Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Praying for Ferguson

Last night, I went to a vigil for Ferguson. I went as a faith leader rather than a person of faith, stole in hand, ready to wear. I prepared my 2 minute statement in advance, even though I felt very weird talking about racism given my very white skin. Yes, I preached about the events in Ferguson in church, including why it's so important we say, "Black lives matter." For some reason, though, this felt stranger.

I ended up not sharing my carefully prepared words. Others had things to say that I wanted and needed to hear. I don't regret remaining silent. But I still need to confess what I chose not to publicly confess last night. So here's the statement I didn't share last night:

I am 30 years old. You need to know that for what I’m about to say to really sink in. I was born in 1984; I have always lived in a world with CD players, air bags in cars, and a channel devoted only to weather.

I am 30 years old, but when I misbehaved as a child, my grandfather said to me, “If you don’t act better, I’m gonna go get me a little nigger girl instead.” I was an adult and he was dead by the time the meaning of those words sank in. My grandfather was born in 1917; he never lived in a country with legal slavery. But more than a hundred years after slavery was supposedly gone, buying a person with dark skin was a joking matter. He never thought twice about using the racial slur.

And I don’t know where to go after that. Because I know there’s a part of my words that are purely a confession—I was taught hate by one of the people I love most. I was taught to be racist as a byproduct of the culture I grew up in, even as Black History month and Martin Luther King Day were part of my education.  

All I have is confession: I confess that racism is beyond me, beyond Michael Brown, beyond Eric Garner, and beyond Shawn Brown—the little boy I used to babysit, the first young man I saw lectured about the penalties he would face if he screwed up while being black. In my tradition, it is Advent, a season of repentance as we await the Christ child. We read the words of the prophet Isaiah during this time, so I offer his words about when God’s reign finally comes, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks…neither shall they learn war any more.” I confess, I pray to God may it one day be so.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Specific Sort of Christian: A Response to That Pastor

A pastor in my neck of the woods has made headlines this week for a sermon in which he said that the solution to AIDS was to kill all gay people. The epidemic would be solved by Christmas that way. I won't link to the news stories or to his church's website. The media attention has already amplified his feeble voice too much. Google if you must. Chances are, you've heard this sort of thing before. You might even have run away from church because of it.

My first instinct is to play the whole "Not that kind of Christian game." And I'm not that kind of Christian. But as much as I prefer saying what I'm not to what I am, especially when it comes to churchy things, here's a quick shot at saying what kind of Christian I am--or at least hope to be--, and what sort of Christian I believe we are called to be.

We should be engaged in the world. Intellectual curiosity, study of all sorts, people of all sorts, places of all sorts should be part of our lives. Ignorance is a far greater sin in many churches than we often admit.  Ask questions. Keep asking until you get an answer. Seek out balanced sources; this applies to news and theology. Insulation and isolation are both dangerous and manipulative. Need some Jesus proof? Why do you think he talked with the (Samaritan) woman at the well? Or went to Zacchaeus' house for dinner? Or told the parable of the good Samaritan? Why do you think the apostles traveled to all the different places preaching the Gospel? Why do you think the Ethiopian man with whom Phillip spoke was such a big deal? Christians are called to be engaged in our world. Coincidentally, that also means don't get to be afraid.

Our mission should be productive and turn us outward. In other words, what we do as church should make us worry less about ourselves and our own lives. We should be able to name something or show something we've done that makes a difference in the world right now. Jesus fed hungry people and healed sick people. When he forgave the sins of the paralyzed man, other people became angry because they questioned his authority. So Jesus forgave the man's sins and healed him. Yes, there are many intangible things that come with church, but you better believe we are called to do the tangible ones as well.

God's voice matters more than ours. This one gets a little tricky. Churches and pastors are absolutely called to speak on God's behalf. But God moves and acts beyond us, not limited to us. I firmly believe that we study the Bible and share in church to learn the characteristics of God so that when God speaks to us, we will know it's God and listen. If we can't confess God's authority beyond our own, then we're doing something wrong. God speaks and moves in ways that are unsettling and maddening and life-giving. At least once in your life of faith, you should have a moment when you realize you've been getting something all wrong and realize following God means doing it differently. That's the story of pretty much anyone in the Bible who decided to follow Jesus. The biggest mistake we've made is thinking that's a one time thing. It happens over and over again, usually inconveniencing us in major ways. God's funny like that.

That's who and what I believe we are called to be as Christians. It's not everything, but it's a good start. For me, it's a litmus test. And finally, just for the record, the Church should be involved in the fight against AIDS--through things like providing healthcare, supporting research, helping educate people about transmission, distributing condoms, and refusing to be afraid of people with HIV and AIDS. That's a start at least.