was young.  One day, a neighbor came to the door with a Christmas gift.  Grandma opened it.  It was a box of chocolates.  The first thing Grandma did was offer her neighbor first choice of them.  Then she offered one to me and then she and Grandpa chose one.  Later, they shared the chocolates at a family gathering.  I don’t think they opened that box without sharing it.  It was a gift.  A gift was meant to be shared – especially with the giver – and then with others.  It was just the right thing to do.

Charlotte Bradford was a elderly neighbor who died two years ago.  She has a son, Mike, did the Charlotte’s outside work.  Mike is retired and has free time.  Since 2007, when he finishes shoveling Charlotte’s sidewalk, he still comes over and cleans ours because he knows I can’t.  One of his elderly neighbors has leukemia.  He takes him to doctor appointments and chemotherapy treatments.  Mike’s time is a gift.  For him, it’s a gift to be shared.  It’s just the right thing to do.

Geb was part of my Men’s Group in Forest Lake.  He and his wife have seven children.  With their large family, they really had to stretch every penny.  One evening, our Men’s Group was discussing tithing.  Someone asked, “Should we give 10% of our net income or should it be 10% of our gross income?”  I remember Geb’s response, “For me, there’s no question.  I just ask myself if I want a net blessing from the Lord or do I want a gross blessing from the Lord?”  No doubt – Geb saw his income as a gift to be shared.  It’s just the right thing to do.

Today, Isaiah reminds us to “rejoice heartily in the Lord” because God has “clothed us in a robe of salvation and wrapped us in a mantle of justice.”  Virtually all of us want to be clothed in that robe of salvation.  But, how many of us want to be wrapped in a mantle of justice?

A mantle is an outer garment, like a robe without sleeves.  Worn as a symbol, it was a sign of who the person was –a prophet, a priest, a leader, a merchant, a craftsman.  God wants us to wear a mantle of justice.  Justice is doing the just thing – just doing the right thing – sharing the gifts God gives us.  It is the mantle God wants us to be known by – a sign that tells the world, “This who I am!” So this Advent, let’s wrap ourselves in a mantle justice.  It’s what God wants.  It’s just the right thing to do!

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What are the gifts God gave you, that you share? How do they help you do the right thing? Or whose gifts are you grateful for in your life? How have they provided a path of justice for you or others? Please share in the comments section!