Here is an important message from Bishop David Bard. Take these days to pray about what is possible and how we can work together to irradicate racism.
BISHOP DAVID BARD
If you say, “Look, we did not know this” – does not the Weigher of Hearts discern? ~ Proverbs 24:12a
Walking you make the road. ~ Antonio Machado, “Proverbs and Songs, #29”
Even a month later, the horrific image of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis remains seared into our minds and hearts. The image remains deeply painful and infuriating. For me, it joins a disturbing postcard image of a 1920 lynching in my hometown of Duluth, Minnesota. On the evening of June 15, a mob of about 10,000 men broke into the city jail to extract three young black men who were in town with a circus and had been accused of raping a young white woman. Using sticks, clubs, and bricks, the mob took the men, beat them, held a mock trial, and lynched them. Dead were Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie. A photo was taken of the crowd surrounding the dead bodies. Later the photo was turned into a postcard. The image still sickens, as will the image of George Floyd having his life’s breath choked out of him.
What these killings in Minnesota 100 years apart share is their roots in racism. Bad policing played a role in both. In Duluth, the police failed to protect men held in their custody. In Minneapolis, an officer kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. Yet an honest examination of policing in the United States would indicate that persons of color are disproportionately the victims of whatever bad policing occurs. Law enforcement reform is a pressing need. Even more, though, is our continuing need to confront racism in our lives, in our church, and our nation.
Racism is deeply rooted in our history: slavery, Jim Crow laws, real estate covenants, redlining, separate but equal, Native American displacement. One of the books I read in my first year here in Michigan was Terror in the City of Champions, a story of sports success and racial terror in 1930s Detroit. Because racism is deeply rooted in our history, it is entangled in our hearts, our minds, and our systems.
Racism is an affront to our Christian faith. Our Social Principles say, “we recognize racism as sin and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons…. Racism manifested as sin, plagues, and hinders our relationship with Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the gospel itself.” Our Scriptures tell us that we were all created in God’s image. They tell us that Christ died for all. They share stories about the worth of those who social systems deem less than: a widow in Zarephath, a Syro-Phonecian woman, an Ethiopian eunuch. In his pamphlet, “Thoughts on Slavery,” John Wesley would write, “give liberty to whom liberty is due, that is to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature.” To slaveholders, he wrote, “Are you a man? Then you should have a human heart. But have you indeed? What is your heart made of? Is there no such principle as compassion there? Do you never feel another’s pain?”
We know all this, and we also know that Christian faith and Christian scriptures have been used to justify slavery, white supremacy, segregation, and the subjugation of indigenous peoples. Powerful opportunities for antiracism work have appeared before, and they have slipped away. We must not let this moment pass us by. Working to counter racism is not a political issue of the moment; it is not a social issue appended to the spiritual life. It is an essential part of the journey with Jesus.
I write this on the eve of the celebration of the birth of the United States, a country whose founding documents, at least in part, offer high aspirations for the human community. We celebrate those aspirations and need to acknowledge how far short we have fallen. Consider the words from Langston Hughes, an African-American poet of the Harlem Renaissance:
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed –
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above
(It never was America to me.)
Ever hopeful, Hughes goes on:
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath –
America will be!
A gritty hope for this fourth of July.
Some may feel overwhelmed by the challenge of this moment. Life feels pretty overwhelming right now. Yet by God’s grace and the power of God’s Spirit, we can meet this moment.
I am joining the United Methodist Council of Bishops in our shared commitment to stand against racism in coordination with the general agencies of The United Methodist Church. I join the commitments made by the North Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops to pray for the eradication of racism in our lives, our church, and our society. We must listen deeply; use our voices to advocate for reform in policing practices, and promote antiracism as an essential part of the Christian journey with Jesus. I join in the commitments made by our Full Cabinet and Conference Leadership Council to deep listening and learning as we seek to lead the Michigan Conference. I pledge to work with diverse leaders in our conference to consider how we might learn and grow and make important changes in our structures and our life together as a conference.
I encourage every local church and every Michigan United Methodist to engage in learning and growing and changing. Change in our conference matters, but if we want deep, long-lasting change in our state, we need to engage this challenge locally. Denominational resources for such learning will be available through our conference web site. Books such as Robin Diangelo, White Fragility, or Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be an Antiracist; or Jim Wallis, America’s Original Sin can be an excellent tool for learning. You may find a political comment that you don’t agree with in some resource, but don’t let that distract you from the deeper work of antiracism.
Films are powerful tools for learning. Watch “Just Mercy” or “12 Years a Slave” or “Harriet.” Watch the recent Sixty Minutes story about the Tulsa race riot of 1921. Listen to the stories of people of color and their challenges in living in a society where the norm is whiteness. While the problem of racism is one that those of us who are white have the primary responsibility for addressing, I am hoping that persons of color from our churches might graciously share their stories. For those of us who are white, it is our task to listen intently and graciously. Find someone with whom you might take the Intercultural Developmental Inventory, one tool that helps us begin to understand how we relate to others who are different from us.
This work belongs to all of us, in different ways, and especially to all of us who are white. Another complicating dynamic is the tendency of “privileged whites distancing themselves from racism by displacing blame for racism on less-privileged whites” (Joan Williams, White Working Class).
You may now feel even more overwhelmed than just a couple of paragraphs ago. Here is what I am asking of us all. Take the next faithful step. Just take the next faithful step in working against racism as a next faithful step in your journey with Jesus, whatever that step may be for you. Walking we will make the road, by God’s grace.
The North Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops ended their commitment statement with these words: “The dividing wall of racism, which has stood for too long, needs dismantling. Moving the stones of this wall requires heavy lifting, but the wall needs to be taken down. We commit ourselves to take the stones from this dividing wall and letting the power of God’s Spirit transfigure these stones into stones of justice, peace, reconciliation, and love, stones with which to build a road toward God’s beloved community.”
We will make the road by walking and taking the next faithful step. I am taking the next steps with you on this Joyful Journey.
Daily Lectionary Readings for Year A
Let's focus on Genesis 27:1-17 today. Isaac is an old man. He can no longer see and knows he will die soon. Isaac calls Esau over and tells him that he will give him his blessing. This means that the father, Isaac, will give his oldest son Esau his inheritance. But first, Isaac tells Esau to go out hunting, for that is what Esau loved to do. Meanwhile, Rebeccah overhears Isaac's plan. She had hoped that Jacob would be the one who would receive Isaac's blessing, even though he was the second of the twins to be born. So, they devise a plan. Rebeccah would cover Jacob's arm with hair so that blind Isaac would be fooled into thinking Jacob was Esau. And, Jacob would steal Esau's blessing.
Maybe this is part of the beauty of God's story in the Bible. It is not always neat and tidy. We find characters with blemishes, actions that are suspect, and storylines that make us blush. In other words, we can often relate to both the good and the bad in the Bible. This can cause us to take a fresh look at God and our own life decisions. What can we learn when we witness the imperfect people in the Bible and therein see our own reflection?
So, take some time today to consider when you have tricked someone in order to gain an advantage. When did you take something that belonged to another? What caused you to try to cut in line and benefit at the expense of others? Be honest. Think about whether you are carrying around guilt or regret. In what ways can you relate with Jacob?
I am thankful that The United Methodist Church is focusing on ending racism. We could ignore the lessons of our past or learn from them. The website above has resources for this difficult work. Confronting our individual and institutional racism can be disruptive. It can make us feel uncomfortable. And, it can show us why and how we can change the world to reflect more clearly God's vision for all of us. I encourage you to look at the resources, participate in the discussions, and prayerfully consider your next step as a Christian and our next step as a church.
Begin with THIS 20-minute video, from Dr. Robin DiAngelo, Deconstructing White Privilege. Lower your defenses and enter into this lesson with an open mind and a loving heart. I believe with the Love of Christ we can do this work, press on to freedom, and transform our neighborhood and God's world.
Daily Lectionary Readings for Year A
"Woe to you." These are three red-lettered words that are difficult to read. Jesus is not happy. He is expressing very clearly a conviction for those who are at fault. He expects those who have strayed from his teachings to feel a sense of distress. Woe to you.
One way to experience these "woe to you" moments is to look around. He must be talking to somebody else. I suppose I can recall that sense of relief when my brother got in trouble even though we both were at fault. There but for the grace of God go I. Woe to you. Whew for me.
Or, you could read these three words and commit to change. Making mistakes does not make you a bad person. Not being perfect is not a mortal sin. Woe to you is not a reason to deny your wrongdoing or claim your superiority. These three words could be the beginning of seeing yourself in a new way, of understanding what you previously did not comprehend, or turning while you still have time to turn.
We could read Matthew this morning and say, "Those fools in Bethsaida! How could the people of Capernaum be so dense? Jesus performed miracles among you, and you act as if nothing is different."
Or, we could recognize that when we point our finger at someone else, three fingers (and in some ways a thumb) are pointing back at us. Woe to me. God saved my life more times than I can count, and still, I complain. Woe to me. Jesus has given me abundant life now and for eternity, but I spend my time being hateful and jealous. Woe to me. I see the suffering of others, and I pretend that it doesn't matter.
When we are honest with ourselves, we can begin to change. It's not too late.
How have you taken for granted the miracles of Christ? When have you gone through the motions without your heart being filled with faith? In what ways have you blocked the transformative power of the love of God in your life from allowing you to be a witness in the world?
Daily Lectionary Readings for Year A
Have you seen reports lately of people yelling or acting in the most disturbing ways? It's often people complaining about wearing a mask to protect others in public. Or, sometimes it's people who are upset with those who are marching for justice. The words shouted and the body language displayed reveals anger that feels consuming and dangerous.
In 1 Kings this morning, Elijah asks God to convince the people of God's power. And in one swoop, a fire-ball disintegrates the wood, the stone, and evaporates the pool of water. God chose to speak through action.
In 1 John, the early Christians are advised to discern carefully the prophets who claim to speak on God's behalf. Test their spirits, because there are many false prophets who seek to lead God's people astray.
One lesson we can ponder today is to examine our own speech and actions. What if people were looking at our actions, and what if people were listening to our words, in order to discover whether or not God and goodness were part of our lives?
Prayer and practice help us to train ourselves to reflect as much of God as we can. We can model what we say and do after what we learn of Christ. Be compassionate. Show mercy. Always be kind. Be mindful of others. Pray. Speak truth to power. Include everyone. Take the time to connect. See God in others. What else can you learn from Jesus to help you to live a life reflective of his love?
A helpful acronym is T.H.I.N.K..
Ask, is what I am saying:
Let us continue the work to follow in the footsteps of Christ. Maybe there is someone you could call or reach out to today to help you think about the way you T.H.I.N.K..
Daily Lectionary Readings for Year A
In-person worship at Wesley Park will resume August 2!*
*It will be a modified time of worship, in the Family Life Center, with masks and social distancing in place, pending no significant increase in coronavirus cases in our area.
Despite the asterisk, I am so happy to announce that we are getting closer to worshiping God together at church, as well as continuing with online worship, Wesley Park worship on WKTV each Tuesday at noon, and an option to listen to worship on your car radio in the parking lot through our own FM Transmitter. You will be receiving a series of five letters between now and August 2 with guidelines and explanations. The Joshua Task Force of Wesley Park has been hard at work to do all we can to provide a safe and worshipful time to celebrate and praise God.
Worshiping, celebrating, and praising God is the essence of the lectionary readings today. When you break it down, worship is all about God. Worship is not about us, worship is about God. Worship is praising God for all that God has done, is doing, and will do. It's clapping our hands for God. Worship is learning how to be obedient to God even when we don't fully understand it all. Worship is about practicing loving others because Jesus teaches us that love changes everything.
What new insights about worship have you learned in these months since we last worshiped in person together? What have you missed? What have you enjoyed? What are you looking forward to as you anticipate new ways of praising God in worship?
Daily Lectionary Readings for Year A
Do you ever get frustrated with others? Have you ever had someone get on your last nerve? Someone who never listens... someone who gossips... someone who is stubborn... someone who doesn't seem to care, etc. During those moments of extreme irritation perhaps you had a few choice words to say, maybe to nobody in particular, maybe under your breath, or just shouts into the abyss. Paul has a good one in his letter to the Galatians. He is so frustrated with people who, in his viewpoint, are not understanding how inclusive the church of Christ must be, he writes, "I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!" Wow! Tell us how you really feel, Paul! Yikes.
I found an article that suggests a three-point strategy when you feel like telling someone they should go and castrate themselves. Give it a try the next time you get mad at somebody.
Step1: I am angry because _________ shouldn’t be__________________.
Step2: I would prefer if __________________________________________.
Step 3: Here’s what I can do about it ____________________________________.
How do you think Paul would have filled in the blanks for these three statements?
Remember to take good care of yourself and others. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Practice Social Distancing. Work for Justice. Advocate for the oppressed. Get lots of rest. Love your neighbor.
Daily Lectionary Readings for Year A
Change is not easy. When life changes we feel a little out of control. We lose a sense of our place. We are sometimes confused about our purpose. A part of us might even wish for nothing to change, ever! Keep things the way they always were so that my life isn't disrupted. But we know that change is needed and inevitable.
Change is needed because we are not "there" yet. We do not live in a world filled with God's grace and the peace that Christ lived and died for. We have not yet committed ourselves to racial justice. The coronavirus continues to spread in part because we haven't as a society changed the way we think about caring for our neighbor. The environment is all out of whack.
The church from its very beginnings has struggled against change. Paul realized the Gospel of Jesus Christ was for the whole world, not just for the children of Abraham who were distinguished by circumcision, the sign of the covenant. When Paul said a person didn't have to be circumcised to be a follower of Jesus he was run out of town. This proves the point that we do not have God's wisdom or depth of grace. God is ever-expanding our understanding of the community of faith and expecting us to care for and about more and more of our neighbors.
We can go into this ever-changing world kicking and screaming, demanding that nothing is moved and nothing is done to make us uncomfortable. Or we can embrace God's wondrous plan. We can confront racism, change unjust systems, expand our sense of community, make new relationships, and let love of others be our guiding principle.
Take some time today to write down the changes you have experienced in your lifetime. Were they scary to go through? What lessons did you learn from them? How do you deal with change in the church and change in the world?