Listening in Burbank with Marvin Wadlow Jr. - November 10, 2016

How is it that a 58-year-old Black man and 38-year-old White man come to have the same understanding about racial issues in the United States? Two words… Holy. Spirit. 

Marvin Wadlow Jr. and Matthew John Schmitt have both witnessed the injustice and trauma that is happened racially throughout the United States yet, through very different lenses. They both see a need for people to find language for healing to come. Together they created The TableSetters.

I had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Wadlow to hear about the work he and Matthew are up to. We could have sat for hours talking about the Holy Spirit’s leading for these two men to work together. But with all the different plates that Wadlow has spinning - screen writing, father, TableSetters, and more - he had to get back to work. 

The TableSetters are providing tools to have a conversation where there has been only silence. The unfortunate truth is that America has not been trained well in how to talk about issues of race and difference. Which is overwhelmingly clear from the current state our nation is in. Wadlow and Schmitt saw a lack of language around these topics and now create opportunities for people to discover language where there use to only be judgment.

As a White woman, I found their diagnosis of the problem to be true, often finding myself in moments of paralysis due to the fear of saying the wrong thing. Only within the last 4 years have I found a place where practicing this conversion is allowed. With gentle guidance from those I trust, I have slowly been able to wade into the complicated conversation of racial reconciliations.

As Wadlow and I talked he outlined the entire history of racism and how the conversation has been silenced over and over again. He was explained to me why I have had such a hard time engaging this conversation - not only is the language non-existent, the education has been whitewashed and truncated. There are generations of people in America that have only been shown a sliver of what the minorities of this country have been through.

Wadlow shared his story with me just after the 2016 Presidential Election happened, yet he was not surprised at the result. We talked about the outrage that White people are feeling and the shock of the results, but he wasn’t phased. Wadlow expressed how this was how life for him has always been this way and the White man always wins out. Its just that this time White people are more aware of the injustice.

In the end, this election reveals the desperate need for The TableSetters. We need this work desperately! When we function out of fear we leave room for hatred, pain, shame, tragedy, chaos, and drama. Yet, when we learn each other's stories compassion, kindness, thankfulness, love, hope, and peace are the results.

This reminds me of Shelly Rambo's work dealing with trauma, needing to find a language, and the necessity of having a witness. Rambo talks about the impacts of trauma: 1) trauma is not bound by time - it can take a person to a traumatic past at any moment, 2) trauma lives in the body and has the power to take over the body when triggered, and 3) trauma takes language away from the traumatized - without words to name the trauma the person can get trapped by the events that haunt them. Healing comes when there is a witness to the trauma that helps bring clarity to these three components.

(This is a very abbreviated snapshot of Rambo’s book, Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining. Please take the time to read the entirety of her book. It is quite beautiful.)

The Table Setters are seeking to be the witness to the trauma that has plagued our nation for as long as it has existed in this form. They seek to bring language to that which has brought more harm than anyone desires to admit. This two man team seeks to be a catalyst for healing and bring about more of God’s love in the process.

Wadlow doesn't want his story to stay the same and he wants to work towards making the story for the future. A story that is new, exciting, and full of hope. A story where his sons are not in danger because someone just didn’t know how to talk to someone who is different from them. A story where we can all move throughout this world in freedom.

The most encouraging piece of Wadlow's story is that he believes the place to start is the Church.