Tag Archives: black lives matter

Spiritual Triage

Preached at Head of Christiana Presbyterian Church, June 28, 2015

Mark 5:21-43

This has been quite a week, hasn’t it?

In the last 10 or so days, a white supremacist murdered 9 people at a bible study; the Supreme Court released decisions on same-sex marriage, health care, and housing justice; four more Black churches across the South were burned by arsonists; and terrorists attacked in Tunisia, Kuwait, and France on the same day. President Obama, even, went from making a celebratory speech on the Supreme Court decision straight to the funeral of Rev. Senator Clementa Pinckney, where he delivered a eulogy full of grief, anger, and resolve.

It’s almost too much. And meanwhile, our own lives go on, full of daily needs, mundane things and beautiful things; happiness and sorrow and frustration and gratitude.

It’s been a rough week for me personally, as my relationships with two people who are dear to me feel like they’re ripping apart at the seams, both at the same time. There were a few days when I wanted to wail with the Psalmist, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!”

And then, you know, just to top it all off, yesterday I spilled boiling hot coffee on my foot and all over the counter on my way out the door.

This week I can sort of resonate with Jesus walking through the crowd by the sea – coming straight from the madness of one healing in the country of the Gerasenes right into Jairus’ need for his daughter’s healing; while the crowd continues to press in on him with their own needs, their own hopes, their own pains, their own longing for a messiah. The muchness is so great that he can’t even finish one miracle without being interrupted by more desperation!

Weeks like this one, I think we’re all that crowd pushing in: with rejoicing and mourning and confusion and anger and tentative happiness and grief and fear and maybe some more feelings we don’t even want to acknowledge yet. Probably some of us are looking for healing, like the people we meet in this passage, but all of us are looking for something.

* * *

Mark tells these healing stories together to make a point, or more probably several points. It’s a fast-paced gospel, and these two woven-together healings drive the narrative forward, picking up speed along with the urgency of Jesus’ mission and the assembling crowds.

But these two characters belong together for other reasons, too. They are a dramatic pair, this young girl who has grown up in a wealthy important house, together with this woman who has lost all the status she might have had because of her disease, declared unclean and therefore unable to worship, be in her family’s house, or even to be touched. She has spent all the money she had, trying to stop this bleeding that has continued as long as the girl has been alive. One has an influential father who can stride right up to Jesus on her behalf, while the other is so filled with shame that it takes all her courage to approach him unnoticed.

It seems to me that if we were to transplant this story to our place and time, Jairus and his daughter would probably have white skin like ours, and the unnamed woman would more than likely have brown or black skin. Right?

Jesus knows all this, too, about the women who need his healing, and so he knows just how shocking it will be when he stops following Jairus and says “Wait! I have to find this person.” Really?! That could have been anyone or no one, Jairus is thinking, and you’re going to take the time to find her while my daughter is dying?!?

Yes, Jesus would say, except he’s too busy now taking this woman’s hand, looking into her eyes, and hearing her story. Daughter, he calls her, you who had no family left are my family, and your faith has made you well. Your outlandish hope when you had no reason to have any more hope at all has finally healed you. For her it means not just a physical healing, but also a social restoration – you who had been cast out are welcomed back with love and healing touch.

And then Mark cuts back in and barely lets this lovely moment finish before word comes that Jairus’ daughter has died. But again, Jesus tells them that their faith is what matters. And this girl does not need the same kind of social restoration that the woman did, but she does need some pretty big healing!

And, for all the social implications of these juxtaposed healings, the girl is just as tenderly healed. Jesus takes her hand, with the ritual uncleanliness that implies now that she is dead, and she gets up and she walks and she eats.

* * *

Now I don’t know that I have a neat packaged message about these stories – because healing is messy and complicated, and why does healing seem to come so fast in some cases and take so long in others? If it is faith that makes us well, then why are so many good and faithful people suffering with disease and debilitation?

So I ask, how are we bleeding? What are the places in you that are crying out for healing? What is it for which you would throw yourself down at Jesus’ feet?

Who are the people around us who bleed, and what can we do about it?

* * *

Following in Jesus’ steps means that we might still need healing as much as anyone else, but we also are called to notice where hurting people have been kept out – and then to stop what we’re doing to take their hand and start to heal the wounds of exclusion.

And we do that not because we’ve never been wounded ourselves, but precisely because we have. In the midst of all these needs – all these conflicting emotions and joy in the midst of sorrow in the midst of hope – our strength comes from those places where we were hurt but have started to heal. And in those very scars we can see where others are still bleeding around us.

In those scars, in those places we may have felt cast out but now have been brought back by the healing love of friends, of family, of God, we can follow in those holy steps and search out the ones who need healing so badly they might slip through a crowd unnoticed, following their last hope.

Make no mistake, there are hurting people in this country, and the wounds cut deep. The events of these past weeks make that abundantly clear if it wasn’t already. And if we say we follow Jesus – prophet, messiah, and healer of wounded people – that must matter to us.

The sin of racism is woven deeply into our lives all over this country – and if we think it’s not our problem, then it most certainly is our problem. We who are white have a very particular responsibility at this time, and that is to start listening to the voices of hurt that we have tuned out or avoided or just disbelieved.

We are caught up in our own lives and our own swirls of emotion and hurt and need, and that is okay. But we have to notice when Jesus might take time out of helping us to turn to someone with an even deeper need, and would keep us waiting because theirs is the hurt that needs to be attended to right now.

* * *

And, you know, so much of Jesus’ healings was the social and communal reconnection that went along with the physical healing. We may not be able to raise people from the dead, but we surely do have the strength to begin to heal social wounds.

Our genuine connection with others will be healing for all of us, whether we know it yet or not. It is in our relationships where we find the greatest, holiest joy, along with all the difficulties and annoyance and pain. And that is true not just for our relationships with people we’ve decided are “like us,” but it is especially true when we’re able to make real connections with people who are different.

It is messy and complicated and hard, like so much of life if we’re honest. But we proclaim a God who does not give up on us, no matter how broken we are or what kind of mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, no matter how little breath is left in us or no breath at all: God does not give up on us. If there is one thing we can say about the healing love of God, it is that each and every one of us can trust it. Even when we are in the deepest pain, or grief, or loss, God’s healing comes through our faith and through the people around us.

In all the confusion of these weeks like all weeks, Jesus is there cutting a path through the crowd. Stick with him and somehow, we will all be healed.

Thanks be to God.

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Justice on Good Friday

Preached on Good Friday 4/3/15 at Community Presbyterian Church, as one of seven meditations on the themes of the cross, along with Fear, Violence, Anger, Silence, Hope, and Redemption.

Mark 14:60–65

We are faced with a deep and difficult paradox on this day. Even the name we use – Good Friday – is provocative and it is difficult and it is controversial.

How can we possibly face the enormity of the truth of this day, the torture and derision and execution, and yet we call it “good”?! How can it be that we see the deep injustice of this story – that Christ who was and is innocent and blameless should suffer for us, his beloved ones – and yet believe that God has allowed it (or even caused it!) for our salvation? How far have we drifted into the abusive and death-dealing mindset of our world when we can remember the humiliation and death of an an innocent man and somehow call it “good”?

People of God, our redeemer may have worked through this violence and injustice as God works through all things, but if we truly believe that our God is a God of justice, then we must see this day for what it is. It is a day on which we remember pain, abuse, and mourning, like too many other days then and now. And as we remember this injustice that was inflicted on the very body of our God, let us remember in equal measure that God healed his wounds, raised him from the tomb, and said, “No more!” This death ends here.

So we are consoled in the injustices we face today. We are assured that even in our darkest nights, our deepest pain, that God is there and God is working through us. And as we can gather our strength back, we look around and see who suffers with us and around us. Out of our own struggles we draw power, we draw conviction to stand up and name injustice for what it is.

And that paradox is complex because the forces that bind us are complex. We each one of us are hurt and are struggling in our own ways, and yet we also have power in our own ways, whether it is power the world gives us or power we have to build up for ourselves, or a little bit of both. And so the pursuit of justice to which we are called as followers of Christ, the unjustly condemned, must also recognize that complexity. Our life depends on it.

For me, as a queer woman, as someone who battles mental illness, I have known persecution, I have known physical abuse, I have known what it is to be an outsider. And as a white person, as a Christian, as an educated person I am also an insider, and I must also face the reality that I am complicit in the suffering of others.

When I read the story of Christ’s last days, sometimes I see myself on trial in front of the religious establishment, sometimes I am with the heartbroken women at the foot of the cross; and at the same time I am Peter, warming my hands by the fire while my friend needs me at his side; I am the centurion, a cog in the machine of empire, realizing too late that I have killed the son of God.

The paradox of this day demands a counter-cultural response from those of us who would witness to a God of justice who worked through the injustice of this public execution. As we put our bodies and voices on the line for victims of police violence in these days, let us ask ourselves if we are speaking just as loudly for female victims, for transgender victims – or if we have retreated into the safety of white churches who will pay us comfortably, as long as we don’t stir up too much trouble.

Jesus died today for us and because of us. As we enter the darkness of the tomb tonight, keeping our vigil until Easter morning, let that sink in. God used this deep injustice for good. How are we, people of God, finding strength in our own suffering, putting down the crosses we carry, and standing up with those who suffer around us just as we stand up for ourselves?

The justice of God, the promise of new life which is just around the corner, and the gospel we preach with our lives depend on it.

Being a Better White Person

Dear fellow white folks,

So you’ve figured out that you have some privilege based on your skin color, and not everyone experiences the world the same way you do.  Congratulations!  Now what?

It’s really easy at this point to get caught up in guilt, and not do anything for fear of offending somebody. But guilt doesn’t accomplish anything. Recognizing white privilege is really important, but it’s not enough.  Sometimes, the way we talk about privilege even lets people off the hook, because systemic issues aren’t any one person’s “fault.” So we think, what can any one person do against this faceless, monolithic system?

Well, dear white person, that’s where you come in. It’s time to start looking around and connecting to others who are already doing this work, as well as finding ways to use your privilege productively.

Listen. One of the ways privilege operates is by allowing white folks to ignore the voices and experiences of people of color. A recent survey showed that the social networks of white people are on average 91% white! Recognize whose voices are present in your life, and start really listening to the voices of your friends and acquaintances of color.

Part of listening means taking what you hear seriously. You’ll hear about experiences that are different from what you’re used to hearing, and that’s a good thing!  Resist the urge to argue, interrupt, or assume you know what someone’s going to say.  Trust what they’re saying to you.

A good way to start listening is to empathize. Recognize where your experiences are different, but also notice that the feelings attached to those experiences are deeply human.  The impulse behind the slogan Black Lives Matter is the systemic denial of the basic humanity of Black folks in particular, and you can start by recognizing the shared joys and sorrows and fears of the people of color in your life.

Be aware of intersectionality; that is, things are more complicated than just black and white. None of us are 100% privileged or 100% oppressed, and those gray areas are places where we can start to understand other people’s feelings of exclusion. As a queer white person with a complicated gender identity, I have some experiences of what it feels like to be marginalized and systemically discriminated against, which I think helps me to notice and trust those feelings when others mention them.

That does not mean I know what it feels like to be Black, but it does help me empathize and recognize situations that might be upsetting or problematic for a person of color. Nor does it mean I know what it feels like to be a queer person of color!  But it does mean we have some common ground to start from.

And finally, to white men in particular: recognize that this might be new territory for you. Dig deep and think of a time when you felt like things were unfair or not right (like many people started to recognize during Occupy Wall Street), and know that other people have been having these experiences for years. Then, enter these conversations with humility – it’s like you just woke up outside the Matrix for the first time, and this is a whole new world for you, so it’s time to be quiet and let other people show you what’s going on.

So, welcome to the real world. Let’s try and make it better, okay?


* My title is borrowed from Chris Rock’s spot-on statement about racial progress: “The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.”