Please note: As this goes out, Hurricane Harvey is continuing to pummel Texas, and is beginning to affect Louisiana. Historic rain and flooding will cause damage in the billions and require years of restoration. Please pray, please act, please keep your eyes and ears open to ways in which you and your community can be leaders in generosity and care for the beloved community experiencing this devastation.
My first 21
Century Congregations for September was all wrapped up a few weeks ago…it was a reflection on what ideas, books, podcasts captured your imagination this summer: what made you think, what challenged you, what provoked you? And then, Charlottesville happened and suddenly the world of wonderful ideas and books and podcasts paled.
The march in Boston in response to Charlottesville came together quickly. By the Wednesday after the awful and hate filled events in Charlottesville, trainings for counter protests were arranged, gatherings for clergy were organized, services of vigil and prayers for peace were held. In addition to the march, here was an interfaith service at Temple Israel on Friday evening to offer prayers in response to the desecration of the Holocaust Museum. Protesting has not been a huge part of my ministry but this year, I have been compelled to pray with my feet several times, so I went to Boston on Friday for training, a gathering of clergy, and then, for the march on Saturday, August 19. My thoughts are not very organized as I write this but I wanted to offer some reflections, especially as they relate to our lives together in our congregations, in our communities and in the body of Christ in the world. Some of these words are not my own but I offer them as part of the conversation here and as it unfolded in conversations, trainings, facebook. I have lots of impressions (some of them ineffable) and still have lots of questions.
I attended the training offered on Friday by Black Lives Matters. Community organizers offered conversation, teaching and role plays. It was a powerful experience- disconcerting, challenging and absolutely amazing. The organizers made us think: Is this just a “moment?” Or are we determined to be part of a “movement” that addresses structural inequalities? Are we willing to look at the ways in which the privilege we enjoy as a white people comes at the cost of others? While I have been asking those questions for a while, they were cast in some new light in this conversation. Organizers were clearly expecting a significant level of violence, and I had to face my own fears and level of courage. “Our job,” said one of the Black Lives Matters organizers, “is to be the light that pushes away the darkness.” Thankfully, the march was mostly peaceful; people were protesting but not provocative. Singing and chanting were the order of the day. The police along the march route that I saw were simply monitoring traffic and coming to the assistance of those who had passed out from the heat – or tripped on uneven pavement. There were police in riot gear at Boston Commons, and, apparently there were a few scuffles. I was glad for the opportunity to pray on my feet; God continues to lead me in new pathways – physically and spiritually.
As I write this, Canon Rich Simpson has passed on a message from Gay Jennings, president of the House of Deputies which says this:
President Gay Jennings has asked the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church to examine ways in which our dioceses and congregations are involved in justice issues. Our focus is on General Convention resolutions that have spurred action at diocesan and local levels. The committee defines justice as
contesting against structures that produce structural inequities and barriers as we advocate for structures and systems that increase equity and access.
We hope to learn about local responses to resolutions that addressed such issues as economic justice, labor relations, fair wages, racism, poverty alleviation, food security, hunger, faith-based organizing, and asset-based community development
Yes, these are the questions that need addressing; these are the structures that give rise to such division. These are the challenges in the Body of Christ – when one member is hurting because of these structures, we are all hurt and are not yet whole. How uncomfortable are we who are privileged willing to be on behalf of those who suffer? How can we do this in our congregations? One of the trainers on Friday night bemoaned the church’s worry over buildings, while people are starving, and racism and hate are still so rampant.
A reflection posted on Facebook, which, unfortunately, did not come with attribution, offered this:
You know what worries me? It's not that a group of racist idiots lit some tiki torches and decided to have a rally. I worry that on Monday they went back to their job in human resources and decided who gets hired and who gets fired. They put their uniform back on and 'serve and protect.' They sit on a jury and decide the fate of a young person of color. They teach in a kindergarten class. They sit across from a couple, who came to this country, worked hard and saved, and have the power to approve or deny them a loan to purchase their first home. They decide an insurance claim. They give an estimate to repair the brakes on a mother's only mode of transportation to get to work each day.
I don't stay up lamenting the fact that racists feel emboldened to parade in the street. I stay up because racists have, do, and will apply their racist beliefs in their daily lives and, by extension mine, and they don't do it carrying a banner to distinguish themselves. It isn't the theatrical that worries me. It's the practical.
Yes, this, this is the work – the daily interaction, the daily split second decisions we make that are informed by both deep biases and good intentions, the awareness of how I am viewed and how you are viewed, that keeps us separated. And, I would add, it is the work of prayer and self-awareness, the work of service in our communities (not “us” doing for “them” but, rather, our being beloved community together). How can this moment in time become a movement (as Presiding Bishop Curry says) from the nightmare that the world is for so many to the dream that God has for it?
One more thought: the text for Sunday morning, August 20th was Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman, which I heard anew. The Rev. Mike Kinman, rector of All Saints Church, Pasadena, CA writes:
The story of the Canaanite woman is a story of persistence through repeated and traumatic rejection….
And we realize that we are walking on holy ground. We realize that this moment, painful as it is, tragic as it is, frightening as it is, is deeply sacred. We realize that God is right here standing in the breach and bridging the gap between all our us’s and all our them’s, staring at our racism and inviting us to look in the mirror at it, too. And we look at this amazing woman with great admiration, and with equal parts joy and pain, through self-examination, confession, repentance and amendment of life we find a way to say: “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
You can read the whole thing
. If Jesus was, as we believe, fully human, then he learned and grew. He was exposed to the biases and attitudes of his family and culture, and his understanding of his mission and identity and life emerged and unfolded. In his encounter with the Canaanite woman, he learns more deeply who he is and who he is called to be, and he goes from calling her a “dog” to praising her faith. Some commentators dismiss this as a kind of common rhetorical banter that might have been common in that time, others suggest that Jesus does this to teach the disciples and onlookers something but I wonder if we miss something fundamental here, that can teach us about our biases and our own willingness to learn. Jesus’ learning and growing informs us as we seek to pattern our lives after his – to be willing to have our own biases challenged in our encounters with one another.
I still have lots of questions: what is the path forward? How can I shift my life, words and actions to “advocate for structures and systems that increase equity and access”? How can we do this as community? As the Body of Christ? What is the shape of my prayer, our prayer at this time? When does our freedom of speech, that we should cherish and uphold turn into a weapon of hate? When is it “yelling fire in a crowded movie theater?” and when is it a valued part of expression and dialog? How can we, the Church, foster these inquiries? Lots of questions; some of which have not even risen to the surface yet!
I don’t have any answers but some of the lessons that emerge for me in recent months look something like this:
of who you are in the world as a person of God., and act out of that awareness. Faith, writes Rabbi Abraham Heschel is ” to bring God back into the world, into our lives…to have faith in God is to reveal what is concealed.” When we are aware that we are God’s people and not simply our own egos, we reveal a little piece of God’s unity and reconciliation.
, like Jesus, to learn. As Frank Ostaseski writes in The Five Invitations: “Cultivate
mind.” In our baptismal service, we pray for “inquiring and discerning hearts…”
, like the Canaanite woman, to persistently engage the Holy One, so that we have the grace to persistently engage the world, to be the light that pushes away the darkness.
. I didn’t make any moving speeches at the march, and I do not consider myself a person of courage or even (I am slightly ashamed to say) of great action and I was just one among 40,000 people but … those 40,000 bodies dwarfed the rally we were counter protesting. Showing up matters. Show up to God each day in your personal prayer. Show up in church as part of community prayer. Show up for each other. Show up in your community as part of prayer in action.
Thanks for listening and getting through to the end of this. Help me in my learning and perhaps I can help you in yours. May we walk in faith to reveal a reconciling unity in the midst of these days.