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Good morning! Last week I didn’t send out Notes-N-New correctly and no one got the email. Sorry about that!
++Stream the Oregon-Idaho Conference Live! It begins at 2:30 today: www.umoi.org
++This Saturday 19th is Oregon Synod of ELCA Day of Learning. 9am to 5:30pm via Zoom. Visit oregonsynod.org, and under the Events tab you will find registration info and a schedule for the day. All are welcome!
++Weekly Reflection Philippians 1:25-26 What do these verses say about being part of a community of faith?
++ Zoom Worship Links:
https://hoodriverchurch.com/ This brings you to Spirit of Grace’s website, where you click on “Zoom”(in blue lettering) to access worship.
To access worship by phone (audio only) call one of the following numbers, 1-669-900-9128 (San Jose) 1-253-215-8782 (Tacoma) and then enter the “Meeting ID” of 815 4831 0619.
++Worship Order for Sunday Sept 20th – Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture Reader: Debby Chenoweth
Congregational Response: Tom Hart
Gathering Song “In Christ There Is no East or West”
Greeting & Prayer of the Day
First Reading: Philippians 1:21-30
Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16
Hymn of the Day “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”
Joys and Concerns
Prayers of the People & Lord’s Prayer
Sending Song “On Our Way Rejoicing”
Blessing & Dismissal
++Church Giving– Giving statements are being mailed out today. If you have any questions about yours, please contact me at the office.
++ 5th Sunday Giving- $450.00 was donated for ELCA World Hunger. Thank you!
++Thank you- to Alan and Bette Lou Yenne for the work they’ve done around the church building. The flower beds have been weeded and the dirt piles that were around the side of the church are gone. It was an incredible amount of work and looks amazing!
++ Ruth Akiyama– has moved into her new room at Brookside Manor. Her room number is 105. Her phone# should be up and running today.
++Northwest Wildfires- Fueled by a heat wave and unfavorable winds, devastating wildfires are raging across California, Oregon, Washington and other western states. Deaths, evacuation orders, and millions of acres burned.
Donate through Spirit of Grace by making a check to our church with “Wildfires” on the memo line.
UMC Link to donate: https://www.umoi.org/give . When a disaster strikes, survivors lose so much. Often overlooked is the despair that strikes as some also lose hope. The mission of the Oregon-Idaho Conference Disaster Response team is to provide a caring Christian presence in the aftermath of a disaster. The goal for this Advance Fund is to have in place the resources to respond to disasters when they happen.
Sunday 21 June 2020
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Father’s Day
A huge section of Genesis—from chapter 12 all the way to chapter 23—is devoted to Abraham. He is the hero of the story. He receives a message from God. He follows God to a new land. He receives a promise from God that he will be the father of a great nation. He is the person of the covenant. It is Abraham’s story. He is the hero.
And so we get the story more or less from Abraham’s perspective. The story is about God’s promise to Abraham being fulfilled, the promise that he would be the father of a great nation, the promise that his children would outnumber the sand on the shore or the stars in the sky, the promise that his descendants will be a people holy to God. It is assumed that the reader will identify with Abraham, because it is Abraham’s story. It is written by and for a people who identify themselves as children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
But of course there are other people in the story. There is Abraham’s wife, Sarah. They try and try to have children, but Sarah never becomes pregnant. And as years stretch into decades, it seems clear that God’s promise is not going to come true. Abraham and Sarah die childless. It is a disappointment for Abraham, but it is a shame for Sarah. In the ancient world, a woman’s worth was judge on her ability to provide children, specifically heirs, to her husband.
So when Sarah is about 75, and Abraham is about 85, Sarah comes up with a plan. She is desperate, and she knows very well that 75 is too old to be becoming pregnant. So she tells Abraham to have sex with her Egyptian slave, Hagar. But she doesn’t use Hagar’s name. She just says, “Go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abraham does it. And she becomes pregnant.
And this is the point in the story when we usually focus on Abraham and Sarah’s relationship. How could she come up with such a terrible plan? How could he agree? Couldn’t they just trust God’s word? Couldn’t they keep the faith? Look what a mess they’ve gotten themselves into.
Because Genesis tells us that after she became pregnant, Hagar gets uppity with Sarah. And Sarah takes offense. She complains to Abraham, and he tells her that it is her slave, not his. She should deal with it. So, Genesis tells us, Sarah treats her harshly, and Hagar runs away.
An angel meets Hagar out in the wilderness and convinces her to return to Sarah. The angel promises her that she will have a son, that she should name Ishmael. The angel says that Ishmael will be wild and antagonistic, getting into fights with everyone.
Hagar returns to Sarah. She has the child. Abraham names him Ishmael.
But then, years later, Sarah does become pregnant. She’s 89 and he’s 99. The promise is finally fulfilled for them. At age 90, Sarah finally gives birth to a son. They name him Isaac, and everyone celebrates. Sarah is overjoyed. Abraham is overjoyed. The promise is fulfilled.
But later, Sarah sees Isaac and Ishmael playing together, and she becomes jealous. So she tells Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” My son will not be a rival to the son of that Egyptian slave.
Abraham is upset, because Ishmael is his son. But God speaks to him. God says, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for your son with the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.”
So Abraham takes the two of them, gives them some bread and a water bottle, and drops them off in the wilderness. For Abraham, that’s story over. And for most readers that’s story over, as well.
Did you notice that the characters hardly ever use her name? They just refer to her as the slave-girl, and they refer to Ishmael as the slave-girl’s son. Hagar and Ishmael are on the edges of the story. They are instrumental. They are mostly there to move the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac along. They are a problem to be gotten rid of. They are the annoying reminders of a mistake. After all, this isn’t their story. It’s written by and for Sarah and Isaac’s descendants, not for Hagar and Ishmael’s. No one is meant to read the story from their perspective.
But if we were to read the story from Hagar’s perspective, we might notice a few things. From Hagar’s own perspective, she is not a problem to be gotten rid of, she is a victim. First, she is a slave, a slave that Abraham and Sarah squired while they were in Egypt. Second, it is not her choice to sleep with Abraham. She has no choice in the matter. She is forced to do so. Think of the slave women in the American story who were forced to sleep with their masters, to raise their children. Third, Genesis mentions in passing that Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham as a wife, but she never actually holds the status of wife. She still remains Sarah’s slave. They do not even refer to her by name. Abraham just calls her Sarah’s slave. Fourth, Sarah thinks the problem is that Hagar is uppity, behaving above her station, but Hagar seems to want nothing more than common decency. In fact the word that describes how Sarah treats Hagar is the same word that describes how the Egyptians treat their Hebrew slaves; she oppresses her. Fifth, when Hagar is out there in the wilderness and the angel comes, Hagar gives God a name. She calls God El-Roi: the God who sees me. There are many times when God gives people new names. This is the only time I know of when a person gives God a new name.
And of course, I left out Hagar’s last scene altogether. After Abraham has abandoned them in the wilderness, their water runs out. Hagar is in distress. She is hopeless. She knows that they are going to die out there in the desert, so she leaves Ishmael under a bush and goes off a little ways by herself, because she cannot bear to see her son die. But an angel visits Hagar and tells her not to be afraid, that God will make her son a great nation. God reveals a well to her, and they fill up their water bottle and go on their way, never to be heard from again.
Because, of course, even when we are trying to read from Hagar’s point of view, the author is not. The author is telling the story from the Israelite perspective, giving us an origin story for their great rivals, the Ishmaelites. This story justifies why Israel is the chosen people, even though the descendants of Ishmael are also Abraham’s children. They don’t inherit, because they are just the children of a slave. That’s why the wildly, irrationally, violently. They are just like their ancestor, Ishmael: a wild, irrational, violent man, the son of a foreign slave. The authors of Genesis have an axe to grind.
There is another version of this story out there. There is the version of this story that is preserved by the people who call Ishmael their ancestor. There is the Arab version of this story. And in it, Hagar is not an uppity, conniving, simpering coward. In this version of the story, Hagar is the hero. Let me share it with you. It is attributed to Ibn Abbas, the uncle of the Muslim prophet, Muhammad, and I’m paraphrasing a bit.
One day, Abraham woke up and asked his wife Hajar to get her son and prepare for a long journey. He started out with his wife Hajar and their son Ishmael. The child was still nursing and not yet weaned.
Abraham walked through cultivated land, desert, and mountains until he reached the desert of the Arabian Peninsula and came to an uncultivated valley with no fruit, no trees, no food, no water. The valley had no sign of life. After Abraham had helped his wife and child to dismount, he left them with a small amount of food and water which was hardly enough for 2 days. He turned around and walked away. His wife hurried after him asking: “Where are you going Abraham, leaving us in this barren valley?”
Abraham did not answer her, but continued walking. She repeated what she had said, but he remained silent. She asked him many times, but he did not look back at her. Then she asked him, “Has Allah ordered you to do so?” He said, “Yes.” She then said, “Then He will not neglect us,” and returned while Abraham went on. After reaching the thaniyah where they could not see him, he faced the Ka’bah raised both hands, invoked Allah, and said the following prayer:
“O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Your Sacred House (Ka’bah at Makkah) in order, O our Lord that they may offer prayer perfectly.” (Al-Qur’an 14:37)
Ishmael’s mother went on nursing him and drinking from the water. When the water in ran out, she became thirsty and her child also became thirsty. She looked at him, tossing in agony. She left him, because she couldn’t bear looking at him. As-Safa was the nearest mountain to her. She climbed it and started looking carefully at the valley for somebody, but she couldn’t see anyone. She went back down to the valley, tucked up her robe and ran until she reached the mountain of Al-Marwa. There she stood and started looking expecting to see somebody, but she couldn’t see anyone. She went back and forth between As-Safa and Al-Marwa seven times.
This is why pilgrims to Mecca go between As-Safa and Al-Marwa. When she reached Al-Marwa for the last time, she heard a voice and she became quiet, listening carefully. She heard the voice again and said, “Whoever you are, you have made me hear your voice; do you have something to help me?” And behold, she saw an angel digging the earth with his heel until water flowed from that place. She started filling her water skin, using her hands to scoop the water up.
Then she drank and nursed her child. The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid of being neglected, for this is the House of Allah which will be built by this boy and his father, and Allah never neglects His people.”
You can tell it’s the same story, right? But it’s told from a different perspective. In this version, Hagar is at the center. When Abraham abandons her, he doesn’t have the courage to tell her why, but she has the faith to understand. When she is left alone, she does not give up and wait for death, she runs back and forth between two mountains, searching for help. And her son is not some wild man who cannot control his temper and has only a secondary birthright, because she is a slave. No, she is a wife of Abraham, and the place they travel to is Mecca, the very place where Ishmael will build the Kabah, the holiest site in all of Islam. It makes a difference who tells the story. It makes a difference whose perspective we see.
It makes a difference when we are reading the bible. It also makes a difference when we are interacting with our world today. When we hear stories about what is happening in our community, when we hear stories about what is happening in our country, when we hear stories about what is happening in our world, who is it that we most identify with? Just naturally, without even noticing it, we will tend to identify with the people we think are most like us.
A husband and wife watch a romantic comedy together, and nine times out of ten the wife will identify with the female character and the husband will identify with the male character. And they will both tend to think that the character they identify with is in the right, and the character they don’t identify with is in the wrong. People tend to identify with and believe people who are the same gender as they are.
But of course gender is not the only marker that defines and divides us. Race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual identity, immigration status, political alignment, age, profession, education, dialect. When we hear stories, without even thinking about it, we’re going to identify with and believe the perspective that seems most like us. I will likely to identify with Abraham, while a Muslim woman will likely identify with Hagar.
We know that’s true. Just think about when the Ducks play the Beavers. Ducks fans will be upset whenever a call goes against their team, and Beaver fans will be upset whenever a call goes against their team. No matter what the ref says, one of them is going to think it’s the wrong call. Even with instant replay and 27 different camera angles. We can all be looking at the same footage but seeing different things.
And what about when there isn’t just one account of what happened? What if there are multiple accounts of the same story? Whose do we listen to, and whose do we ignore. Whom do we suspect and to whom do we give the benefit of the doubt? Perspective matters. It makes a difference whom we identify with, and it makes a difference whose version of the story we hear.
Friday night is movie night at our house, and this last Friday was Juneteenth, so we decided to watch Harriet, the 2019 movie about Harriet Tubman. I’ve seen quite a few films featuring American slavery. The acclaimed ones tend to focus on the brutality of slavery. The villains are white, but the heroes are also white. Black characters tend to be portrayed as relatively helpless, as the objects of white punishment or the recipients of white salvation. They’re made for someone like me to identify negatively with the evil white characters and identify positively with the good white characters. But I usually feel I’m meant to just feel sorry for the black characters.
Not in this movie. Harriet is the hero of her own story. She drives the action. She does what she feels called to, even when people try to stop her. She carries a gun and she isn’t afraid to use it. Her motto is Be Free or Die. I’m sorry, there is no other word for it: Harriet Tubman is a badass. Did it make a difference that the story focused on a black, female character? Absolutely. Did it make a difference that the film was written and directed by a black woman? You better believe it. Perspective matters, and it matters who’s telling the story.
And there is something you can do about it. It takes some intentionality. You can choose to identify with a perspective that is not your own, with a person or character who is not much like you. You can use your imagination to place yourself in that person’s mind. It’s amazing what things you will notice that you had never seen before. You can practice while you’re watching a show or reading a book. And you can try to do it in real life, too. It makes a difference.
But imagination can’t get us farther than halfway, because it doesn’t just matter which perspective we center, it also matters who tells the story. So the second thing you can do is seek out diverse voices. Seek out the voices of people you know don’t share your perspective, and do your best to hear them from within their own context. Commit to it. In the end, you don’t have to agree, but you won’t learn much if you don’t take the time to try to see it from their point of view.
It is imperative that we try. Because every person is made in God’s image, not just the people who look and think like me. Every person is God’s child, not just the people who share my background. And if I don’t even try to see things from perspectives other than my own, then I will have such a feebly narrow understanding of God.
Because our God is the God of Abraham and of Sarah, and of Ishmael, and of Hagar. Our God is the God of black and brown and white, Hispanic and Anglo, female and male and nonconforming, lesbian and gay and straight, transgender and cisgender, old and young and in between, poor and rich and in between. Our God transcends any division we can erect between us. Our God is the God who sees; not just me, but everyone. And if we cannot hear each other, how can we hope to hear God?
Sunday 14 June 2020
The Second Sunday after Pentecost
In the Gospel of Matthew, the author organizes most of Jesus’s sayings into 5 compact, thematic sermons. The Gospels of Mark and Luke contain a lot of the same material, but it’s all sprinkled here and there around the gospel. Matthew edits Jesus’s words together into five big speeches. The first, and best known of them is the Sermon on the Mount, which takes up chapters 5-7, and covers the basic ethics of Jesus.
The second one starts here in the passage we have assigned today. It sends out the twelve apostles and gives them instructions for how they should do ministry. “Jesus called his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirit to throw them out and to heal every disease and every sickness.” Jesus is about to send them out to do exactly the same things that he has been doing for the last two chapters: announcing good news, healing people, and casting out demons. They’ve been learning by example; now it’s time for them to try out what they have learned. It’s time for an internship, for some experiential learning.
Both Mark and Luke contain a version of this same story. They all say that Jesus sent the apostles out two-by-two, so they’d have a partner to help them. Matthew, though, actually tells us who went with whom. As Matthew names the apostles, he presents them in two-person mission groups. The first group is Peter and his brother Andrew. Then another set of brothers: James and John. Philip and Bartholomew go together. Then Thomas and Matthew. Thaddaeus goes with the other James. Finally, Simon the Cananaean, elsewhere known as Simon the Zealot, and Judas, Jesus’s betrayer. I sometimes wonder how the practicum went for that last pair. One of them came from a group that advocated the violent overthrow of the government, including through targeted assignation; the other one conspired with the governing authorities to arrest and crucify Jesus. I’m curious what that pair was like in the mission field.
Jesus sends them all out with some instructions: “Don’t go among the Gentiles or into a Samaritan city. Go instead to the lost sheep, the people of Israel. As you go, make this announcement: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, and throw out demons.” Proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom. Heal the sick. Raise the dead. Cleanse the lepers. Cast out demons.
Again, it’s all the things that Jesus has been doing himself. Healing, crossing social barriers, casting out demons, and announcing the nearness of God’s kingdom. Matthew calls it the kingdom of heaven. Both Mark and Luke say the kingdom of God. Matthew seems to have a special reverence for God’s name, and so chooses a different word, heaven. But it can be confusing for readers. By the kingdom of heaven, Matthew does not mean something that is far away or something that we enter after we die. The kingdom of heaven is the way that God’s realm is invading our world, the way that heaven is being made manifest right here on earth. When we talk about the kingdom of heaven, we are not talking about something that happens in heaven. Instead, we are talking about something that the forces of heaven do on earth. We are always speaking of the “on earth as it is in heaven.”
And so, when we talk about the kingdom of heaven, we are talking about precisely the things that Jesus sent his apostles out to do. The kingdom of heaven is characterized by the healing of the sick, the raising of the dead, the breaking down of social barriers, and the casting out of demons. It is those things that build up the human spirit and the human community. It is those things which draw the world toward God.
And the one I want to focus on today is the throwing out of demons. That’s not usually what I would focus on. In fact, the casting out of demons is usually the part of the passage that I would just gloss over. Because we don’t tend to believe in demons, do we? At least not in the way that the ancients did. They thought that the whole world, and everything in and around it, was animated by spirits of various kinds. Good spirits, evil spirits, even someone indifferent spirits. But they thought of nearly everything as being possessed by spirit. It wasn’t just Christians and Jews who thought this way, it was many others as well. Just as real as the physical world was the spiritual world, maybe even more real.
But that is not how we tend to understand the world. For us, it is the physical world that constitutes the real world. Most objects are inanimate—that is, they don’t have any spirit. Most phenomenon are explained by scientifically measurable processes, not through the work of invisible beings. When we sin, it is the result of a bad choice, not the temptation of an evil spirit. What the ancients called demonic possession, we understand as a chemical imbalance in the brain, and instead of treating it with exorcism, we generally recommend medication or talk therapy.
Demons and demonic possession are generally not part of our modern understandings of the world. Except for the occasional horror movie, in which demons are always battled by Roman Catholic priests, we hardly use the language or imagery of demons at all.
References to the devil or demons aren’t very common in our prayers or liturgies, either. The closest we usually come is in the baptismal vows. The Lutheran version includes the words, “Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?” The Methodist version says, “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?” Spiritual forces of wickedness and evil powers of this world are pretty broad terms. One could imagine what they actually mean in a number of different ways. I’m guessing that most of us don’t imagine them as actual spiritual beings, called demons, who move about and act in our world.
That is certainly not how I tend to imagine the world. I suppose I am usually agnostic when in comes to the devil. I don’t tend to think that it is necessary to think that the devil exists, nor is it necessary to think that the devil doesn’t exist. But either way, the devil does not take up an important place in my faith or its practice. It seems like it is enough to renounce evil and to resist the forces that defy God. I don’t generally find it interesting or useful to speculate about whether those forces are actual spiritual beings or something else. It sounds a bit fanciful, and I don’t see how it is particularly necessary. After all, isn’t the idea of the devil just a way of excusing my own bad behavior.
Or perhaps the line from French philosopher Charles Baudelaire, made famous in the movie, The Usual Suspects, is true: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing the world that he doesn’t exist. Because there may be a negative side-effect for those like me who tend not to believe in a devil or demons. It can lead us to forget that there are in fact spiritual forces of wickedness at all. It can lead us to believe that sin and evil are really just the direct result of sinful or evil human choices. And I wonder if that can provide a rather naïve notion of sin and evil. Because perhaps evil is bigger and more cunning than just the automatic result of human choices.
What I mean to say is that—whether or not there are really demons out there—there are some forms of evil that function as though they were demons. That is to say, they function on a scope much larger than conscious human choices. They act as if they have their own consciousness. They behave as if they could plot and plan and scheme for themselves.
And one of those demons is the evil of racism. Until recently, when many white people heard the word racism, we thought of hooded klansmen or swastika-waving Nazis. We thought of racism as an intention act, motivated by racial hatred, that was designed and intended to inflict harm on someone because of their race. In other words, unless someone was willing to say that they in fact hated other people because of their race and that they were actively working to harm or hold other people back because of their race, then it was not racism. A cross-burning in front of the house of a black family is racist. Using a racial slur is probably racist, but maybe not if it was intended as a joke. But the fact that black and brown students are 10% less likely to graduate high school than white students isn’t racist, because it doesn’t proceed directly from an act of hatred. That was the logic.
And so it was easy to imagine that racism doesn’t exist. I, as a white person, don’t see overt acts of racism happening. I don’t think of myself as being racist. And after all, we had a black president. Doesn’t that mean that racism is over and done. Yeah, there might be a few ignorant people out there still waving the racist banner, but surely that’s a small minority. It makes me wonder if the greatest trick racism ever pulled was convincing white people that it doesn’t exist.
In the wake of the public deaths of so many black and brown people in the last few years, some of us have begun to see things differently. The death of George Floyd has seemed to be a turning point, after which the majority can no longer pretend that racism doesn’t exist. Many white people are only now coming to terms with our own whiteness and the ways that our whiteness privileges us and harms others. We are learning about concepts like white normativity, white privilege, white supremacy, and white fragility.
White normativity is the assumption that many or most white people have that our lived reality is not white, it’s normal. It’s the assumption that the white way is really just the normal, American way. We don’t think of ourselves as white, but just as people, or just as Americans. And it means that when people deviate from the white “normal,” they are seen as somehow not fully American. The American melting pot means that “new” people should abandon their old culture and conform to mine. But I never have to think of myself as white, because I don’t acknowledge how my whiteness makes me different than others. I don’t have to acknowledge my whiteness at all. I just think of myself as normal. That’s why we can talk about ethnic food, but we don’t really talk about white food. That’s white normativity.
White privilege is the idea that because of my whiteness, I am afforded certain privileges that are not afforded to people who are not white. Doors open for me that don’t open for others. I am given the benefit of the doubt when others are not. And here’s the deal, I don’t have to ask for that privilege; I get it whether I ask for it or not. I don’t even have to accept the privilege. In fact, most of the time I can’t even tell that I’m receiving that privilege. Our society is sufficiently segregated that I may never see a person of color not receiving the privilege that I think of as just normal. And in fact, the person who is dealing out white privilege may not consciously acknowledge that that’s what they’re doing. No one on the hiring team thinks that they’re being racist, but somehow those résumés for Jerome and Antione and LaKisha never seem to make it to the interview stage. That’s white privilege. It happens even when the white people involved don’t think they are being racist or prejudiced.
White supremacy. It sounds like something that only exists in some militia camp in Northern Idaho, but it isn’t. White supremacy is all of the systems and structures in society that ensure that white people remain in control of society. Even if we got rid of all of the people who actually admit to being white supremacists, white supremacy would still be there, because it’s been baked into the system. White supremacy isn’t even all that threatened when a few people of color achieve great things or take on positions of power, because then it can claim that system really isn’t racist. We have a black president. That must mean racism is over. But that hides the fact that white supremacy is still very much intact.
Think about this: we have the most diverse Congress ever. In fact, the way some news outlets report it, you would think the entire Congress is made up of just women of color. 31% of the US population is white men. 31%. In the most diverse US Congress in history, what percentage of US Senators do you think are white men? Got that number locked into your head? It’s 69%. White men are 31% of the population, and we’re 69% of the senate. That means we’re getting 223% of the representation that we should have, all things being equal. But all things aren’t equal. When you look at men and women across all of Congress, it’s not quite as bad. White people are 61% of the population and 78% of Congress. We’re getting 128% of the representation we should have, all things being equal. The numbers are about the same in the police force: 77% white. White supremacy is the system and structures that keep white people in power to a greater degree than our numbers would warrant.
Finally, white fragility. If you haven’t already, pick up the book by Robin Diangelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. It’s really good for helping us unpack our dysfunctional relationship with race. I’ll quote just a small bit. Diangelo notes that “After the civil rights movement, to be a good, moral person and to be complicit with racism became mutually exclusive. You could not be a good person and participate in racism; only bad people were racist.” This meant that racism was defined as only overt acts of racial hatred. Good people weren’t racist. Only bad people were racist. She continues, “While making racism bad seems like a positive change, we have to look at how this functions in practice. Within this paradigm, to suggest that I am racist is to deliver a deep moral blow—a kind of character assassination. Having received this blow, I must defend my character, and that is where all my energy will go—to deflecting the charge, rather than reflecting on my behavior. In this way, the good/bad binary makes it nearly impossible to talk to white people about racism, what it is, how it shapes all of us, and the inevitable ways that we are conditioned to participate in it. If we cannot discuss these dynamics or see ourselves within them, we cannot stop participating in racism. The good/bad binary made it effectively impossible for the average white person to understand—much less interrupt—racism” (72).
White normativity, white privilege, white supremacy, white fragility—this is what I mean by saying that racism acts like a demon. It is working even when we don’t notice it and even when we don’t think we’re a part of it. It causes harm while simultaneously convincing us that no harm was committed, or if it was, it’s just an outlier, and certainly I am not a part of the problem.
But in the last few years, and especially in the last few weeks, racism’s camouflage has started to fail. More and more white folks are beginning to see it for what it is. We are beginning to be able to acknowledge its presence and call it by name. We are beginning to allow ourselves to hear the stories of the lived experience of people of color and to actually listen, actually believe. Footage from a cell phone has forced us to acknowledge what was there all along, but we refused to see. We can see the demon, and we can name it racism. And it is time to cast it out.
It won’t be easy. After all, it’s been possessing this country for more than 400 years. And people have tried to exorcize it before, but it keeps coming back, more clever, more subtle, more crafty, pulling that greatest trick of convincing us that it does not exist.
It is not something that white people can do for people of color, as some kind of gift or charity. A benefactor still holds on to the power. But it isn’t something that people of color can do without white people changing, either. Somehow, someway, we must do it together.
For me, as a white person, that means acknowledging my own whiteness and learning about the ways that it effects how I perceive and move through the world. It means acknowledging and pointing out the very real harm that racism does—it’s a matter of life and death. It means going out of my way to listen sympathetically to the voices of people of color—not by demanding answers to my racial guilt or shame, but by doing my best to hear people speaking from their own contexts. It means decentering myself to allow space for others. It means doing what I can to acknowledge and renounce my privilege. It means doing the hard work of self-reflection to see the ways that I am racist and the ways that I participate in racism even when I don’t actively intend to. And it means accepting that it is going to be messy, and I am going to screw up over and over again. I’m going to feel uncomfortable, and even when I try my best to do the right thing, it won’t always be the right thing. Sometimes when I try to help, it will hurt. And just when I think I have escaped it, I need to be willing to see where it still has hold of me.
And as our baptismal vows tell us, it means accepting the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. It means renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness, rejecting the evil powers of this world, and repenting of our sin. It means renouncing the devil and all the forces that defy God.
Jesus gathered them and gave them authority over unclean spirits to throw them out and to heal every disease and every sickness. He told them to proclaim the presence of the kingdom of heaven, to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, and throw out demons.
We have seen the demon of racism. We are beginning to name it and to recognize its features. By the power of Jesus Christ, let us cast it out. By the power of Jesus Christ, let us cast it out. By the power of Jesus Christ, let us cast it out.
Sunday 31 May 2020
There’s a lot going on in the world right now. There is, of course, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people in the US, made 40 million unemployed, and kept all of us sheltering in place, unable to live life as we have known it, unable to make even the simplest of human connections. There is even a new outbreak of the disease in Hood River County.
But now the nation is also reeling in the wake of the death of yet another unarmed black person at the hands of police. Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Michelle Cusseaux, Tanisha Anderson, Tamir Rice, Natasha McKenna, Walter Scott, Bettie Jones, Philando Castile, Botham Jean, Tatiana Jefferson, Eric Reason, Dominique Clayton, Breona Taylor, among many others. And now George Floyd.
George Floyd was arrested in Minneapolis for allegedly using a counterfeit twenty dollar bill to pay at a local convenience store. Footage shows a Minneapolis PD officer kneeling on the neck of Mr. Floyd for nearly nine minutes while he is handcuffed and pinned face-down to the ground. Floyd can be heard begging, “Please, please, please, I can’t breathe,” in a haunting echo of the words of Eric Garner almost 6 years ago. Two minutes later, police call for an ambulance, but Officer Derek Chauvin continues to press his knee on Floyd’s neck for another 6 minutes. Floyd is unresponsive and apparently unconscious as bystanders plead with police to get off of Floyd’s neck and to check for a pulse, but Officer Chauvin continues to kneel on his neck, pressing his face into the ground for another 5 minutes, while Floyd lays completely motionless. He only gets off of Floyd after an ambulance arrives. Fire Department reports say that medics in the ambulance were working on Floyd, who was unresponsive and pulseless. George Floyd was declared dead in the emergency room an hour after he apparently lost consciousness. In response, four officers involved in the incident have been fired, and Chauvin has been charged with 3rd degree murder. Their actions have been nearly universally condemned, including by the National Association of Police Organizations and the Fraternal Order of Police.
In a time when anxiety is already heightened, most of us are already on edge, and people of color are disproportionately dying from coronavirus, protests have been staged across the country. And in some cases, those mostly peaceful protests have escalated into violence. Even in Portland there has been vandalism and violence. And while I don’t condone violence, I recognize the tremendous frustration that apparently leads some to it. All of these deaths with hardly any justice, virtually no consequences for those responsible. And I know the ways that when people have protested nonviolently for an acknowledgment that black lives do in fact matter in this country, they have been systematically villainized, characterized as unAmerican, been fired from their jobs. It cannot be surprising that injustice has bubbled over into violence.
Fear of being unjustly accused, unjustly detained, unjustly arrested, unjustly brutalized, and unjustly killed is a reality that African Americans and other people of color have to live with every moment of every day. It is a reality that parents of children of color have to teach their kids about. And it is terrifying and overwhelming and exhausting. And yes, our family has had the police called on us because some of us are black. I am grateful to the Portland Police Officer who quickly realized that nothing was wrong and let us go on our way. And that encounter was still terrifying and humiliating, and quite frankly, enfuriating.
And I really do not want to have to talk about this today. Because today is Pentecost. Today is supposed to be a day of celebration. It’s the day we celebrate our new confirmands. And so here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to pray right now. And we’re going to hand this over to God for right now. We’re going to need to come back to it. But for right now, we’re going to pray, and then I’m going to start again.
Holy and gracious God, we confess slavery as the original sin of this nation, and we confess the continuing shadow that it casts across us. We confess the ways that African Americans and other people of color have been systematically disadvantaged through unjust Jim Crow laws, through redlining and other practices that denied black and brown Americans the advantages enjoyed by white Americans, and through recognized and unrecognized prejudice. We confess the sin of lynching, an organized campaign of terror that lasted more than 130 years, killing 3446 known African Americans between 1882 and 1968, the perpetrators of these crimes almost never being brought to justice. We confess the continued presence of racism in our society—overt racism, systemic racism, and unconscious racism—and we confess the ways that we participate in systems of oppression even when we don’t intend to. We confess the alarming rate at which African Americans continued to be killed and the fact that so many of their killers go unpunished.
We pray today for the family and friends of George Floyd. We pray for the City of Minneapolis, and for its African American community. We pray for the Minneapolis Police Department and for the officers accused. We pray for prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges. We pray for peaceful vigils and protests. We pray for those committing acts of violence and those who are victimized by that violence. We pray for emergency service workers. We pray for mayors and governors. We pray for the National Guard. We pray for our President. We pray for communities across this nation. We pray for all who long for justice and peace.
Holy Jesus, bring your justice, bring your peace. Transform us. Bring your kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Today is the great festival of Pentecost, the fiftieth day of Easter, the day when we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. This day is often called the birthday of the Church. It is when the still grieving, still confused followers of Jesus were forged together with a new sense of purpose. It is when they were brought together across boundaries of difference, across boundaries of ethnicity and language. It is when they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is when they were sent to go out into the world.
And so it is a good day for us to welcome new members among us. Colin Gerald, Miyuki Gerald, Kaylah King, Kiahla King, and Jack Siekkinen come before us today for confirmation. Each of them was baptized into the faith as a child. Others made promises on their behalf. And today it is time for them to affirm those promises for themselves. Today it is time for them to confirm the promise of their baptisms, to accept their place in the family of God, to acknowledge their role in the Body of Christ.
The reading from 1 Corinthians this morning talks about the Body of Christ, and how it is made up of us—you and me. Not all of us are the same. We have different roles, we have different interests, we have different abilities. But it takes all of us to make up Christ’s Body. The Body couldn’t function without the gifts that each of us have to give.
And, the Apostle Paul tells us, all of the various gifts that help the Body of Christ to function are granted to us by the Holy Spirit. We don’t all have the same gifts, but each of us are gifted, and we can use those gifts for the work of God. Paul gives a list of some of those spiritual gifts. Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and several others, but it’s not an exhaustive list.
The five confirmands who come before you today each have their own spiritual gifts that they can use for the common good, things that they can use to help the Body of Christ achieve its mission in the world. And while this will not be an exhaustive list either, I thought I would share some of their gifts with you. Among other things, Colin is gifted with inventiveness and imagination. Miyuki is gifted with leadership and kindness. Kaylah is gifted with persistence and creativity. Kiahla is gifted with authenticity and enthusiasm. Jack is gifted with critical thinking and curiosity. These are but some of the things that they bring to the Body of Christ and to this congregation.
Each of these inspiring youth have spent time in study and discernment over the last year. They have spent time exploring the Christian tradition and wrestling with the deep questions of faith. And hopefully they have had some fun along the way, as well. I am proud of each one of them, and I am excited for the gifts that they have to offer the world.
We are all having to learn to adapt these days, and so we had to make some adaptations to the service of confirmation. Last Sunday we met over Zoom and went through the ritual together. In just a moment we’ll play it for you.
But remember, baptism and confirmation are not solitary acts. These youth have promises to make, but so do you as their sisters and brothers in the faith. This is a covenant amongst us all, and it binds us together. So when it comes to your part, speak it out loud. And I encourage you to use the comments to affirm your support of these confirmands and offer them messages of love and encouragement.
Let us share in a service of confirmation.
In addition to offering support in the comments, I encourage you to reach out to our confirmands by other means, to encourage them and to share with them the gifts that you see in them. And may we all be bound together as one family, empowered by one Spirit, united by one Lord, saved, forgiven, and loved by one God. Thanks be to God. Amen.