What’s the worst thing that has happened to you when you claimed to be a Christian? I don’t know about you, but I’m almost ashamed to say that I’ve gotten off pretty easily. I have been dismissed and ignored for being Christian. I have been patronized–”Oh, how nice.” I’ve been in some rather uncomfortable conversations, mainly with people who don’t know me but who assume they know what it means to be a Christian– “How can you believe that stuff?” or “Look at all the hateful things that have been done in Christ’s name!” I’ve been confronted with “calendar disbelief” – “Oh, you mean you can’t come to our event/brunch/game on Sunday morning?” All pretty mild stuff.
Honestly, I think the worst thing that has happened to me when I’ve “claimed” to be a Christian is being associated with “those people” who also claim to be Christian but who believe and act in ways that are abhorrent to me–people who claim to love Jesus but who clearly hate their neighbor, especially if that neighbor happens to be Muslim, or Jewish, or LGBTQ, or has dark skin, or comes from a different country, or who knows what other offending characteristic. I hate it when people assume I must be like that since I’m Christian, but I also know that my disdain or dismissal or even hatred of people whose beliefs are so different from mine makes me exactly like them–putting up walls, instead of building bridges.
Walls seem to be the go–to solution these days for dealing with people we don’t like or disagree with or are afraid of–the wall that is supposed to be built–or completed–between the United States and Mexico, the wall that runs through communities in Israel to separate Israelis from Palestinians, the Berlin Wall, which, of course, was torn down. But walls don’t have to be made of bricks and steel and cement–we put up walls between ourselves and others whom we don’t want to deal with or don’t want to have to see or maybe can’t deal with right now. Walls of silence or avoidance, walls of distance, walls of privilege, walls of income, walls of ignorance, walls of prejudice.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” Robert Frost wrote, “that sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, and spills the upper boulders in the sun; and makes gaps even two can pass abreast.” (“The Mending Wall”) Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.
“When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.
Luke says Jesus was talking about the end time, the coming time of wars and insur-rections, of upheaval and dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. Coming times of betrayal and arrest. “You will be brought before kings and governors because of my name,” he said. When you claim to follow me, this is what will happen, he said. And then this– “This will give you an opportunity to testify.”
I do not need to tell you that we are living in a time of great upheaval and great uncertainty. This election has revealed the vast fissures and wounds in our nation, and the walls and even foundations of our governmental and political institutions are shaking. As I said last week, it may even ultimately prove to be a helpful, though brutal, revealing of not only the divisions and wounds but also the racism, misogyny, homophobia, classism, fear of strangers, and arrogance that underlies too much of our culture.
But to suggest that this unveiling may be helpful is not to deny that for so many of our neighbors and fellow citizens, some of whom are part of our church family, what has been unleashed is a toxic, dangerous stew of acts of violence and hatred directed against them because of who they are, what they look like, where they’ve come from, who they love.
One woman posted on Facebook:
People with all the privileges keep saying: “It’ll be OK. It is what it is now. Oh well, better luck in 4 years. They joke about moving to Canada. He’s our President, now it’s time to accept it. All my friends without those same privileges worry– Will my marriage stay legal? Are we safe? What’s going to happen to my healthcare? Are we safe? Will my trans child be safe @ school? Will this increase the militarization of the police in my predominantly black neighborhood? Are we safe? Will Roe vs. Wade be overturned? [Will my child’s asthma get worse because of the coal-fired plat in our neighborhood? Am I safe?” [Saundra M. Troy-Ward]
Swastikas painted on school buildings, hateful graffiti and messages written on cars, beatings and bloodyings, even a rash of suicides out of fear and despair. This is not the greatness of America, and this is not the Christian witness that Jesus and his god are calling us to. Glennon Doyle Melton said that the Jesus of the Gospels went around asking two questions–”Who is power forgetting?” and “Who is religion oppressing?” and then Jesus would seek those people out and sit down to a meal with them. [FB, 11/11/16] We need to seek those people out, sit down with the, stand beside them.
“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth,” God says through the prophet Isaiah, at the end of the exile. “The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating….” Can we believe this? Can we trust in this vision and make it the vision for our lives? Newness coming out of devastation? Is this not the central claim of the Christian faith? “They tried to bury us, but they forgot we were seeds,” says a Mexican resistance proverb. We are seeds, seeds of the kin-dom of God, planted where we are and in who we are.
“Perhaps it is for just such a time as this,” Queen Esther’s uncle Mordecai said to her when the Jews were in peril in her husband’s kingdom–”Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” You can make a difference there in the palace, he said,you can use your creativity and courage to expose those who intend harm to God’s people, and thus you can help to save God’s people.”
Perhaps it is for just such a time as ours that we have been put here, to live out our true Christian identity, that we can stand alongside those who are targeted for hate or prejudice and say, “That is not who we are.” Perhaps it is for just such a time as this that we can model radical hospitality and inclusivity in our homes, in our church, in our places of work and study. Perhaps it is for just such a time as this that we will be given “an opportunity to testify,” as Jesus told his disciples, to speak out for who we believe God is and what God is about, what the really good news is.
“United in Spirit, inspired by God’s grace, we love all, welcome all, and seek justice for all.” That’s the Mission statement of the United Church of Christ–to the point, easy to remember (if you can remember anything), and able to be spoken in the time it takes the doors on an elevator to close. “United in Spirit, inspired by God’s grace, we love all, welcome all, and seek justice for all.” An opportunity to testify.
After the vote to leave the European Union, a rash of violence broke out in England, just as it has here since the election, targeting immigrants, people of color, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community. So many people began to wear safety pins on their clothes, a sign that people who felt afraid could count on them, could turn to them for safety. It has been suggested that we take up that movement as well–wear safety pins on our clothes to signal that we offer a safe space, an offering of protection and solidarity, to anyone who feels threatened by hatred or prejudice. I invite you to join me in wearing one.
Molly Baskette, pastor of the Berkeley, CA UCC church, wrote that this is what she means when wears her safety pin–
If you wear a hijab, I’ll sit with you on the train. If you’re trans, I’ll go to the bathroom with you. If you’re a person of color, I’ll stand with you if the cops stop you. If you’re a person with disabilities, I’ll hand you my megaphone. If you’re an immigrant, I’ll help you find resources. If you’re a survivor, I’ll believe you. If you’re a refugee, I’ll make sure you’re welcome. If you’re a veteran, I’ll take up your fight. If you’re LGBTQ, I’ll remind you that you beautiful and beloved, just as God made you. If you’re a woman, I’ll make sure you get home OK. If you’re tired, me too. If you need a hug I’ve got an infinite supply. If you need me, I’ll be with you. All I ask is that you be with me too. Together, we’ll be the strong arm of God. [FB]
Even if no one comes to you asking for help, it will serve as a prompt, a reminder to you to be on the lookout for people who might feel threatened, who might need a friend. It might give you an opportunity to engage in conversation when somebody asks you why you’re wearing a safety pin and to share what your vision of our country is, what kind of community you want to live in, what kind of person you want to be. And of course, we must teach our children to be safe presences for others, to watch out for kids who are not feeling safe.
“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,” Isaiah says. “The lion shall eat straw like the ox.” We are going to have to do things that will make us uncomfortable. How does the lamb feel eating next to the wolf, or the lion feel about eating straw? This may test our mettle. We may even find ourselves in actual danger, but “safety” in that sense was never guaranteed to us when we set out follow Jesus–I’d like to say, “Obviously,” but too often we forget where the path of Jesus took him. Perhaps we will have the opportunity not only to “testify” but to help someone who has succumbed to hatred or fear or prejudice to rediscover the light within themselves, to get in touch with their better nature in the presence of our own calmness and courage.
This will require practice, my friends, and I know you’ve heard me talk about practicing before. Pray always and everywhere, for everyone. “Prayer moistens the heart for hope and journeying on through it all,” Kirk Byron Jones says. “Amid the personal and social fallout, protect your soul. Take moments to rest in the storm. Rest leads to peace. Peace leads to clarity, Clarity leads to creativity.” [FB] Do not give them your hate, as the Parisian man whose wife was killed in the ISIS attacks on the Bataclan–”I will not give you my hatred.” Don’t lose sight that the world is indeed wonderful and full of wonder. Join regularly in and support this community of faith that reminds us who we are and Whose we are, through music, praise, prayer, and acts and witness of justice and earth advocacy. Reaffirm to yourself every day that you are beloved, a precious child of God, beautiful to behold.
Even now, God is creating new heavens and a new earth. Even now, God is tearing down and building up, dismantling walls and building bridges. So, “rise up, sweet people,” as the call to Progressive Christians went out. [Cameron Trimble of the Center for Progressive Renewal] “You are stronger and braver than you know. Now we will prove that to each other. Rise up…For the sake of the people we are, for the sake of the people we love and the planet we live within.” [convergence.org] It is for just such a time as this that we were made.
May it be so.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark