Alease & Me
Standing in the Gap
It’s hard to ignore the fact that the US has a history riddled with racial oppression (and gender and class …). Unfortunately, the injustice of slavery and a century of segregation didn’t stay tucked neatly into our distant history. Lack of freedom, access to housing, jobs, education, fair trial etc. generations ago has a powerful effect (including financial) on families and individuals today. Refusing to honestly face our national past has led to the continuation of injustice today.
I couldn’t imagine a more powerful way to address historical injustice and inequality than racial restitution.*
Until my friend Alease Bess suggested that we Stand in the Gap together. When I’d wondered if some of my inherited income was to support her work as an act of restitution, she waved that idea away. “I am not interested in a partnership that begins with you trying to pay for what somebody else did a long time ago. When you act out of guilt, it diminishes our work together. Back then it was like somebody was over and somebody was under. If you are operating out of guilt, all that does is flip it around.”
Alease explained that it was better for us to start to build a brave new world instead of trying to fix the old broken one. She spoke of the chasm that inequity, hatred and oppression had cut through our world. Her words flowed into Ezekiel’s, “The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery; they have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the alien without redress. And I sought for anyone among them who would repair the wall and stand in the breach [gap] before me on behalf of the land.”*
“Do you want to stand in the gap with me?” Alease asked.
I did. And I still do.
That conversation happened in 2006. Since then our income skyrocketed higher than we could have imagined and dropped lower that we thought possible. Having no idea that those extremes were possible, I nonetheless worried what would happen if we needed or wanted to adjust our donation amount.
Alease explained that we merely needed to follow God’s guidance. Guilt, she assured me, wasn’t from God. “Just do what God tells you to do.”
Alease warned that Howard and I might feel the need to try to take too much personal responsibility for Community Wholeness Venture, the organization she’d founded. Instead, Alease advised, “The best way for us to fix it for the people we love is for us to do exactly what God tells us to do. When we do that, everybody will have what they need. God once told me that if everybody would do what he told them to do, then the resources would just move around, and everybody would have what they need.
“You are to give now because you know that financially supporting this work is on your assignment plate,” Alease continued. “God will let you know if that is to change or if it is no longer yours to do. If you are called to step away financially, God will take care of that.”
Standing in the gap has always included open conversations about money, but it never stopped there. Together, Alease and I have celebrated miracles and breakthroughs. We’ve supported each other during times of fear, betrayal and heartbreak. We’ve shared our writings. We’ve taken a pilgrimage, together visiting our families’ ancestral land in North Carolina—mine slave-owners and hers slave. There have been times when life brought both of us similar gifts and challenges and other times when we’ve struggled to hear each other.
But we’ve never climbed out of the gap or run away from each other.
Standing in the gap together before God is a spiritual practice powerful enough to support the two of us to do our part reweaving a just and loving future right in the middle of the mess of our personal and national history. The mess and the miracle are held together – of us and of our nation – on behalf of our beloved land.
Read more about the conversation and divine nudge that led Alease and I to step into the gap together.
Read Ta-Nehisi Coates excellent June 2014 in The Atlantic, ”The Case for Reparations.”
Read one example of what Standing in the Gap together has looked like for the two of us.