Monday, July 11, 2016
Faith Works 7-16-16
Faith Works 7-16-16
Shadows can be long as the sun rises
Many of us in the preaching role for congregations all across the United States found themselves in a challenging situation last weekend.
Columnists, who often are working weeks in advance, have an out when it comes to timeliness and current events commentary, but when you step into a pulpit and stand before a gathering on a Sunday, there's no avoiding a certain amount of context.
We may have timeless truths we want to address and a sermon series planned weeks or months before, but there are times when the news and circumstance require that we say something about the lived reality of our communities.
No one likes to be pulled over by a car behind us with flashing lights, to see a uniformed officer walking up to our window. It is an uneasy experience at the best.
To the best of my recollection, I've been pulled over five times in almost forty years of driving. Four times I was speeding, three times I've gotten tickets, and once my car was identical in make and model and color to a vehicle that had just been reported as stolen. In each occasion, I remembered what my dad taught me, my driver's ed teacher pounded into our class, and what I've emphasized to my son: hands atop the wheel, don't dig for anything in the glove compartment or back seat until you and officer have a clear understanding and his consent, and it's "Yes, sir/ma'am; no, sir/ma'am" until they tell you it's time to pull back out into traffic, and no matter what their mood seems to be, stay calm and be polite.
And I'm a tall short-haired white guy, as is my son. But when I have a police cruiser ride my tail all the way through a town, as recently happened, I feel nervous, anxious, and it can morph into a certain amount of resentment (cf. note: guy, white, short-haired, etc.). Then I think how this same situation must feel to . . . someone else.
I have a friend and colleague, African American, who has been pulled over many more times in Ohio than I have, yet he has fewer tickets to show for it. He just gets pulled over. He laughs about it, but I hear the edge, and to the extent that I can, I understand it and respect that the edge is not harder, sharper.
And he said something recently that was making me think harder even before these last few parlous weeks in America. He says, that "one of the greatest gifts that I have to offer our largely white/Anglo church is the gift of my blackness.” I think the church has struggled with receiving the uniqueness of the gift of his experience.
Blackness as a gift, especially to a church community that still has not come to grips with some of the outright hate and veiled racism that marks our denominational history right through the twentieth century . . . and still today.
Blackness as a role and a reality that, like being Appalachian or Irish, as a powerful place of seeing in a society that tries not to see you sometimes, needs to be noticed. Just as women and children and single persons can also feel invisible, and find little understanding about that experience in the life of the congregation, so does "Blackness" point us all to a way of seeing events and institutions and yes, faith as a transformative power in this world.
In our denomination, where my colleague is a pastoral leader, we have an ongoing priority and effort built around the twin strains of "anti-racism" and "pro-reconciling" ministries. We have a long way to go, in part because we have not yet taken stock, clearly and honestly, in where it is we're coming from.
And I think we may not find the courage to take an unflinching look at our past without a full measure of the sort of blackness my friend is talking about, that he is living out. It was said online last week "if the church modeled racial unity in Christ, people would be turning to us now for answers. But we don't. So they don't."
Of all the social institutions I know, though, I think we could be the ones to model racial unity. Not to tell others what they're doing wrong, but simply to show them in how we live our common life together how to do it right. And if we do, the curious will come.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him about what you see rightly modeled for just living, and where you've seen it at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.