A long, loving look at the real. That’s how theologian Walter Burghardt described contemplation. And it is more essential than ever that we who call ourselves Christians—and all who call themselves Americans—have the courage to engage in contemplation in a way we’ve not been able or willing to do. It’s time. No, it’s way past time. It begins with a question. What kind of world do we want to live in? What do we want our community, our nation and our world to look like and feel like?
White supremacists and neo-Nazis are clear—they want a world without ‘assorted genetic refuse’ where ‘that which is degenerate in white countries must be removed.’ The only way to embrace this worldview is to dehumanize anyone who doesn’t fit within your definition of who gets to be included. Theirs is a zero sum game where one group’s loss is another’s gain.
At the other end of the spectrum is a world where the incredible diversity evidenced in creation—and visible within the whole human family—is celebrated, honored and respected. Where difference is seen as a gift and a blessing that makes us all more, not less. Where we live into the reality that we are all interconnected and interdependent, indescribably precious to one another and to God. And where any one of us is suffering, we move to come alongside and care for the one who suffers, because that’s what love does.
For Christians, the question gets to an even deeper question about what we believe God’s dream is and what is at the very heart of the Gospel. What does your God look like? Many of us grew up with some sense of God as ‘a big person—a big white man—lording over little people.’ When we conceive of God as wielding power over us, then it flows that we would think what it’s all about is having power to wield over others, and the one with the most power wins.
But that is not the God whom Jesus reveals at all. Jesus let go of all power, even the power to overcome those forces of hate that consorted to crucify him. Jesus wandered the earth looking for people on the outside to welcome them in, including all those pushed to the outside by the powerful. In fact, what truly brought him to anger was any time he encountered those committed to excluding others, most especially when done in the name of God. It isn’t a zero-sum game with winners and losers; it is a whole new understanding where we finally get that winning only happens for any of us to the degree it happens for all of us.
Personally, I think it is clear what kind of world God desires. And I want that world too. God is not a noun but a verb—loving creation into being every moment. The real question, and where the real work comes in, is what I’m willing to do personally to help foster that world, birthing it into being with all those across the world who share the same dream. It begins with being honest about the reality of white privilege that supremacist groups espouse and desire to expand. No, thankfully most of us don’t spew vile and hateful things to and about those who look different than we do. Nevertheless we participate in systems great and small that keep our world from reflecting God’s dream.
White privilege is being able to ignore the reality of ‘our unearned access,’ pretending it doesn’t exist and that we ourselves don’t benefit from it. In the end, the number of white supremacists and neo-Nazis is pretty small relative to the whole population. It is a fact that the rest of us good-hearted, ‘nice’ people have the privilege to walk away from the problem; that is the real reason we cannot heal and flourish and live into our true calling to be, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, ‘the rainbow people of God.’
Are we willing to take a long, loving look at the real in our local community, in our country, in our world? It takes courage, true courage born from great love, to even ask the question—with great humility and openness of heart—and to be willing to listen and learn from our beautiful sisters and brothers about what life in this great country of ours is like, really like, when you are not white and straight.
Let me be clear. This is not about shaming or blaming. This is about being motivated by love to do what we can to be more conscious and intentional about what is, and how we make room for the ‘other’ even as God, Love, makes room for all of us. Only then will we truly know joy in our hearts and in this world. I confess that I am a little scared of what I will find and what it will mean for me. But love is calling. Who will join me?
Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hope to see you Sunday,