Contemplative Life

A Story of Separation and Redemption

Dear Friends,

This year I have been impacted by the power of story.  We’ve all heard them from our friends, family, TV shows and social media feeds.  Some stories are good, they encourage, inspire, and mold us into who we are!  I have shared some of those stories (read more here & here) with you as I have walked alongside ESOL students and teachers, people from the Arlington Mill community and our fellows.  But other stories are hard.  They bring us grief, anger, and they tell a false story of who we are.  Two separate times in the last month, Coracle, in partnership with the Repentance Project, offered a pilgrimage on the Racial History and Activism in Arlington.  We spent a day looking at various sites around Arlington that told the story of racism, displacement, grief, and separation. We also spent time lamenting, praying and seeking God’s story to break into these spaces. It was a very powerful time for all who attended. To get an idea of what it looked like, you can watch the video here.

One stop we made was of particular significance: the Hall’s Hill Wall.  This wall was erected in the 1930’s to separate the white wealthy neighborhood of Woodlawn (now Waycroft-Woodlawn) from the black neighbors of Hall’s Hill.  This wall created a story that had long been told about Black people: you are not worthy.  Not worthy of community, not worthy of value, and not even worthy of basic human needs.  According to Arlington County, no fire department would come into the neighborhood and so many of the homes which caught fire, perished.  Over and over again, the stories of separation were being told about black people.  Yet these were not the final stories to be told about Hall’s Hill.  They created their own enclave of good stories.  Saundra Green, a current resident, said that they “had their own schools, dry cleaners, dentists, barbers, seamstresses and doctors.”  The Hall’s Hill community out of necessity decided to create their own volunteer fire department which sits on Langston Blvd and is currently getting a remodel.  You can visit the Hall’s Hill wall as parts of the original are still up today. 

On one occasion, as I stood there looking at this wall, I felt this welling up of anger.  I thought of the countless stories of racism and separation from my grandfather who was black, my parents, some of our ESOL students and even my own experiences.  Walls tell the story that you don’t belong and it’s infuriating. But as everyone on the pilgrimage touched the wall and prayed a Psalm of lament, intercession and trust in that God sees, hears and empowers all people, this wall and its story seemed smaller.  Its story compared to God’s story was no comparison at all.  Now there are still stories of walls that keep people out, they may not be built on land but they are certainly built in the hearts of humans. This is why this visit to Hall’s Hill Wall is both a story of Separation and Redemption, because of Jesus Christ and the story he wrote, that wall does not have the last word on my story, your story or the story of so many other brothers and sisters whom that wall tries to separate and who have felt the sting of separation and racism.  No, that is not our story.

In Christ,

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