Sunday, June 21, 2015

Violent Unwelcome. Holy Embrace.

The email announcing the June Synchroblog, Hospitality, arrived as I was grieving a blog post I’d just read, Austin Channing Brown’s June 8 post: “This is What It’s Like.” 

From the point of view of 15 year old Dajerria Becton, Channing Brown described the incident at the Craig Ranch pool in McKinney, TX, that ended with Officer Eric Casebolt throwing Dajerria onto the pavement, then kneeling on her back.

This is what it’s like, Channing Brown wrote, to be a black girl in America: 
We know things. We know things about hair and patience and waiting. We know about love and laughter and dancing and joy. We know things about beauty and we create it together. And we know that beauty can be shattered. We know about ugliness. We know too well about dehumanization and violence. . .  We know about being suddenly and violently unwelcome. 
I’ve been praying over those words “violently unwelcome” for the past week or so.

And even more so since that sudden, violent unwelcome shook the nation Wednesday night when a young white man walked into a church in Charleston, sat for a while, then stood to shoot nine men and women.

Grief bubbles up inside. Lament rinses my eyes, floods through my tightened stomach, as thoughts swirl inside and storms gather overhead. 

I don’t know exactly what happened in McKinney, Texas last week, who said what first, or why a police officer chose to use force on a group of obviously unarmed teens.

And I can’t begin to understand what evil vision compelled Dylann Roof to open fire on a congregation of African Americans gathered for prayer.

I do know this: God’s love demands that all who claim his name serve as agents of his own radical, extravagant welcome.

And I know this: when we exclude others, hold them at arm’s length, assure ourselves that somehow we are better, more worthy, of greater value, we rip holes in the fabric of community and set ourselves apart from a deep, sure knowledge of God’s embracing love.

Jesus, days before his death, said “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”Matthew 23:37

Not willing to be gathered under the wings that offered shelter to prostitutes and lepers.

Not willing to share the embrace than included Samaritans and sinners.

So the violent unwelcome that killed prophets and stoned God’s spokesmen turned against Jesus himself, who experienced in his own hands and feet the violent unwelcome of those who dare to draw the lines and call themselves the inside group.

On Thursday, Austin Channing posted about the sin of white supremacy, the lingering belief that somehow white is better than black, the assumption that this nation most belongs to descendents of Europeans rather than the medley of races and colors that share our ragged, still unfolding story.
The sin of white supremacy is thriving in this country because white Christians refuse to name it and uproot it, refuse to confess it and dismantle it, refuse to acknowledge it and repent of it, refuse to say the words
“Its in my family”
“Its in my church”
“Its in my soul.”
Every time I write about race, someone white says “just know it isn’t all of us,” believing this will bring me comfort. It is offered as balm, but fails miserably. I would much rather people say, “I see this sin in my own heart, my own life, my own church and I am working to uproot it. I don’t want to be this way, and I will do the work to submit this ugliness before Christ.” That’s what I want to hear. Creating distance from it doesn’t serve me, doesn’t bring me comfort. Because it is in all of us. White supremacy has infected all of us who know America. If I have to deal with the white supremacist notions within myself, than I don’t want to hear about how “its not all of us”. It is. It is all of us who must learn to love blackness as an equal and authentic image of God. 
She’s talking here about something deeper than color.

Visions of beauty that reject certain body styles, hair textures, facial features, affirming others as inherently better.

Ideas about ways of speaking, acting, moving that fit the white predominant culture and label and exclude those that differ.

The inexplicable blindness that assumes its okay to lock up huge populations of young men of color while young white men accused of the same crimes post bond, hire lawyers, and walk off free.

I cringe from the label – but yes. We are riddled through with white supremacist notions. 

Sick to the core with the age-old notion that God loves “our kind” best.

Channing continues:
There is this pervasive belief that Christians can simply choose to be tolerant, or polite, or even kind. There is this sense that as long as certain lines aren’t crossed, that you’re okay. As long as you don’t tell the racist joke, as long as you had a really good reason for moving into an all white community, as long as you never say nigger, as long as you do charity work, as long as you go on the mission trip, as long as you never do anything mean- then you’re alright. Not so.
Jesus has two commandments. “...You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind and with all your soul. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:37-39). The second is like it. So loving your neighbor as yourself is like loving God with all your heart and all your mind and all our soul. Love. 1 John 4:20 says this, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” Cannot. 
I need you to know that these two verses fly in the face of the sin if white supremacy and racism. To not uproot white supremacy from the mind, heart and soul is to miss the mark on loving your neighbor as yourself and is hatred toward God. I repeat. The sin of racism is hatred toward God. Racism is hatred toward and denial of blackness as an equal and authentic image of God. 
In our church last Sunday, I watched the dearly loved walking forward to receive the bread and wine that are our share in the death and life of Christ.

We are not a perfect congregation, yet we welcome the strange, the stranger.

We have members from every continent, from many languages, many backgrounds.

Tattooed, teased, arrayed in mismatched suits and tattered jeans.

Carrying the burdens of depression, addiction, unemployment, lingering illness.

Children of every color dance toward the priest in the front of the sanctuary, tugging at a parent’s hand, waving to a friend.

Dearly loved children  - all.

Old and young.

Black and white. 

Broken and almost whole.
Who can say what thoughts of welcome or unwelcome travel through our minds.

And who can say where violent unwelcome will next stand in our midsts, blasting a hole in our longing for at least a superficial peace.

I pray our church will be a place of genuine, lasting safety and welcome.

Pray God’s people, near and far, will hear and receive the cries of the excluded.

Pray our embrace will reach beyond our walls to a waiting world of hurt.

Pray we will practice hospitality to in a way that makes visible God’s encompassing embrace.