Rector's Ramblings October 11, 2017
The men’s discussion group is currently working (and it is labor, albeit a labor of Christian love) through Drew Hart’s book, “Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism.” (We chose the book before the NFL controversy. We meet at 10:30 on Wednesday mornings if you’d like to join us.) I say it’s a labor of love because while the book is not long, it is challenging, nonetheless. Hart, a theologian, author, and blogger, wrote this book to help Christians understand their role in society as it relates to ongoing racial struggles. Christian churches do not have a spotless record when it comes to racism. Hearing a minority voice express heartache and experience that differs so greatly from our own, can be difficult. While Hart is not directly accusatory, it is hard for white men in the dominant culture to read it and not struggle with defensiveness, or at least it is for this white man.
The chapter we read for this week expressed the need those of us in the majority have to listen, truly listen, to the voices of those who are different. He peppers the chapter with examples through history when the white-dominated culture tended to think things were better for minorities than they really were. At every stage of history, it seems, white folks have been able to say, in the majority, that racial issues weren’t that bad. As time passes, we then look back and admit they weren’t good after all. White leaders, despite the voices of black persons decrying the injustice, for example, largely favored decisions around slavery and segregation at the time. Many decades later we realize that the minority voices were right all along. Which raises the issue that continues today when majority voices want to discount the validity of the experiences of the minority and their attempts to express them, if there is even a willingness to listen in the first place.
Again, the book isn’t out to suggest that we’re all conscious racists, but does illuminate some of the realties that lead us to recognize racism in our midst, nonetheless. The prescription in this chapter is to learn to see the world “from below”, from those on the fringes and in the minority. This is, Hart points out, the approach Jesus took when he identified with the poor and marginalized. Discipleship, he says, the practice of becoming more Christ-like as his followers, is one of the keys to finding a way forward. It means working at understanding the experiences and culture of the minority, and not automatically discounting it because our gut tells us something different. The collective “gut” does not have the best track record, historically speaking.
This revelation about the need to learn and understand is not new to me. It is the conclusion I came to earlier this year when I discovered that there were groups of persons in this country that I did not completely understand. I have been, as I wrote that I would some months ago, reading about the experiences of different groups, and it has been interesting, informative, and humbling. I have learned that deep, honest relationships are the key to my continued enlightenment and my own discernment about how I can be helpful in seeking the reconciliation between groups that our church’s mission calls upon us to pursue.
This is also at the heart of a trip to the Holy Land that I am helping organize for June 2019, along with Rabbi Bregman at Temple Beth Tefilloh, and Pastor Dyer at Saint Simons Presbyterian. We have worked with an organization called Medji Tours to put together a trip designed to give us a chance, not only to see sacred sites, but also to understand the ongoing stories of Christians, Jews, and Muslims, as we share the sites and the histories we tell about them. It is a recognition that the Christian perspective is not the only one – clearly, given the problems we see in Jerusalem. Medji’s mission is to help foster peace through tourism, allowing pilgrims to understand the diversity of cultural, religious, political, and ethnic narratives of the region. Medji’s founder, a Palestinian who once hated Israelis, discovered through relationships that his hatred and fear was not the proper vantage point from which to view his neighbors and his community. He formed this tour company to help foster the kind of insights he had as a young man. The trip is more than site-seeing; it also involves getting to know a broad swath of people and learning their stories. For example, each tour is led by a pair of tour guides, one Israeli, and the other Palestinian.
I am excited for this trip and hope that it will help me understand my own faith tradition, and also the wider story of the region that continues to influence our modern world. Our hope for the trip is that after we return, we can work to continue building understanding right here in our own community. The full trip details and a website outlining the trip will be available very soon, but for those of you who are curious, it will be a ten-day trip to the Holy Land, with an optional four-day extension in Jordan. It will be open for up to fifty people to join us on the trip, initially open to members of our three congregations and then eventually to anyone who wants to go. If you have initial interest and want to be kept in the loop, let me know and I’ll put you on my list.
In both of these situations, the one right here in our own country around race, and with the one in the Holy Land around race and religion, the way forward is generally the same. It’s about relationship and listening. It’s about learning to see the world from another perspective and being humble enough to set aside our assumptions and biases. In neither case will it be easy work, but it is necessary work, as we look to the future. I hope we can all commit to seeing the world “from below”, as it were, as Jesus saw it; viewing the world with eyes that are not our own. I have no doubt this is part of the reason he often called for “those with eyes to see.” We can all learn to see anew.
O God, who created all peoples in your image, we thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world. Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.