Have You…Could You Turn a Tough Corner to Follow Jesus? : Old First E-pistle 01.15.16

Have You…Could You Turn a Tough Corner to Follow Jesus? : Old First E-pistle 01.15.16

Discussing the rash of racist violence, injury and death that has made it to headlines in the last year and a half — and more generally, all the unfinished racial and ethnic injustice that is our country’s heritage (or judgement?) — a friend referred me to the 2006 film “Crash.” While I was at home sick this week, I watched it.

The film, not unexpectedly in light of its subject matter, paints a pretty depressing picture. It’s built on a number of more and other less nuanced stereotyped characters. And it’s constructed around a series of “car wrecks” — literally and figuratively: people’s lives that unavoidably crash into one another in Los Angeles in a 36 hour period. These collisions all touch on, or are even triggered by, racial and ethnic misunderstanding and prejudice, mistrust or hatred.

The actor Don Cheadle, as a LAPD detective, opens the movie with a post-pile-up soliloquy about how in other cities people brush up against or even bump into each other in the normal passings of a day. But in LA, “always behind metal and glass, we miss the touch so much that we crash into each other, just so that we can feel something.”

The movie targets how daily “collisions” are unavoidable, because ordinary people are driven by various racist crash-courses, in as much as racist narratives — all the way down to our subconscious — often inform nearly every aspect of our identities: our ethnicity; our work; our dress; our way of speaking, our slang, our accent; our music and movements; our marriages and families; our sense of our selves and our worldviews.

I wondered as I watched, is this racialized depiction more eye-opening for Euro-Americans than to folks of color who often cannot afford to be oblivious to these realities?

“Crash” suggests we are ALL haunted:

~ by stereotypes we adopt or try to side-step, as well as those we project onto others;
~ by paranoia, not all of which is unjustified;
~ by bigotry and fear; and
~ by mutual misunderstanding.
The Director, Paul Haggis, depicts especially well the intricacies of how racism plays out disastrously not only between people who are “different,” but also between people of the same groups.

“Crash’ was an engaging, if depressing, reflection of how the nexus of racism is so deep inside of how we are with one another and how we are with ourselves (viz. who we are). It left me feeling sort of hopeless, like there’s no way out. Can we extricate ourselves individually or as a society?

Feeling overwhelmed — as I have often in this last year and a half (or truth be told, for the last 30+ years when confronted by the roadblocks that often come up between us and racial reconciliation) — I started to give up hope, thinking that maybe our problems with race are beyond our power, beyond our capacity to remedy such flawed relations and societies. We can’t redeem ourselves.

I’m not trying to duck my responsibility or discount our agency. But I admit I’d like more help and hope for solutions that often feel so far beyond our reach. I pray for God’s help.

Racial reconciliation is central to the Gospel. Paul describes the work of Christ as one of reconciliation between warring factions. In Paul’s day, the opposing groups were Jews and Gentiles. In American history traditionally the divide has been between whites and Blacks. Though in contemporary America, as “Crash” effectively depicts, there are many more players and projections as the global village has come to town.

Paul wrote, “For Christ himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. . . . His purpose was to create one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in his one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:14–16).

New Testament images are often gloriously multi-ethnic:  an open Table; a surprising banquet; a multi-national church, or Revelation’s image of heaven: “I looked and before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).

So if it’s God’s will to bring back together what has been rent asunder, what do we have to do?

Rereading King this week, I am reminded that his answer was love in the form of non-violence.

Sunday, for MLK weekend, I’m going to preach about our needing to recognize God’s times breaking in and through what we usually consider as our time.

But in this E-pistle I want to add one more suggestion: we need to repent.

“Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near'” (Matthew 4:17). Familiar words, the exact words Matthew records John the Baptist preaching (3:1). And in Mark’s account of Jesus’ life, these very same words are the first words Jesus is given to speak.

Maybe if we begin by repenting of our racism, we will discover God has transformational power to add to our efforts?

Repentance is not a religious word we use all the much around Old First. (There are others as well, good theological words, that are not common usage for us, because of our theological stance and style {or someone else’s!}, but that’s another E-pistle…)

Repentance sounds a bit too fire and brimstone for many of us; too big claim for the milder spiritual paths we tred;  a bit overblown, even proud, for the sins many of us confess.

But, consider this: racism might be just a big enough struggle, a serious  enough sin to call for repentance.

Beloved, repenting is not about feeling bad (instead of doing something). To repent doesn’t mean to grovel in
self-hatred or to find refuge in some pious sorrow. When you repent, you turn around, make a radical break with the past, choose a different path, change directions. It is to think, see, act, respond differently. Repentance implies going off auto-pilot to plot another course. It involves an abrupt end to what has been your business as usual. It is  new life.

If you want a good example of repentance, go back and reread how Jesus called his first disciples, Peter and Andrew, and next James and John. His was a call to leave their old lives behind. Not to look back. But to drop everything and try something new now.

Has your following Jesus involved some repentance?

Or do we look for some wiggle room? Or excuses? Could discipleship really require such urgency and abandonment? Shouldn’t we go back home and think it over for awhile? Talk it over with the family and friends? Make sure people don’t think we’re acting irrationally, impulsively, even irresponsibly —  just walking away… Don’t we know that  that change takes time? What if we make some radical commitment to Jesus, and later regret it. Or qw turn out to be wrong? Isn’t there some middle way to follow, just not all the way?

Jesus invited Peter, Andrew, James and John to reorient their lives by following him. Have you ever repented to follow Jesus? Let go and started anew?  

Could repenting of our world’s racism be your chance? In the context of our time and place, his call to discipleship sounds, at the least, like calls we are receiving to a new honesty about the dynamics of white privilege.

Have You…Could You Turn a Tough Corner to Follow Jesus?

See you in church (I’m back this week),

Michael