Tonight’s call was a deep dive into the world of women, race, and the church. Lisa lead us all in a series of reflections on what the kingdom–or kin-dom–of God looks like vs. what we’ve been taught that it should look like. If the kingdom is about justice and shalom, what have I internalized that church should be as a white woman? Culture and the church has presented seats at the table for woman and people of color as though it is a zero sum game. The white men don’t give up their seats and therefore we are put in competition with each other. White women have been far too fast to trade justice and freedom for everyone for seats at the white man’s table and white men have leveraged white supremacy as a tool to keep white women from joining forces with people of color to overturn the white, male assumption of power.
And this isn’t just in the secular world, it is very much mirrored within the church and much to our detriment. The assumption of whiteness as leadership in mainline churches for example is one we really need to take a hard look at. Why is it that when we in the Episocopal church say we are “inclusive” on our church profiles, what we mean is LGBTQIA+ friendly because we’re still a majority white denomination? Why is it so hard to get our church as a whole to do more than lip service to repenting from the sin of racism? How can we hope to transform the culture when we are so busy mirroring the destructive aspects of it? And what would it look like to turn these structures on their heads and change up the seats and make the table big enough for everyone?
I don’t have answers to all these yet, but these are important things to ask as we move forward into the next year. I know I want to commit to justice for everyone. I don’t want a seat at the table if I had to elbow someone out of the way to get it because that’s not how God’s table works. God’s table is big enough for everyone and thriving in God’s kingdom is not a zero-sum game. If there’s competition for the seats, then it’s not God’s table.
One more call tomorrow night then it’s laundry and packing time to get ready to head to NY on Sunday afternoon! I’m going to try to keep informally typing up thoughts like this, sort of like letting you all peek at my journal so to speak and feel free to jump in the dialogue as we go!
I wrote a piece reframing the conversation about communion and baptism within a conversation about shalom and the total well-being and thriving of our neighbor.
“Just as a friend or even a stranger can be invited to a family dinner should they turn up at mealtime, so the unbaptized may turn up at the rail, hungry for something they don’t yet even know exists. If the manner in which we eat the Lord’s supper is faith (BCP Article 28), and faith is itself a work of the Spirit in the heart, then the budding and unrecognized faith of many may bring them to the rail for reasons they cannot yet articulate, as the Spirit draws them to God.
Does this diminish from the sacredness of communion or the need to prepare one’s heart before receiving? I would argue it does not, for the desire of that person may be much purer than those who — though baptized — are receiving from habit or rote, and not letting the act of communing with Jesus each week have any discernible impact on their day-to-day life. In fact, the latter model for receiving communion should be considered dangerous. After all, communion is a recommittal to our union with Christ, and is, as Carole Bailey Stoneking put it, “…deadly work because it forms us into people ready to die for what we believe.” This holds perfectly with admonishment in the prayer book that “The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith … yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing” (BCP Article 29). In other words, I think it would do many of us in the church a great good to consider our own manner of receiving and let God sort out what’s happening when, on occasion, an unbaptized person is drawn to the table.”
The longer I do this thing of trying to walk through life calling myself a Christian and trying to figure out what that means in a world where everything feels increasingly urgent and conversations and relationships have become increasingly fraught, I find myself wondering what is the minimum essential belief. Is there a basic statement we can boil down this thing called following Jesus to that all of us who claim to be trying to do that can agree on–or dare I say, should agree on.
And I’m not one for pulling verses out to support my position because I feel like it’s too easy to do that and miss how those words connect into the grand stories that span the whole of the Bible and can’t be understood without connection to the other, but there is this one statement, this one instance, where it seems stunningly clear.
Don’t get me wrong, the context is still very important, as is the way that Jesus answers this particular question. The question comes in a series of questions. Two different religious groups wanted to trick him into saying something illegal or blasphemous so they would have grounds to get rid of him. They had realized he was talking about them in his parables and they “wanted to arrest him” (Matthew 21: 46). And the very next parable Jesus tells had to be rubbing salt in the proverbial wound talking about how all the people they called unclean, and undesirable, sinners and righteous alike, and brought them to the wedding banquet instead of the original invitees. Now if we zoom back out on this story for a second, and look at all the times God tried to invite humans to God’s party and they mistreated God’s messengers, you see why they end up missing out on the party altogether. But only because they refused to come. Folks, there’s a whole other post in there, but I’m trying to set the stage for this one statement so I’m going to move on.
Fast-forwarding here there were several other trick questions about taxes and the resurrection, and finally they come out with the one they think will really stump Jesus. Now if you go through these stories in Matthew 22 you’ll see Jesus frequently returns questions with questions and in a broader context of the gospels, returns questions with stories.
So I believe it is very significant here that Jesus returns this question with a concise and brief statement. One of the religious leaders, who was also a lawyer, asks Jesus,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
And Jesus answers him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandmant. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
I mean, this is huge. This is about as clear as it can be. The Hebrew Scriptures are called the Tanakh which is an acronym for the law (Torah), the prophets (Nevi’im), and the writings (Ketuvim). So saying “on this hangs all the law and the prophets” is short-hand for saying, “All scripture hangs on this.” And since Jesus is standing there in the flesh, pre-writing of the rest of what we Christians recognize as Scripture, I think it’s safe to assume all of what we call scripture hangs on these two commandments, which are so intertwined, that even though this lawyer asked him for the most important commandment, Jesus gave him two.
So I’m breaking down all my theology and beliefs and re-analyzing all of it. Is it based on love of God and in the same breath, love of my neighbor?
Because when we are radically committed to love of our neighbor, it changes how we preach, how we vote, how we interact with people we disagree with, it changes everything. It requires we put the well-being and thriving of our neighbor over and above any other goals and forbids us from supporting things that prevent human flourishing in any sector of this planet. I could get specific with examples, but I think any issue in the church or in the world can be measured with this, and if people are really trying to come up with solutions that hold the love of your neighbor in first place, then we would be implementing a whole bunch of things differently. Does that belief love your neighbor as yourself, does that policy put the flourishing of your neighbor above all else, does that movement put the safety and peace of your neighbor in first place?
What would you change if you put love of neighbor first?
One last thought and then I may come back to this in other posts, but if you’re wondering who your neighbor is, Jesus has a story about that for you too. And just for kicks if you haven’t done it, look at what the people he was telling the story to thought of Samaritans and vice-versa. Jesus loved to get in there with stories that would have been considered transgressive to the religious leaders of his day.
And one more extension of this who is my neighbor. If this tied up with love of God is the most important thing to believe and act on, then Jesus showed us what that means very literally in the cross. And he died for the whole world, meaning if we are to walk in his footsteps, then the whole world is our neighbor.
Okay last, LAST, caveat. I’m thinking on a broad scale right now, and trying to hold up both theological and political beliefs to this light. In no way does this apply to you staying in toxic relationships that are sucking the life out of you, or are otherwise abusive. Staying in those relationships enables abuse and doesn’t help anyone. Removing yourself from those loops and calling out the toxic person or abuser when necessary and safe to do so can also be an act of loving your neighbor as well as yourself. But most importantly, if you can’t care for yourself, you can’t care for your neighbor. Taking steps to promote all human flourishing means that you and I get to flourish as well.