Friday, March 6, 2015

Community is Difficult--But It's Also Godly

"Of course they matter!"

I turned to look at the older white man in the Subaru who had stopped at the side of the street in front of our church--and who also didn't seem to have any qualms about hollering at a total stranger.

I was hanging up the second banner in front of our church that read "Black Lives Matter Equally."  The first one blew away--I think--because I only secured it with zip ties and we had a really windy day last week.  I can't be sure that someone didn't come and take it down, but I'm choosing to believe the best about our neighborhood.  (In case you don't know about why we chose to hang up the banner, read here.)

Before I could say anything to the stranger, he went on.

"They only matter when they're shot by a white police officer!"

My mind was a little slow in catching on to his point, but I said, "I don't think so."

He went on, "My son told me that when that that guy was shot in Ferguson there were fifteen other blacks that got shot--all by other blacks.  That's the problem."

I gave him a confused wave as he drove off, because I was still trying to understand the point he was making.  I took him to be making the same argument I've heard a lot of white people making; which seems to be: "Black people kill each other all the time and black people don't seem to care or are unable to stop because they are too ignorant or too barbaric to do otherwise.  Black people want to blame the police when the fault is their own.  They bring it on themselves."

If I had been quicker, I could have told him that plenty of black people I know care a whole lot about black-on-black violence AND about police bias against black people. Both problems are bad problems and protesting one of them doesn't mean one doesn't care about the other.  Besides, how can the problem of black-on-black crime be dealt with unless you have police forces that respect people of all races equally?

I also could have asked the man if he had even one black friend.

Alas, his drive-by opinion didn't allow me time to formulate any of those retorts.

I wonder how that man would define community?

On the first Sunday of Lent, I preached about the temptation of Jesus in Mark's Gospel.  Unlike in Matthew and Luke, Mark mentions the temptation only in one verse and it doesn't seem like Jesus struggled very much in Mark's version.  In fact, as you may recall, in Mark Jesus doesn't have any trouble at all with the forces of evil.  Jesus casts out demons like we swat mosquitoes.  Similarly Jesus has no problem with controlling nature either.  He can still storms and heal the sick.  Yet when it comes to people, Mark's Jesus has a lot of problems.  Barely any of them do what he tells them to do.  Jesus can tell everyone and everything what to do except for other people.  

I may not have power over evil forces or over the forces of nature, but I can relate to having problems with other people.  Some days free will seems overrated.  We humans sure make a mess of things, and I wonder if God ever has second thoughts about giving us the freedom to screw things up so badly and to harm one another so deeply.

My belief is that God gave us free will, because real relationships must be free and God really wants real relationships with us.  In fact, as I stated in my sermon, it is in God's very nature to create community.  Part of the reason I hold on to the idea of the Trinity, even though I pastor a church full of agnostics, Unitarians and people who just like to disagree with historic Christian doctrine on principle, is because it helps explain the question of free will and why God created us in the first place.  God--whether you want to use the historic and sexist language of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) or not--having one essence but three beings IS community.  Community is God.  The divine community just overflows and creates more community.  Relationship creates more relationships.

The problem with relationships, however, is that ones that are truly free are also at times really difficult.  If you see yourself as a part of a community that includes but goes beyond your own family, friendships and neighborhood, then you have to do the hard work of caring about the well-being of others who are not like you at all.  Community means that the mistreatment of black people by law enforcement should matter to other people, even white people who may understand little to nothing of the black experience.  

Furthermore, if you really see yourself as a part of a divine community that is meant to embrace all people, then you have to see a connection between yourself and people with whom you may disagree--say, people who feel free to shout bigoted opinions out their car windows.

If I had to do it over again and was quicker witted--and better in touch with God's community, maybe I could have offered the stranger in front of our church something other than a confused wave or a clever comeback.  Maybe the better thing would have been to invite him to come to our church, share in worship, experience a faith community trying to see itself as connected to God's wider community and maybe dare to join in himself.

I know that outcome was probably unlikely, but if it is true that God is community and calls all of us into community with one another and with God, then perhaps such unlikely outcomes are possible.        

Grace and Peace


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