category: Musings, Sermon Starter

What Will the Neighbors Think?

By Rachael Keefe

I grew up in a household where the unspoken motto was, “What will the neighbors think?” As a child, I found this rather confusing. The neighbors on one side had eleven kids; I don’t think they thought of us much at all. The neighbors on the other side were close …

What Will the Neighbors Think?

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I grew up in a household where the unspoken motto was, “What will the neighbors think?” As a child, I found this rather confusing. The neighbors on one side had eleven kids; I don’t think they thought of us much at all. The neighbors on the other side were close enough that we joked about building a tunnel between our homes. The people across the street were older and kept to themselves. Really, what neighbors were going to care if my clothes matched or my hair wasn’t brushed, or I didn’t look perfect?

My mother had her own set of rules and lived by them religiously, even when they didn’t make much sense. One of those was that People of Color were not acceptable company with very few exceptions. From an early age, I knew she was wrong but I was powerless to do anything about it. Even in more recent years, I would remain silent whenever she went off on a racist rant or I would just point out that her beloved Tiger Woods is a Person of Color. I kept my increasing discomfort to myself.

Until I could not. I recognized racism early enough. However, it took me a long time to recognize my own privilege and the ways in which I benefited from racist systems. I grew up without much money, in a single parent home, with a whole lot of dysfunction. Later, I derailed my career for a decade by coming out as bisexual. I didn’t feel very privileged at all. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that privilege and economics are not necessarily linked. Doors open for me that will not open easily for People of Color. I have more education than most people and that is a mark of privilege. I now earn a fair wage and that is a mark of privilege. The anxiety I have when a police officer pulls me over has nothing to do with fear for my safety and this is a mark of privilege. There’s more but I will trust that you get the idea.

martin-luther-king-25271This week in the US we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dream of creating a Beloved Community. I’ve been reading quite a bit about the early Civil Rights Movement and how similar things are today. Quite frankly, I don’t like what I’m reading at all. The way so many people denounce Black Lives Matter for the tactics they use in seeking justice angers me. Folks ought to read MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and hear how they sound like those who justified the systems of racism in days gone by.

I read the words of I Corinthians and wonder how it is that we fail to see the gifts of all people and the one Spirit who gives them. I read the words of Isaiah and wonder how anyone can think that we are God’s Delight when we dismiss anyone different from us. I read the words in John’s Gospel and I long for the sweet wine of God’s transforming presence. Mostly, I find myself asking how long it will be before we dismantle the oppressive systems that keep racism alive and well in this country. How long will it be before the people of God become truly free and leave behind being Desolate and Forsaken?

As long as any people are marginalized and dismissed, we cannot truly be God’s Delight. It is time to put an end to racial divisions in this country. The fear and ignorance that creates distance between neighbors and blames individuals and peoples for their circumstances has no place in the body of Christ. The Body of Christ is racist and it breaks my heart.

I’ve long since stopped worrying about “what the neighbors will think” and have endeavored to follow where God calls. I’ve lent my voice to those unable to speak for themselves for decades. Now I offer to hold open the doors I can walk through for those who are demanding justice. Simply adding my cries to those already rising is not enough. It is my responsibility to make sure the doors stay open so that their voices may be heard by those with the power to make changes. And, by the way, all of us have the power it takes to make systemic change if we choose to use it together.

I pray that we can stop being afraid and start being Church.

How precious is your steadfast love,hands-63743
   O God!
All people may take refuge
   in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance
   of your house,
and you give them drink
   from the river of your delights.

RCL – Year C – Second Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 36:5-10
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11

Top photo by Rachael Keefe. Other photos from Pixabay. Used with permission.

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

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