I grew up in a racist household. My mother said she never saw a person of color until she was in her early twenties and moved to Massachusetts from Upstate New York. She believed a lot of nonsense about people of color. She used a lot of racist slang when she talked about people who were not white. She believed the foolishness about immigrants of color taking jobs from white people and receiving government assistance that white people did not qualify for. She was angry and hateful to the point that we were not allowed to eat at any restaurants she associated with people of color. Early on, I knew she was wrong with her thinking, her language, and her behavior. What I didn’t know is how common her perspective was and is.
My mother wasn’t a religious person. She had quite a bit negative to say about the church in all its varied forms. She didn’t see the point in God or trying to follow Jesus teachings. She believed it was every person for themselves and that money could in fact buy happiness. While she grew up in an upper middle class, Irish Catholic family, her adult years were spent a few inches away from the poverty line. As a single mother of two children, there was never quite enough money to pay all the bills. But we had a house and all the necessary things. Yes, the food we usually ate was cheap and the house was always a bit chilly in winter. She resented that she made slightly more than was allowed to receive food stamps or fuel assistance. We did qualify for reduced lunch at school, but that wasn’t enough to curb her racist views. In her mind, her life would have been better if there were no people of color around. It was the way she thought. Religion or God had nothing to do with it.
In fact, she blamed my unwillingness to share her views on my affinity for religion and the bit of French blood that I inherited from my father (which makes no more sense than some of her other beliefs). Honestly, I’m not sure where I learned that my mother was wrong in her racist understanding of the world. I can say that my current understanding of Jesus’ teachings underscores how very wrong my mother was.
Race is a human construct that the Bible is silent on because it was written long before the modern concept of race existed. God’s love for humanity is not limited by human perspective. Just because it is currently fashionable in the U.S. to believe that being a white, nationalist is somehow the definition of “Christian,” does not mean God agrees. Just because white people can justify the systemic racism that permeates U.S. culture, doesn’t mean that we live in a “Christian” country. Every time we fail to recognize that racism fuels poverty, lack of education, poor physical and mental healthcare, housing insecurity, food deserts, and so much more, we fail to recognize the foolishness of our ways. God has not divided humanity by race or economics or wellness or ability or gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, country of origin, or religious traditions. The divisions that lead to hopelessness and violence are entirely human made.
We, my friends, have not been faithful in much. We have let the voices of Empire lull us into complacency, ambivalence, and inaction. While we as individuals may not ascribe to the white supremacy, white nationalism, and rightwing Christianity that serves the Empire, we as congregations, as Christians, have remained (for the most part) frighteningly silent. We want to blame the current Administration for all that ails this country. Make no mistake though, the growing sense of division and hopelessness predates the current situation. The tendency to blame those we perceive as “other” is woven into the very foundations of this country. Nothing will change unless we change it. Nothing will change until we stop accepting the worship of mammon by those who serve the Empire and refocus our worship on the God whose love endures forever. We can choose to remain in service to those whose greedy pursuit of wealth casts all “others” as villians. Or we can choose to server the One who calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves with all that we have and all that we are.
The erroneous belief that wealth and worldly success will cure what ails us needs to come to an end. Our eyes must be open to the racism that fuels division, fear, hatred, and violence throughout all of society. More importantly, if we are to be faithful with what has been entrusted to us, we must care for the most vulnerable among us now. We cannot wait any longer. People are being murdered. People are dying by suicide. People are losing their lives to opiates. People are in desperate need of hope, healing, and being re-membered, reconnected, to the people of God.
If you believe this parable that tells us we need to be faithful in little so that more will be entrusted to us, faithfulness starts with our love of God, neighbor, self, and Creation. The lies of the Empire do not lead to life. The greedy pursuit of wealth creates far more problems than it solves and separates us from the Love that can save lives.
Most of what I learned from my mother about the way the world works has proven to be incorrect. I continue to do all that I can to live in Love and dismantle the ways of hatred and fear. Think of the change we could bring if we all sought to bring the Love of Christ into the world in tangible, lifesaving ways…
RCL – Year C – Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 22, 2019
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 with Psalm 79:1-9 or
Amos 8:4-7 with Psalm 113
1 Timothy 2:1-7