Greetings, Friends –
I try to be a “glass half-full” kind of person. I must admit that I’m beginning to think my glass has a leak. Last week’s news has brought a new depth of concern and – and this is the silver lining, I guess – a greater calling to prayer and love. Last week’s blog addressed the tragedy of bullying, a topic that our own Covenant 5 community has been vocal about for a long time. Too often we seem to relegate our thoughts of bullying to schoolyard taunting. What we are witnessing now is the is the ugly side of adult bullying – poking at other nations and rallying against those that are not white, not straight, not nationals, and some would add, not Christian. Just as with the often tragic results of children’s bullying, adult bullying has led to deaths and injuries and the prospect of war which would result in the destruction of nations and the death of hundreds of thousands almost immediately.
I know there are some who feel the Church has no place in politics. Well, this is not merely a political issue. What we are witnessing is a rejection of the Gospel which demands a response by the Church. In our Epistle reading on Sunday, Paul reminded us that for those who believe in Jesus “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him” (Romans 10:12, NRSV). And we know that this was also Jesus’ message of love when he called us to love our neighbor, welcome the stranger, feed the hungry and visit those in prison. Paul’s lesson continued with words directed for us in the Church: “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (Romans 10:14 – 15, NRSV).
The Episcopal Diocese of Michigan seems miles from Charlottesville yet we all know this could happen anywhere. As Christians, I believe that we are the people God has called to bring the Good News of the Gospel to the world. But how? I’m sure in the days ahead we’re going to read many suggestions from Church leaders around the country. I’m writing this blog on Sunday morning, just a day after the terrible events, and have read many prayers and comments on social media. One source shared suggestions for our action:
• Condemn actions of this kind without qualification.
• Do what we can to foster a climate in which such actions face collective resistance and condemnation.
• Build on the progress we have made in race relations.
• Recognize the places where healing has yet to take root and strive do what we can to foster progress.
• Practice personal vigilance that opens our lives to the work of the Holy Spirit in places where our own attitudes and prejudices remain unredeemed.
• Stand alongside our brothers and sisters who are the victims of groups like this.
• Contradict, at every turn, the efforts of those groups to wrap their behavior in the mantle of the Church or the Constitution.
• And support the lawful prosecution of anyone who incites violence or commits murder in the name of any creed. (Source available here)
While these points are specifically in response to the events in Charlottesville, they also are helpful as we hear the threats and bullying expressed by our President. In the face of seemingly endless tweets and bombastic rhetoric, we can certainly feel overwhelmed and angry. This is not the way we want things to be. We need each other for support and encouragement. As Aaron and Hur supported Moses’ arms when he tired facing the battle with Israel’s enemies (Exodus 17:8 – 13), we must carry one another in prayer and action as we face the battle against injustice and oppression. We must live the love we profess.
One way to do this is to be willing to go deeper and look to see how we might be culpable of fostering a climate of apathy and indifference to the plight of others. Have we allowed things to get this far because we have been silent, preferring our own safety and comfort rather than the risk of getting involved? My good friend, the Rev. Daniel Lawson, shared his thoughts on Facebook this morning that are worth pondering:
I am horrified that it needs to be said in 2017 that the hatred spread by Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan is evil, but given that they are openly rallying and killing in Charlottesville, VA, it does need to be said. Racism is evil. We must resist it. Those who openly support it are more than the fringe we thought they were.
But it is not enough to say that we do not march with torches to support the notion of a master race, that we oppose those marching for this cause. While that behavior is clearly on the side of the demons, the line between good and evil runs through each of our hearts. I am not immune from participating in structures that support white supremacy because I was born into a society built on a foundation of racial oppression. This, to me, makes the idea of original sin clearest. Without ever choosing racism, without ever hating people different from me, we all easily, unthinkingly, participate in oppression. This is very much what original sin is all about. We are in bondage to sin and we cannot save ourselves. If we say that we have no racism, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our racism, God is faithful and just to forgive us our racism, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
So, I look at all this mess around us – the pain, the suffering, the unanswered questions – and suddenly I see connections to the problem of bullying that Covenant 5 is so passionate about. If our children watch the adults in their lives engaged in hateful, aggressive behavior and speech toward one another, how can we expect them to behave differently?
I’d like to close this blog with the words of seminarian Lauren Grubaugh who witnessed first-hand the events in Charlottesville and shared the following post and prayer:
I could tell you about the clusters of young, white men walking militia style through the streets of Charlottesville, clad in white polos and khakis, crowned with baseball helmets and motorcycle helmets, bearing clubs and Confederate flags and homemade Captain America shields. And if you want me to tell you what I saw, in the days to come, I will have gotten some rest, and some distance from the strange horror of it all, and I will recount this day when hate strolled through a city without remorse.
But you have seen this on Twitter and on TV. And I am exhausted by the hate and the fear and the violence and the death. So the first thing I wrote when I returned home from Charlottesville was a prayer, because I needed to remember God after what I saw today.
I have struggled to pray today. The image of God to which I so often default — an image that has been instilled and reinforced by white supremacy and patriarchy — is a white, male god. Over the years, incorporating inclusive language into my prayer has helped me reimagine God in color and warmth and light. But today’s events (and the events of the last year), were a somber reminder that the racist, patriarchal god is still deeply embedded in my psyche, and all the more so in that of our nation.
This is a prayer to the God whom we have forgotten, and whom we had best remember.
To the God whom we have forgotten;
To the God who is not male and is not white;
To the God who takes no pleasure in violence;
To the God who is Love;
To the God who is tender-hearted and warm embrace;
To the God who is not deaf to Her children’s cries and is moved to tears by their suffering;
To the God whose law is love of neighbor, hospitality for the stranger, care for the weak;
To the God whose touch is healing, whose gaze is compassion; whose way is loving kindness;
To the God who is Justice;To the God who tramples fear and hatred under Her feet;
To the God who convicts our hearts, stirs our spirits, transforms our minds;
To the God who revels in the joyful dance of community and invites us to do the same;
To the God whose own child’s lynched body hung limp on a tree, not by Her own hand,
but because of the fear and hatred of those human beings
who feared the kind of world they were promised would be ushered in and hated the changes they would have to undergo to get there
Our memory is so short:
Our failure to remember the sins of our parents,
Our aversion to repentance,
Our refusal to make reparations,
Is killing us.
Our souls are wasting away.
And black, brown, female, queer, trans, Muslim, differently abled bodies
Every day, so many.
O God whom we have forgotten,
We do not even know how to call on your name.
We have not seen you in the faces of our sisters and brothers.
We have not felt you in the pain of our neighbors, strangers, friends and enemies;
O God whom we have forgotten,
Do not let our imaginations be infiltrated by war-mongering forces of violence.
Do not let our spirits be colonized by the depressing fear of our oppressors.
Transform our minds that do not know how to think of you
Existing without these heavy chains we have placed on ourselves
and on each other.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council