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Toward Wholeness Blog

In a culture of death, choose Life

note to the reader: at the very time of this writing and publication, police cars are on fire in downtown Seattle - and there's a palpable, national sense of anger. While we want to put the flames of violent rioting out, we don't want the pain and anger over the racism in our culture to be doused. Instead we want the scourge of racism to be named, repented of, and justice for all to move from words on paper to reality.

When Peter shouted out the words, “be saved from this perverse generation” all those many centuries ago, just a few weeks after Jesus’ resurrection, it had to be a jarring word. “Perverse? This is the Roman Empire! What’s not to love? Great infrastructure, (relatively) clean water, low crime (the famous Pax Romana), and of course, Rome! And Jerusalem too! Great and beautiful cities. ‘Perverse’? Please. There’s never been a better time to be alive.“ Of course, that was a true statement - if you were male, and a landowner, and a loyal citizen of the empire. But for everyone else, oppression ranged from women having no rights in the marriage, to crosses for anyone associated with even a whiff of insurrection. Slaves and non-citizens had no rights. So behind the curtain of peace and prosperity for those at the top, there was a perversity and Peter was saying, “Don’t align with the perversity present in ANY culture (all cultures have them)!! Align with God’s reign”.

Let’s talk about perversity. Though there's much to love about America, the perverse parts of American culture have been on full display this week. Just weeks after the news came out that earlier this year a black jogger was hunted down and shot dead, the deplorable police action in Minnesota resulted in the death of George Floyd. Don't let the violence and looting cloud the bigger issue, as it often does. The angry uprising is rooted in the reality that in spite of a civil war, and a 14th amendment, and a civil rights act, and the election of a black president, being a person of color is tragically high risk, and the fruits of our democracy aren't in full reach. White privilege isn’t just a systemic problem in our culture, it’s deeply rooted in centuries of mindset, and ongoing. If it weren’t, children in cages, draconian immigration declarations, chants of “blood and soil” and the phrase “I can’t breathe” would be all be intolerable and would have been swept away by now. Power structures giving voice to oppression would be dismantled, and for Christ followers, they’d be aligned with what the Bible has to say about our most fundamental calling, which is to DO JUSTICE. Our national mantra of “liberty and justice for all” is just another reason to name systemic racism for the national blight that it is.

Somehow, though, many have made peace with the perversity and oppression of systemic racism, simply by doing nothing. I, for one, have at times been afraid of naming the systemic issues of our day, including racism, for fear that congregants would deem me ”too political”. I’m accused of politicizing Jesus when I bring up issues of the environment, or our collective tolerance of violence, or when I’m bold enough to suggest that caring for the least of these might include caring for both life in the womb, and people whose jobs fail to provide them access to decent health care. Criticism about politicizing the gospel doesn’t fly much with me anymore, however, because God’s kingdom IS political - not partisan or aligned with any single party, but political. Kingdom values stand apart from, and critique, the values and priorities of all parties whenever they run contrary to the values of God’s reign. And any form of covert or overt racism runs counter to the values of God’s kingdom - a kingdom in which there is neither male nor female (gender bias), Jew nor Gentile (race bias), slave nor free (class bias). That it also runs against our national mantra of “liberty and justice for all” is just another reason to name systemic racism for national perversity that it is.

So what to do? Just listening to our brothers and sisters of color is, and must be, our starting point. In addition, here are three steps to consider

MOVE from Perversity to Diversity. Diversity is the way of it in nature. In a conifer forest, the hemlock, fir, and cedar all intertwine their roots, and share their canopy in order to sustain each other. The fir doesn’t say to the hemlock, “No! I’m not sharing my roots with you. Get your own support structure. There’s interdependency, mutual support, and a sense of “when one suffers all suffer”. Surely the same applies to humanity, because we know that when God reigns fully, the nations will both ’join hands’ and ’lay down their weapons‘ in unity, with full justice for all. Why not start now, both with the joining of hands and the laying down of weapons? After all, the kingdom will come fully someday and the 'one blood' that we truly are will be our lived reality, but Jesus‘ message is that the kingdom is ‘here-now’ among those who claim to know and love him!

Find clear next steps. I’ve found this piece to be helpful. You might not agree with every point, but don’t miss the big picture for taking A SINGLE SPECIFIC STEP... OR TEN.

Give up all language about returning to normal. Here’s what one former president said:

It's natural to wish for life 'to just get back to normal' as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us. But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly 'normal' — whether it's while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park.

This shouldn't be 'normal' in 2020 America. It can't be 'normal.' If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better. It will fall mainly on the officials of Minnesota to ensure that the circumstances surrounding George Floyd's death are investigated thoroughly and that justice is ultimately done. But it falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station — including the majority of men and women in law enforcement who take pride in doing their tough job the right way, every day — to work together to create a 'new normal' in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts"

When the smoke clears, may the new normal ultimately be built on our collective repentance of the perversity that is racism.

Finally - just sit with this poignant song:

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