Monday, December 29, 2014

Good Riddance 2014

Ephesians 1:3-14    (NRSV)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Christmas in Ferguson

I don't know about you --- but I cannot imagine what Christmas was like in Ferguson --- Or New York for that matter.

But what I do know, is that when I went home following the 11pm service on Christmas Eve --- and as I sat on our couch looking at the Christmas tree I thought of both places.
Trying to find peace in my own heart

My mind kept focusing on those who feel disenfranchised --- often, systemically by our society --- which is what Ferguson has come to mean to me.

But my mind kept battling with the dichotomy of the events that have taken place in New York these last days.
First, the death of Eric Garner

Followed by the murders of two innocent police officers

What has really ripped me apart is way we have responded to these events.

A couple of things have really gotten to me

1)       Our lack of sensitivity for people
We seem to believe that everybody experiences life like we do

That everybody has the same opportunities that we do

And failure to live like us --- means that they are thugs, lazy, you can fill in the word you wish

Part of the reason we believe that is that at some core level we thing the world revolves around us (personally)

2)       The lack of willingness to suggest that anybody but the police officer is correct.

I am not suggesting that police are bad people.

Rather, just the opposite, I believe that police officers have one of the most challenging jobs and that we need to stand beside them.

HOWEVER, they need to not pretend that they don’t make any mistakes.
Just like we have struggled to who clergy responsible for their pedophilia, we need to hold our police officers accountable for their actions.

The police departments response in New York at the funeral of Officer Rafael Ramos is just plain wrong. 
By turning their backs on Mayor de Blasio, they made a statement that they are above reproach --- above accountability.

They certainly have the right to voice their complaints that people were allowed to peacefully protest and that the Mayor allowed that to happen.
But, so do the people who wished to protest peacefully

That is what makes our system of government great
          That we can disagree with one another --- without threat

If it was the other way around --- how would we respond?

The biggest problem --- sin, if you will, is what we might call White Exceptionalism

The problem is, that for many of us --- for many Anglo's we believe that: If the situation were reversed, we wouldn't act like that.

This is not just about riots or even black anger --- although we can't rule that out.

What I am talking about is a deeply held --- you might even say a sub-conscious belief that we would have never let ourselves be enslaved in the first place, and if we had, we would have outsmarted our black captors and liberated ourselves.

If the rolls had been reversed --- there would have not been Jim Crow laws, or lynching's or even deteriorating ghettos in urban cities.

The truth is --- most white folk just can't imagine themselves in the shoes of black people --- and the reason being that we find it inconceivable that whites would have ever been so oppressed in the first place.

Think about how insidious this is. 

It suggests that human beings do not react to the same situations in the same way no matter what their race;
that black people react in a black way and white people react in a white way. 

I think this is where the disconnect between the races really happens.

Blacks quite naturally think: "You would feel exactly as we do in the same circumstances." 

And it bounces right back off the Teflon wall of white arrogance.
"No, we wouldn't," is the unspoken response.
"We're different than you are. We would never have found ourselves in the same situation."

Eric Garner pleaded 11 times: "I can't breathe."
          Eleven times his pleas were ignored. 
That deafness does not belong to that officer alone.

It is the mass deafness of our white culture to acknowledge black humanity as equal to our own.

There was a powerful article written by two Master of Divinity students at Union Theological Seminary.

It shared their experiences at a protest in New York City

This is what they wrote:
On Friday night, we participated in a peaceful protest march calling for change. Together we lay in Macy's, in Grand Central, and on the wet, cold ground of Bryant Park. Together we marched through the streets of our city, demanding that justice be served against those sworn to protect and serve when they so egregiously violate this promise. The march ended on the FDR when we stood together, arm-in-arm, as riot police charged.

We linked arms to show that neither of us stood alone. We linked our arms to show our solidarity in the fight against injustice, police brutality and the slaying of black bodies. We loudly proclaimed that black lives matter.

But then their story takes an interesting twist.

As a line of riot cops approached, two officers broke off and headed directly toward us. Both of them went after the black one of us, Shawn, forcefully ripping us apart. A few seconds later an officer grabbed Ben, the white one of us, and threw him to the ground.

Then the officer leaned over and whispered in Ben's ear, "Just get out of here."

No such offer was made to Shawn. Ben stood up, suddenly and bewilderingly free, and saw Shawn being dragged off towards the police vans.

The story goes on, but I think you know where I am going with this

They found that while:
Justice may be blind, but the officers who enforce it are most certainly not.

My biggest frustration was when I tried to engage some of the United Methodist Churches in our area, to at least dialog about what was going on --- but at the end of the day --- everyone was too busy with Christmas preparations to deal with the pain and injustice that is going on around us --- but not effecting us personally.
          White churches
          Black churches
                   It didn't matter

I am not even going to talk about the Torture report that was released earlier this month.

OK, I will say this --- I don't think it is possible to be a follower of Jesus and condone torturing anybody.

Jesus would tell us --- the end NEVER justifies the means.

Wrong is wrong!

But not only was 2014 a frustration for me from a social level --- it was also extremely frustrating spiritually.
Because in case you have never noticed --- I can’t separate the two

For the first time in 30 years of ministry ---- I was ready to move on and do something else.

I am sure my physical issues played a huge part in it
·         Vertigo last winter
·         Herniated disk this fall

Dealing with these physical issues made me really question . . . is this what I am supposed to be doing.

While Ferguson, New York, Cleveland and now Milwaukee have all torn at my soul --- I feel like I am standing all alone on an island.

Nobody seems to care

I fell prey to believing that I could not do anything --- that I could not make a difference.

Alice Walker once said:
"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any."

I understand that, because that is exactly what I did.
          That is what I am struggling with

I became convinced that I was unable to effect change in the world --- and when that happens --- one is in deep trouble.

I am doing my best to avoid the regret of the Anglican Bishop that I quoted from on the cover of your bulletin:
When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country.
But it, too, seemed immovable.
As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it.
And now, as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realize: If I had only changed myself first, then by example I would have changed my family.
From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country, and who knows, I may have even changed the world.”

I can only change me

And I refuse to go back and ignore the injustices of the world.

Call me naïve if you wish --- I don’t mind

One of the challenges for me --- is figuring out how God wants me to spend the rest of my life.

I say good-bye to my complacent self --- the one who believes that I am different from my black brothers and sisters --- the one who thinks they are BETTER than my Palestinian and Afghani neighbors

Good riddance to the past --- and hello to an uncertain future.

Let me close with these words from Mother Teresa --- because this I do believe!

There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. Then suddenly the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

No comments: