Sunday, November 30, 2014

"And a football player shall lead them..."

Today’s collect asks us to “cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light.” Isaiah cries out for God to come down and intervene, tearing apart the heavens if need be because people are so awful. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.” Isaiah sees that sin holds the world hostage, and he cannot imagine how that bond between humanity and sin can be broken except through the radical intervention of the divine.

I find myself wondering how the sin of racism that grips our nation might be broken. It is Advent, and we are supposed to be full of hope. I find it hard to have hope on this. It’s not the specifics of the grand jury decision about Michael Brown’s death that causes me to despair; it is the consistency of the fractured relationship between men of color and police that is reflective of our larger systemic and personal conscious and unconscious racism.

But a reflection by Benjamin Watson of the New Orleans Saints on the Ferguson grand jury decision caught my eye. The source—a tight end for a pro football team—challenged me to get over my own prejudice against football players… but his words stuck with me. And I want to share them with you. To let a black man take over the pulpit today, and preach the Gospel. Mr. Watson wrote:

“At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:

I'M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.

I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.

I'M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I'm a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a "threat" to those who don't know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.

I'M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.

I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.

I'M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn't there so I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.

I'M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I've seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.

I'M CONFUSED, because I don't know why it's so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don't know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.

I'M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take "our" side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it's us against them. Sometimes I'm just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that's not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That's not right.

I'M HOPELESS, because I've lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I'm not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.

I'M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it's a beautiful thing.

I'M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that's capable of looking past the outward and seeing what's truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It's the Gospel. So, finally, I'M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.”

Advent is about confronting our sin problem through the Gospel. And Benjamin Watson’s sensitivity and insight has given me hope. We are sinful. But if we do not believe that the One who came to save us from our sin really does offer us the capacity to listen and change and be molded into better and more faithful followers of Jesus, then why are we here? And if the church is not a safe enough place to talk about and be vulnerable about our hopes and fears and insights about race, then again, why are we here? This is the season in which we anticipate God taking on the vulnerability of being human in the Christ child; as the ones who follow him, we are called to a place in which we, too, are vulnerable.

Where do you have a sin problem, particularly around issues of race? And where are you angry, frustrated, fearful, embarrassed, sad, sympathetic, offended, confused, introspective, hopeless, hopeful, and encouraged?

The light of the Advent wreath is to remind us that even when the days are short and the nights long, when darkness seems to be swallowing up the light, the light will shine in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.

Read Benjamin Watson's text at:

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