My beloved siblings in Christ, we have entered the season of Lent, it began this past Wednesday. Lent is a time from early in the history of the church in which we focus on Christ’s sacrifice, preparing our hearts for Holy Week, repenting as Jesus called us to, to prepare for God’s kingdom to come into our lives. We model it after the forty days that Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days being tempted by Satan, literally the tempter. He was alone, with wild animals, the tempter, and angels.
And the Spirit drove him there right after that beautiful moment of baptism in which he heard God’s voice announce so clearly: you are my son my beloved, in whom I find happiness.
Being beloved of God does not mean, there will be no challenges, or an easy spiritual journey. It is not all puppy dogs and rainbows because God loves us. God’s love is there so that we can learn to be completely grounded in it, for the hard times.
There are hard times, wilderness times that we do not choose and are not on any liturgical calendar but that come in our lives. Some have called this pandemic time the Lentiest Lent we ever Lented. We have had to give up so much in this almost full year now.
But this story of Christ in the wilderness, immediately after being told he is God’s beloved son who makes God happy, and before he would begin his own public ministry, shows us that wilderness times help us to deepen and grow in our identity as God’s beloved children. We can find God is with us not just in sky splitting assurance but in small mercies. One author I read this week wonders this week if maybe the angels were winged heavenly creatures, if maybe they were also a brook with cool water to quench Jesus’ thirst, or a moment of eye contact with a deer that gave him peace. In any case there were ways that the message of God came to Jesus in that wilderness time,-remember angel means messenger- to take that identity and that call of God deep within him. She seems to imply that because of how Jesus found God still loving him in the hard places, he was more ready to start his ministry in which would proclaim over and over, God has come near! As if he wanted to be an angel of God’s message to others, in the hard places of their own lives.
So even though we have been forced to take on disciplines and give up much more than we might ever have chosen to, we can still dedicate ourselves to a holy time of turning back around to God. These forty days are about repentance. Turning back around to God.
I announced in the newsletter, and last Wednesday we started, a Lent with an additional invitation of how we might repent together. I gave some examples of the very worst that the culture of racism and white supremacy in our nation that have happened recently. We can refer in shorthand form to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, then January 6. A couple of days ago new instances of random but brutal violence against Asian Americans was on the news, even elderly people just minding their own business. These are not random events of violence they are the fruit of decades and centuries of sinful belief and action, that I am referring to as White Supremacy Culture. There is a conglomeration of attitudes and beliefs and it is all sinful.
There are ways that the culture of white supremacy, the belief even if it is subconscious, that way of thinking and being and doing that are common among white people are superior to the ways of darker skinned and minority populations, that have become very much a fabric of the whole society. I’m going to be talking about some characteristics of this culture each week of Lent. (you can see my newsletter article for the references, too.) The purpose is to lead us all further into acknowledging the real sin around and within us, so that God might transform us with that great love that overcomes sin and death of every kind. In our congregation we have some white people and we have Asian Americans and Filipinos and Latinos and some you know “all of the above.” Calling these things as characteristics of white supremacy does not mean they haven’t been adopted by those who aren’t white- it can be common for this culture to have seeped in to all kinds of groups and persons.
I realize this is some heavy work. But it is work that needs to be done, for the good of all, so I invite you as you are able to join me in this repentance work.
On Ash Wednesday we started with individualism. You can read my sermon from Wednesday on the palmumc.org page under the blog. Today defensiveness is the characteristic to take on.
As part of my seminary training I had an internship at Bethany Lutheran Church in Crystal Lake, Illinois. Crystal Lake was a majority white place, with some some immigrant population that had moved there in the 10 -20 years before I came, but the people I worked with and loved at the congregation ignored that reality almost completely. I had to do a project as an intern and I chose to do my internship project on a discussion group about cross-cultural appreciation called Building Bridges, Tearing Down Walls. This was over 2007-08, Trinity was born during my internship. I told the all white group that came to my discussion group that they might not consider themselves to be racist, but because of the privilege built into our society, they were benefitting from racist systems. Such as, who had been allowed to buy homes in certain places for generations and who was prohibited from doing so; who was seen as more worthy by the color of their skin or their name- the perceived ethnicity in that name- on an application for education or a job. We talked through this at length, in my recollection, as well as other things, and then at the end of the 6 or 8 weeks, we were going to summarize everything we had talked about to present to the larger congregation. They insisted on one thing: we are not going to tell them that everybody who is white is racist, they said, defensively. They’re just not going to be able to accept it.
It’s the number one reaction people have, I’m not racist. An immediate jump to defensiveness. A shell to keep oneself safe from loss. Loss of innocence you might say. Loss of being justified in all the ways that lighter skin gets you places.
But this is Lent. A Time to take on repentance, to confess, which means to drop our defensiveness.
Repenting of comforts that never should have been ours
The antidote to defensiveness according to Jones and Okun has to do with acknowledging fear, fear of loss. To first name it, working on your own defensiveness, and understanding the connection between “defensiveness and fear (of losing power, losing face, losing comfort, losing privilege).”
Rozella Haydée White (rozellahwhite.com) is a consultant, coach, and author who writes about love and healing, including racial healing. On her public facebook page this past June, a few weeks after the murder of George Floyd, Rozella posted an article about white people’s tendency to intellectualize, form book groups, and read in response to racism. Rozella said:
“I don’t want the beloved white people in my life to keep reading and keep listening. I want y’all to do the hard work of CHANGE. I want you to dismantle your lives – your beliefs and your behaviors. I want you to deconstruct your values. I want you to create a new vision, one that affirms and values the dignity, humanity, and worth of EVERY BLACK LIFE.[…]
I need you to LOVE BIG – first yourself and then others. I actually am of the belief that white people suffer from lovelessness most and have allowed shame, scarcity, and fear to guide your lives.
I need you to stop doing so damn much and start being…
I was reminded of that beloved verse- perfect love drives out all fear.
In Genesis, After a story in which God has destroyed every moving living thing, God realizes that people might live in perpetual fear of it happening again. So God hangs his bow in the clouds. That bow is first a weapon, as in bow and arrow, and our English language has transformed it into rainbow. The symbolism has been lost to us, that God has taken a weapon of war, the cutting edge of weapons of the time, and hung it, pointing away from earth, not toward. God has chosen to live disarmed in relation to us, with a covenant towards life with all living creatures.
If God has chosen to disarm, can we also drop our defenses? Can we put aside fear of losing power, losing face, losing comfort, losing privilege? Can we rest in the joyful love of our God who comes near to us as Jesus found in those forty days, and really acknowledge some of these subconscious tendencies?
Here is one small suggestion, to start: If someone says, like your pastor, if you are white you have benefitted from racist structures, what is your first response? Is it, you don’t know me! I’m not- racist.
Just take that defensiveness and sit with it for a minute. Hi defensiveness, you are coming out because of fear. Hi fear, there you are. God has love big enough for all, God is for all of us, for every living creature, there is nothing to fear.
It’s not really something you can solve in 10 seconds, that’s not the point, but it is to say, the way of white supremacy culture is not the way of God. We can by the power of God repent of all those characteristics that feed into a culture of white supremacy, and it is what God is calling me, to ask you to do. We can start by bringing the subconscious up to the conscious, to end its power.
Because perfect love does drive out all fear, any way or culture, that we hold onto because of fear is not of God. As disciples of Christ may we be remade this season, by taking time to reflect, repent, and be made new by God so that the equality of that covenant with every living being might be evident, the love and presence of God that Jesus came to experience deeply and proclaim, be ours to experience and proclaim, and BE -be that bold love, as well. The kingdom of God has come near, this is Jesus’ message, we are the messengers, the angels, bringing God’s love and presence to others in their wilderness, Amen.