February 26, 2023 ~ First Sunday in Lent
The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas is the dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She is the Canon Theologian at the Washington National Cathedral. She, as a black queer woman, is considered to be a leader in the fields of womanist theology, racial reconciliation, and sexuality in the Black Church. She is an award winning and powerful author, and has written the book upon which this Lenten Series is based: Resurrection Hope.
Yet, in sharp contrast to all of that success, Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas states that as the mother of a six-foot-tall, loc-wearing, 27 year old Black man, she fears for his life as she realizes the gravity of this country’s “sin” that is a mortal threat to all Black life. That contrast has been marked poignantly following countless slayings of persons of color, and as he asks his mother, “How do we really know that God cares when Black people are still getting killed? How long do we have to wait for the justice of God?”
The Buffalo 10….and you know the list goes on.
Speaking of sharp contrast, were you listening to our scripture texts for today? From Luke’s gospel we hear Jesus telling the listeners that he came not to bring peace to the earth, but rather division! Yet, from John’s gospel we hear that Jesus is teaching about loving one another, as God has loved us. On the surface, one would think that these two passages carry contrasting, even contradictory messages. Did Jesus come to love us, to divide us, to unite us, or to bring justice at any cost? The answer: Yes, yes, yes, and yes! This life of faith in Jesus is messy. It’s hard. It may cost us some relationships, and institute other new relationships. What’s it all about? It is about God’s intention for relationships based on love, faith, and God’s justice. And those relationships do not demean, abuse, malign, or oppress. These relationships are based on love, respect, hope, integrity, and seeing in each other the beauty of God’s creation. Living within faith-based relationships does not leave room for the “isms” of the negative narrative of human relationships. During this year’s Lenten Journey we will specifically address RACISM.
The UM Book of Discipline states, 2016 Book of Discipline, Social Principles ¶162.A A) Rights of Racial and Ethnic Persons
Racism is the combination of the power to dominate by one race over other races and a value system that assumes that the dominant race is innately superior to the others. Racism includes both personal and institutional racism. Personal racism is manifested through the individual expressions, attitudes, and/or behaviors that accept the assumptions of a racist value system and that maintain the benefits of this system. Institutional racism is the established social pattern that supports implicitly or explicitly the racist value system. Racism, manifested as sin, plagues and hinders our relationship with Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the gospel itself. In many cultures white persons are granted unearned privileges and benefits that are denied to persons of color. We oppose the creation of a racial hierarchy in any culture. Racism breeds racial discrimination. We define racial discrimination as the disparate treatment and lack of full access and equity in resources, opportunities, and participation in the Church and in society based on race or ethnicity.
Therefore, we recognize racism as sin and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons. We rejoice in the gifts that particular ethnic histories and cultures bring to our total life. We commit as the Church to move beyond symbolic expressions and representative models that do not challenge unjust systems of power and access.
How then do we turn generations of racism around in order to live according to God’s calling and God’s will? Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas proposes powerful concepts for us to ponder and perhaps adopt for our own lives.
First, following Jesus’ command, “Love One Another.” This was the last instruction that Jesus gave to the disciples at the Last Supper. It is interesting to note the similarity between the culture of Jesus that time and ours. Both are marked by violence, injustice, and inequality. We are asked, “What does loving one another look like?” It is life-giving! We are created and infused with breath by our Divine Creator. That makes us sacred. “And so it is,” she says, “to be life-giving means to honor the very breath of life of every living creature.” She goes on to say, “There is nothing that takes my breath away more than seeing another human being humiliated, belittled, put down, degraded, or destroyed.” How many times now have we heard the dying words of a sibling cry out, “I can’t breathe!?!” Take a deep breath now and commit with that breath to protect the sacred breath of others and to be life-giving in all times and places.
Second, be “Other Oriented.” This means that we are called to cross the human constructed borders that would divide us, separate us, and alienate us from one another. Dr. Douglas asks us to consider the potential for connection and understanding across difference if the same energy, imagination and money that are applied to constructing borders could be devoted to the building of pathways, and bringing those who have been “othered” into relationship. She states, “It is only when we dare to cross the borders of our living and find ways to engage with those that our society has ‘othered’ …then we discover – guess what – they are just like us!”
Third, be “Value Oriented.” We are challenged to live in these times NOT according to the values of this world, but rather with the values of our God. Sometimes we are confused by the way the world operates; we are misguided by the powerful ones; we are slow to learn about how we have disrespected others. Keep growing in your relationship with God, and your relationships with humans and all of creation will grow as well.
And fourth, be “Expectant Visionaries.” Look to the future, both earthly and eschatological. And when we say the Lord’s Prayer together, EXPECT that God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven! Catch a glimpse of the future where divine justice prevails, with a reversal of power, penalty and privilege, and then be an active part of making that happen. Take on a posture of positive expectation. “Just because the world’s sense of justice is one that does violence to the bodies and lives of persons because of their color, their look, their language or their lovers, does NOT mean that we have to. To be expectant visionaries means nothing less than living into the expectations of God’s [realm], the expectations of God’s love.”
However hard it may be, however different it might make one, show that love triumphs. The only way to be life-giving, other-oriented, value-oriented, expectant visionaries is to love one another as God loves. May it be so!