Saturday, November 29, 2014

553 Miles North, 8 Hours 45 Minutes From This Address: St. Paul to Ferguson

I have spent days, and if I am to be honest, weeks and months, wondering what I can say.  What I can offer as a white woman living in Minneapolis, serving a largely white congregation?  There are hints of a conversation around the edges, as we quietly discuss the need for our community to have conversations around the issues of race, of privilege, of class.  To discuss what it means to be St. Clement’s, a church in the midst of a gentrified neighborhood, on the edge of the African American community that was carved apart by a highway to ease the movement of suburbanites into the city centers.  

What can I say? I’m not from here, nor have I been here very long.  The temptation is to remain silent.  But then I hear from friends with black and brown bodies--friends immersed in community organizing, friends who get deeply and most profoundly what it means to be black in America, because they ARE black in America.  They insist upon the importance of people who look like us being in solidarity with people who look like them.  The call has been clear--speak up.  Or as a colleague puts it...”no matter where you are, the scripture today speaks to Ferguson”.

These friends aren’t just referring to the big and splashy headlines but to micro-aggressions, the 100s of little acts of violence that happen every day, and to the systematic inequalities that continue to disenfranchise the already disenfranchised.

There is my friend who left work and was asked by the uber driver picking her up if she was a janitor or security guard--when in fact she is a program manager.  My friend Karen who has to deal with the reality that the conversation she has with her children about race becomes a conversation about how not to be killed by those charged to protect.  The teenagers, like those I worked with in Cleveland, who have had to grapple with the truth that there are people who see their bodies, by virtue of the color of their skin, as weapons.  

Suddenly, youthful indiscretion is criminalized without possibility for reconciliation or redemption

I begin to understand the conversation I overheard as a child in Hawaii, when my Pilipino/Portuguese Uncle Junior spoke of his time on the mainland and how hard it was because people thought he was black.  How people treated him differently, how he encountered the reality of racism, and how painful that reality was.  

This world is broken people.  And we have no choice but to speak.  I have said repeatedly that we are a post-resurrection people called to the work of reconciliation.  If the world is broken, if we are to be Christians within it, we must do the hard and painful and inglorious task of repairing what we have broken.  

In many ways, this call to reconciliation and restoration is what I hear when the Gospel mandates that we are to “stay awake” as we prepare for the kingdom of God.  To stay awake, keeping our eyes open and feet moving in our efforts to not only prepare a place but create the new creation to which we are being called.  

I find myself tempted to say, “But, I didn’t break it, so it’s not my job to fix it!”  I want to deny my part in all of this, but today isn’t about what I want and the Gospel is clear that we cannot go back to sleep.  

Our liturgy each week is shaped for this work of transformation--this work of awakening.  

And, this week I am struck once again by the confession found in the supplemental liturgical text, “Enriching Our Worship” which asks us to confess to those things “done on our behalf”.  So, even if we weren’t the ones who broke it, we must repent of a system that has institutionalized the marginalization and subjugation of others and in doing so, has done it for the advantage of the privileged.  Who benefited when 94 tore up Old Rondo?  Who benefits when gracious old Victorians are restored to former glory?  Who benefits when the practice of open enrollment becomes defacto segregation?  

Recently, the bridge on Lowry Avenue in Minneapolis was repaired--the bridge which connects Northeast Minneapolis to North. I remember the conversations that swirled through the air as good and kind people discussed their concerns that the reopening of the bridge would open up a conduit for crime.  That what pollutes North would flow like some miasma across the river and poison our own community.  

This is messed up.  Can you see how messed up this is?  Can you see how the brokenness in this world keeps us from being the people God intends us to be?  

In 1997, actor Desi Arnaz Giles, who in an interview noted that his mother loved Lucy, was cast as Jesus in the Park Theater Performing Arts Center’s production of an annual Passion Play.  

Almost immediately, he started receiving death threats and the ticket cancellations rolled in.  

The sacrilege which he was accused of?

The heresy which invoked such passion?

Being black.  

"I've led a complete life," Giles said Tuesday. "Should somebody clip me during a performance, don't cry for me, just rejoice because I'm ready to go home."

Ready to go home.  When we talk about martyrdom, when we talk about suffering, when we talk about the burden borne by the crucified Christ...

Who better to portray Jesus than someone who knows the burden of suffering, who has carried the weight of our nation’s brokenness, who understands in his heart of hearts what it means to be persecuted for Christ’s sake?

When, I read the story of Desi Arnez Giles the news articles from 18 years ago all noted that the weekend following his portrayal of Jesus, Desi was cast as the devil in a musical.

No one protested that.  And, when I read the grand jury testimony out of St. Louis, I am struck that the police officer referred to Michael Brown as a “demon”.  

This is sin.  This is brokenness.  When anyone in this world can look upon another child of God, a creature of God’s own making, the work of God’s hand and proclaim them as anything less than beloved--we all find ourselves falling short of God’s call to justice, to love, to grace, to renewal and to reconciliation.

The prophet Isaiah speaks, “You are the potter; we are all the work of your hand...consider we are all your people”

We are all your people.  And this Advent, as we prepare for God incarnate, God in the flesh, fully human and fully divine.

We would be wise to consider that being made in God’s image is not restrictive but expansive.  

Jesus as a woman, Jesus as black, Jesus as indigenous, Jesus as gay, Jesus as white, Jesus as Palestinian, Jesus as man, Jesus as lesbian, Jesus as transgender, Jesus as poor, Jesus as rich, Jesus as baby, Jesus as grown, Jesus as millenial, Jesus as boomer, Jesus as Xer, Jesus as disabled

Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers, Jesus healing a child, Jesus protesting, Jesus proclaiming, Jesus weeping, Jesus calling, Jesus demanding, Jesus comforting...

You can’t be what you can’t see...and if we can’t see God incarnate throughout the breadth of diversity of what it is to be human we deny the full humanity of God AND the full humanity and beloved-ness of each of God’s children.  

And, in case you think I’ve given myself over to heresy.

Remember your baptismal promise

“Seek and serve Christ in all persons”  Christ in ALL persons.  We don’t get to pick or choose how Christ is made manifest in the world--we must live into our calling to see Christ in every person in the world.  

And, this Advent I call us to remember the baby we long for.

And, mourn the baby who will be crucified.

I call us to lament what has been destroyed

And to hope for what has been promised.  

I call us to implore the God of love to break into this broken world, and as the prophet Isaiah spoke:

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence...we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

I call us to remember the promise of love.

I call us to participate in God’s act of redemption.

I call us to heed the voices of the oppressed.  

I call us to act.

I call us to pray.

I call us to learn.

I call us to be the people that see the baby’s promise.  


If you want to learn and read more--these links back up the references I’ve made in this sermon to societal systems that have led to the perpetuation of racial inequity in our communities; they call us to act; and they give us suggestions as to how we might do so within our context as Episcopalians.

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