Wednesday, June 24, 2015

When a loaf of bread is prophetic.

This past Sunday a lot of preachers tried to address the tragic shooting and murder of nine members of Mother Emmanuel AME church by a self pro-ported white supremacist.  I commend all of these preachers for attempting to look out over the pews of their own faith community and speak cogently about an incomprehensible act of terror.  I commend my brothers and sisters for standing up and speaking out.  I mentioned the massacre in my sermon as well, but I feel a desire today to say more.

However, before I can say more, I think I should address the question, "Who am I to say anything at all?"  I mean on paper I am just another middle aged white dude who has grown up in a country that privileges middle aged white dudes.  So, do I have something to say, and if so, should I even say it at all?

I think I do have something to say because even though I am a middle aged white dude, that's not all the privilege I have.  For the last six and a half years I have been privileged to serve as the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection (CoR) in North Omaha, NE.  "North O" is the traditionally African-American part of Omaha, which suffers the brunt of systemic racism like many other traditionally African-American neighborhoods in cities all over this country.  More than the geography, more then the location of CoR, it is a privilege to be a part of CoR's history.  29 years ago the white parish of St. John's and the black parish of St. Philip's merged to form the Church of the Resurrection.   The merger was not out of an ideal of reconciling the races however.  No, the merger was about survival.  Both congregations, like so many in the Episcopal Church, had thrived in the 50s and 60s and then began to decline in the 70s and 80s; so much so that joining together was the only way to find a way forward.

It was not an easy way forward though.  It took almost 15 years or more for the people to come together, to no longer think of themselves as two faith communities worshiping together.  It took that long at least for folks to begin to think of themselves as one community, one "culturally diverse family united in God's love."

This is where the prophetic nature of a loaf of bread comes in.  See, we break bread together here at the Church of the Resurrection in complete and total defiance of the "powers that be".  The fallen forces of this world want us to be separate.  They want worship time on Sunday morning to remain, "the most segregated hour in America," as Dr. King said.  Therefore it is prophetic for us to gather around God's Altar and share in the bread and wine that are the body and blood of Christ.  It is prophetic because we then leave that altar to go and be the body and blood of Christ--taken, broken, blessed, and given--to a hurting world in deep need of God's love.

Now that last sentence, might just sound like preacher rhetoric, just nice sounding words that lack much behind them.  That is not the case, at least not in my own life and in the lives of the members of  the CoR faith community.  So much of American society keeps us separated by race and class.  However, praying with and for the members of CoR brings me into deep relationship not just with Black folks, but also Sudanese folks and Puerto Rican Folks, gay folks and straight folks, rich and poor.  If I wasn't serving alongside this faith community, my kids would not have African American Godparents and I wouldn't have a Sudanese Goddaughter.  We live our lives through the Church of the Resurrection as a prophetic vision of what God's Kingdom on earth should look like.

So, I think I have something to say about a way forward after Charleston, because it just as easily could have been CoR that the gunman walked into that night.  I humbly suggest three things we should all do next.  First, please know that systemic racism in this country is about more than a flag.  Certainly the Confederate Battle Flag should come down just as it never should have been raised over the state house in South Carolina.  However, the way that the conversation has been taken over by discussing the flag is a distraction from hearing the voices of those calling for change.  It is easier to talk about a flag than it is to look at our privilege as white people. It is easier to talk about a flag, then to be convicted by the forgiveness that some of the members of Mother Immanuel AME have already offered the shooter.

Which leads us to the second thing we should do: be convicted by grace.  Specifically the grace of God working through those profoundly forgiving members of Mother Immanuel AME.  To be real honest, I do not know if I could do that.  I love the people of CoR deeply and if someone harmed them, it would only be the power of God that could cause me to forgive such a criminal.  Watching and listening to the members of Mother Immanuel is convicting me to search my own heart and aspire to greater forgiveness.  And it should convict us all to do the same.

Lastly, and this is the lesson I have learned at the Church of the Resurrection: We should live together.  I don't just mean segregation should be unlawful.  I mean we should eat together and pray together like the early Christian communities.  I mean we should worship together on Sunday, work with each other during the week, and fellowship with each other on the weekends.  I mean we need to go to the school programs and little league games of the children of our black friends.  I mean we should learn the deepness of relationship with others in an incarnate and functional way.  Black lives matter, not just when we hold up a sign, but when we have personal relationships with actual black people.

While the proceeding paragraph sounds simple, it is not.  Society is set up to keep us apart.  That is why it is prophetic that the Church of the Resurrection exists.  That is why it is prophetic for us to share in the bread and wine of communion; so that we may be the One Body of Christ out in the world.  That is why it is prophetic to be a "culturally diverse family united in God's love."