Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Which Lives Matter? -- A Newspaper Piece

How did you answer that question? Was your first response “Black Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter”? It is a pretty loaded question these days. I pondered titling this column “_________ Lives Matter” and asking how you chose to fill in the blank, but I decided that a blank in a column title might not work too well.

The term Black Lives Matter has now been part of our culture for 7 years. It first appeared as a hashtag after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2013. Since then it has grown into a movement both in the US and here in Canada. It has been controversial for all 7 of those years. But it shouldn’t be.

For those of us who claim the term Christian phrases like Black Lives Matter, or Indigenous Lives Matter, or LGBTQ+ Lives Matter should never be controversial. They should be obvious truths. They should also force us to ask why someone might think they are controversial. What are we trying to hide when we teach or preach the controversy?

In chapter 15 of his gospel Luke shares 3 stories Jesus tells about things that are lost. In the first Jesus talks about a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep behind to go and find the one that was lost. “All lives matter” logic might say this is being foolish. What makes that one wayward sheep more important than the other 99. That misses the point. The one sheep is the one that was in danger, so it needed the attention right now. It is not a competition, it is a statement of what is needed in a particular moment.

When we stand up and say that in this moment #BlackLivesMatter we are not saying anything other than “there is a threat to our siblings whose skin is darker than others, we should do something about that”. When we are unable to do that, when we fall prey to the logic of “all lives matter” we risk being a character from one of those other stories Jesus tells.

The third story Jesus tells in Luke 15 is about a man with 2 sons. Briefly, the youngest one goes away and wastes all his inheritance. When he comes home his dad throws a party. The older brother is jealous and can’t see why his wastrel brother needs a party. The father says “we had to celebrate. Your brother was dead and is now alive”. The story never says one brother is more important than the other, it talks about who needs to be raised up at one time or another. Many of us have traits of the elder brother. Sometimes we need to get over ourselves to celebrate and support our siblings.

As the children’s song “Jesus Loves the Little Children” reminds us, God loves all of God’s children. No matter their race, religion, sexual identity, gender, level of ability or any other criteria humans have for dividing us God loves all of God’s children. God loves us collectively, but God also loves us individually and specifically. When some of us are threatened for some reason God calls for people to step in and deal with that threat. As people of faith we can never be satisfied with simply saying that all lives matter. We must, if we are faithful, be willing to step in and say that Black Lives Matter. Another day we might need to raise up Indigenous Lives, or LGBTQ+ lives, or women’s lives, or disabled lives. Only if specific lives matter do all lives matter.

The world is a broken place. As humans we often fail to live into the fact that we are created in the image of God. God is calling us to be transformed and to do better. One sign of the broken-ness of the world is how good we are at dividing people. Let me be plain. We are not all the same, that is a wonderful gift. But using those differences to create people with privilege and people without privilege is sinful and evil. Racism, sexism, ableism, homo- and trans- phobia, religious bigotry, and all those other ways we find to say “this group is better than that group” are sinful and evil.

God is calling us to be better. God is calling us to learn how our neighbours are threatened. God is calling us to show that specific lives matter so that indeed we show that all lives matter. God is calling us to learn where our systems are broken and allow our systems and ourselves to be transformed. God is creating the Kingdom in our midst, will we join in the project?

Be blessed my friends. Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask, and build up your neighbour.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Looking Ahead to July 5, 2020

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Romans 7:15-25
  • Matthew 11:27-30
The Sermon Title is Why Do I keep Doing That?

Early Thoughts: The devil made me do it? Force of habit? Can't teach an old dog new tricks?

Or maybe we really don't want to change?

Paul believes, and wants his readers to believe, that becoming a follower of Christ opens us up to be transformed. Paul is realistic enough to know that this transformation is not an instant thing. Paul knows that there is a part of us that leads us to do the things we know we should not. In fact Paul give this part of us a great deal of power. Later theologians, from Augustine onward, will talk about Original Sin as a condition that afflicts all of humanity. Calvin and those who follow him will talk about Total Depravity as a condition that is at the root of our human nature.

I am ambivalent on Original Sin and Total Depravity. Ambivalent because I also remember an original blessing, that humanity is created in the image of God and called Good. I would like to (and many days do) believe that we are capable of doing the Good that we want to do and avoiding the Bad we do not want to do.

But at the same time I have to admit that Paul hits a nerve here. We all have those times when we do the things we hate, and do not do the things we want to do. For Paul this is part of his argument of Law over Grace (and tends to lead into a problematic argument about flesh over spirit). I am not going to get into that right now. But for Paul the life of following Christ is about being received and saved through grace and transformed. And for me, in that transformation is where we are able to make different choices.

Still it is hard. We humans are creatures of habit and routine. Often we may benefit from those things we do that we know we really shouldn't. And so to make different choices, to allow ourselves to be transformed and make different choices, may come at a cost. Or maybe the habit and routine is so ingrained that is has become automatic, something we don't think about or even realize we are doing. Allowing ourselves to be transformed to act differently takes intention and effort and energy.

But here is the promise of Grace. We are not trying to transform ourselves. We are not asked to transform ourselves. We are invited to open ourselves up and let God transform us. Sometimes God may transform our hearts and thoughts and actions will flow from that. Sometimes God asks us to act as if we have been transformed and as new habits re formed our hearts and minds are changed. God is at work transforming us as individuals and as communities -- if we will let God do it. That is what happens when we take on the yoke of Christ.

And just maybe the burden will be lighter and the task easier than we fear.
--Gord

Friday, June 26, 2020

New Home

This blog is a Successor to my former home "Ministerial Mutterings" Welcome one and all!  After 10 years it felt like time to refurbish anyway.