The Sunday after Senator Gabbi Giffords was shot, in a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, I went to church hoping to hear some reflection on that violence. However the preacher that morning did not address it in his sermon, although Giffords and the other victims were lifted up in the Prayers of the People. Still, I found the lack of comment in the sermon to be unsettling, it taught me that as priests and preachers we need to be willing to address the tragedies and current events in the context of the scripture readings, to place the confusion and horror and sorrow in the history of God’s action in the world.
So it was a bit of challenge for me to figure out how to address the recent killings of two more black men and the mass shooting of police officers in Dallas in the context of our planned summer sermon time. We had planned to hold congregational dialogues in our sermon time. My concern was that people would skirt the issue rather than face it head on. I wanted to facilitate a conversation that would prod us to look deeper into the reading and face the reality of racism in this country and the violent way it is playing out. Here is what I said:
Today begins our summer dialogue on the Gospel of Luke. This conversation will take the place of the sermon time. It is an invitation for people in the pews to ask questions, but it’s not a question and answer time with the priest, it’s a time of contemplation. So you can ask and respond to questions among your selves, comment on what was “heard” in the readings. I will facilitate the conversation. It’s a spiritual dialogue. This Sunday the reading in Luke is the parable of the Good Samaritan where-in we will ponder,
“Who is our neighbor?”
In light of all the violence, the seemingly ceaseless killings, the fear, anger, and rising tide of prejudice, especially this week – it is a fair question for the Gospel to ask of us. Who is our neighbor? And, “How do we care for the stranger?”
Jesus asks this of us, and it’s a timely question, the change this world needs begins with us.”
Here is some of what was said by members of the parish:
“We need to see everyone as our neighbor, to see everyone as the same, no more color.”
The challenge with that premise is that it glosses over the reality that racism is a systematic and institutional reality in our society which has caused deep hurt. While it can be a goal to work toward, it needs first for us, white folk, to acknowledge the racism and work to understand it, end it in all of its ways, work for reconciliation and healing.
Another person said:
“The problem with love your neighbor is that we tend to only want to love the neighbor who looks like us, we don’t see or love those who look different than we do.”
I think this comment gets at the heart of our unrecognized prejudice. Often we do not even see the ways we are manifesting prejudice. Instead we tend to demonize others and name them as unworthy to be our neighbor. I spoke about how, whenever there is violence like there was this week, I am painfully reminded that I am part of the problem, even though I did not pull the trigger. As part of the privilege white class in the United States I am part of the systemic and institutionalized racism that exits. I manifest its reality in ways I don’t intend and racism resides in me in ways I am unaware of. The burden is on me to become aware and work to change this. I then suggested that as a parish we need to read and discuss Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow.”
Other good conversation took place, with members of the parish being brave and willing to speak up. We concluded the conversation in each of the three services with the following prayer:
From page 815 in the Book of Common Prayer: prayer for the human family
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Then I said:
Pray especially for the Dallas shooting victims: Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Mike Smith, and Loren Aherns. Pray also for the broken soul of the shooter, Micah Johnson. And for the shooting victims Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. With God’s love may they rest in peace and may their loved ones who remain in this realm find comfort in the love and grace of God.
The rise in violence in this country is a reminder that some places of this world face violence every moment of the day, that children are raised in fear and violence and death, that parents bury their young too early, that pride, arrogance, prejudice, greed, racism, xenophobia, and all the ways we marginalize human beings, are ways that humans turn away from God and fail to live as God would have us live. I pray for peace.