Monday, July 13, 2015
A number of years ago, Krista Tippett interviewed Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In the course of that conversation, he said: I think… that we have very gravely underestimated the damage that apartheid inflicted on all of us. You know, the damage to our psyches, the damage that has made – I mean, it shocked me. I went to Nigeria when I was working for the World Council of Churches, and I was due to fly to Jos. And so I go to Lagos airport and I get onto the plane and the two pilots in the cockpit are both black. And whee, I just grew inches. You know, it was fantastic because we had been told that blacks can’t do this….And we have a smooth takeoff and then we hit the mother and father of turbulence. I mean, it was quite awful, scary. Do you know, I can’t believe it but the first thought that came to my mind was, “Hey, there’s no white men in that cockpit. Are those blacks going to be able to make it?”And of course, they obviously made it – here I am. But the thing is, I had not known that I was damaged to the extent of thinking that somehow actually what those white people who had kept drumming into us in South Africa about our being inferior, about our being incapable, it had lodged some way in me.
Recent events in Charleston, the tragic loss of life in a bible study/prayer meeting of all places, stunning courtroom expressions of forgiveness by those most deeply injured, a subsequent national conversation about the flag have brought to mind the ways we are all actors in this drama about race. It has occurred to me that it is a matter for Monday matters, which focuses on the ways we put faith to work in the world. If spiritual growth is about greater love of God and neighbor, Lord knows we have growth opportunities.
I confess that a part of me has looked at the debate over the Confederate flag with a measure of smugness, perhaps self-righteousness. Will those people finally get it right? I would never have done that. That’s when I remembered this confession of Desmond Tutu, as he notes the insidious, pervasive effects of racism which infect us all: “It has lodged some way in me.” I recalled leaders of the church of my childhood who knew the Bible better than I ever will whose racist remarks are seared in my memory. I remember my own child, only a couple years old, who asked if you had to be black to be a garbage man. He liked the truck and in the affluent New England town in which we lived, the only time he saw black people was when the truck came by. I think of the elderly, progressive Episcopalian who confessed in 2008 that she simply couldn’t imagine an African American first lady.
In a related dynamic, I think of our beloved Prayer Book which includes the prayer of St. John of Chrysostom. Every time I hear that prayer in the Daily Office, it is tainted for me by the hateful anti-Semitism that was part of St. John’s world view. Martin Luther shaped my thinking about faith and grace in many ways, yet there was little grace in the ways he spoke about Jewish brothers and sisters. It was Martin Luther who noted that we are saints and sinners at the same time. He got that right, though I doubt it’s a 50/50 split. I think of my own attitudes, too shameful to describe in detail in this email, judgmental thoughts that cross my mind. Unattractive, dismissive, even hateful thoughts that seemingly instinctively to surface, aimed at people of different race, class, gender, lifestyle, people of different origin or opinion or political affiliation. Bless you if you live free from these thoughts. Tell me how you got that way.
I don’t pretend to understand fully what original sin means, or how it happens. I’m not convinced traditional presentations of the doctrine have it right. But I do believe we are all caught in powers greater than ourselves, powers that keep us from seeing Christ in all persons, that keep us from respecting the dignity of every human being, powers that have damaged us, powers lodged in each one of us. Heaven help us, we learned last week ,as Harper Lee’s second book is released, that even Atticus Finch was a bigot.
Is help available? As St. Paul asks in Romans 7, who will deliver us? His answer: Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, who came to save us from ourselves, who not only modeled inclusivity and grace, but empowers us to live out those qualities. Jesus, who spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well, who made the Good Samaritan the hero of his parable, who called us to love not only friends but enemies and opponents, who gives the kind of grace in evidence in the families of Charleston victims, grace that declares that love wins.
– Jay Sidebotham
From the Sermon on Mount, Matthew 5-7:
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye?You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.
From Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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