You who fear the LORD, praise him!Psalm 22:23-31
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the LORD.
May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.
Where God is concerned, all is a prominent and primary word. All flesh, all the world, all who sleep, all the families, all the nations, all who live; these are a glimpse of God’s view and vision for the world. All people are valuable in the sight of God. For us? Not so much. This is one of our greatest challenges and opportunities: to create the kind of beloved community that reflects God’s will and plan for humanity. Yes, there are differences. Yes, there are disagreements and divisions. But the grace and love of God is greater than anything we can come up with to create division and disunity.
The Council of Bishops has been reflecting on work done by lawyer and social justice activist, Bryan Stevenson, who offers a powerful vision in a video titled The Power of Proximity (https://youtu.be/1RyAwZIHo4Y). Mr. Stevenson identifies four principles he believes can equip us to dismantle existing systems and policies of racism, and assist us in creating a more inclusive, just, and equitable society for all. Our bishops have responded positively to this message because it parallels, very closely, core Wesleyan principles upon which our denomination is based. For the next four weeks of our Lenten journey, we will explore Bryan Stevenson’s principles and reflect on how they might impact our congregations, our communities, our country, and our world.
The four principles are:
Move toward pain, injury, and harm—it is impossible to address or improve a situation by avoiding it.
Create space for the narratives of integrity and truth while resisting narratives of fear and division/othering—the less we know about others, the less we value them.
Live as people of relentless hope—believe the best about others instead of the worst. Live toward a potential for good rather than an avoidance of assumed bad.
Be willing to be discomforted in order to be faithful witnesses—remember that our discipleship is obedience to God and gospel, not comfort and security. Disciples are sent, often to places they would not ordinarily choose to go!
Physical therapists and personal fitness trainers often encourage counter-intuitive advice: lean into the pain. Why would we want to do this? Most of us do anything we can think of to avoid pain, to relieve pain. Leaning into the pain has very limited appeal to most of us. But what therapists and trainers understand is the wisdom behind the cliché, “no pain, no gain.” To strengthen and repair muscle, to lose weight and increase muscle mass, to improve the function of heart and lungs, requires that we not only tolerate some discomfort but also embrace some necessary pain.
Extending this metaphor beyond the physical to the emotional and spiritual, leaving our comfort zones and opening ourselves to growing self-awareness and empathy with others is painful and at times threatening. Yet, it is only through entering into the lived reality of others that we can escape ignorance and grow in loving acceptance. As we learn, we care more. As we care more, we are more accepting. As our hearts open in care and acceptance, we are able to learn more, creating a personal process for development and transformation. Our Christian scriptures offer us a firm foundation upon which to build: a willingness to share God’s love and to witness to God’s grace to “all the ends of the earth.”
It is too easy to hear the complaints of strangers and to dismiss them or reject them, especially when they confront and challenge our own experience and normative perspective. People from a dominant white group may hear the shouts of “black lives matter,” or “give us our children” from minorities and immigrants and feel defensive walls go up. Why are “they” acting like this? Why do “they” protest or demonstrate or loot? Why don’t “they” settle down and act 11 like “normal” people? If any of these thoughts have ever gone through your mind, I invite you to step back and think about what they really mean.
Every time we think in terms of “we/they” or “us/them,” we are engaging in normativity thinking. Please hear that this is not true only for Caucasian/white people about other races. Ibram X. Kendi points out in How to Be an Antiracist that this is true of every person in a particular racial group making assumptions of the motivations, thinking, and actions of any other racial group. It is a normal, unconscious, function of our human nature. But as with many destructive and unhelpful aspects of our human nature, Christ calls us to rise above and return to the intention and will of God. Together, in Christian community and support, we can become better.
The vision of God’s will cast for us by Jesus and Paul is not “we/they” but “all of us together.” Paul asserts that, through Jesus the Christ, all the dividing walls of hostility and separation have been broken down. Unity, even unity to the point of becoming one body, the incarnate body of Christ, is the intention and expectation of God. This is absolutely impossible if we allow things like skin color, language, cultural mores, and guiding core values to divide us. This does not mean we simply tolerate others, but that we come to accept and value them.
Questions for Conversation
- What activities are you personally, and your church collectively, engaged in that proclaim and model the love of God and the mercy to those in need for all people?
- What are some simple and practical ways that you do or could learn more about people who are different from you?
- Empathy is an essential element of leaning into the pain of others. How can we cultivate a culture of empathy that allows us to truly hear the pain of people who experience bigotry, prejudice, violence, oppression, and intolerance in their lived reality?
Questions for Personal Reflection between Sessions
- What are the ideas, behaviors, words, and beliefs that cause you to take offense?
- What ideas, behaviors, words, and beliefs do you employ that might cause others to take offense?
- When have you experienced judgment, condemnation, prejudice, or misrepresentation in your life? What do you do to make sure you don’t cause others to experience the same?
Closing Prayer (or one of your own):
God of glory, shine your light in us and through us. Infuse our thoughts, our words and beliefs, and our actions with your divine grace, and your transformative love. May we never harm or hurt through what we say, do, and think. Allow us to see others as you see them, and to know others as you know them. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Recommended Resources for Deeper Learning and Understanding:
Book: How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kemdi. A well-presented invitation to become actively anti-racist instead of passively opposing racism.
Film: Eyes on the Prize. Stunning documentary from the perspective of those who lived and fought for civil rights in this country. One of the best examples of “leaning into the pain.
Discussion (Virtual Faithlink Cafe) – Join us at 6PM Wednesday
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