I find the rise in racism and xenophobia alarming.
Here in Canada we see items all the time about people blaming those of Asian descent for the pandemic. Verbally abusing them, even assaulting them. More alarming elderly Asians have been treated with violence, which suggest that there may also be ageism at play.
Or perhaps the weak and the vulnerable are easy targets because it is harder for them to fight back.
The news about what has been happening in the United States raises concern to alarm. It’s not new, it has been happening for decades. I remember demonstrating regarding racist treatments in the 60’s and 70’s.
And yet it still goes on. Black men hunted by vigilantes for what, the crime of looking at a house under construction, and jogging through a white neighbourhood. Another black man killed while being arrested. These incidents of the past few months are not isolated. They are systemic.
So the people take to the streets to express grief and pain. To protest systemic racism and problems with law enforcement that seems to show that there is one way to treat whites and another way to treat people of colour.
Pain, grief, anger, frustration at a system that needs to be fixed. Changed. Corrected. It is no wonder that people demonstrate, chant, and sing for justice.
A few years ago, well probably more than that, I was preaching at a vacant congregation in Calgary. I was following a cycle through Romans, and one Sunday was preaching on the topic: slaves to righteousness. I preached to a mixed congregation in the morning and never thought about how slavery images could impact those Africans who were at worship. But that discomfort affected me deeply at the afternoon service which I happened to preach at that day. The afternoon service was a lovely, caring, dedicated, group of people from Africa. I preached with a translator beside me, and although the people responded well to the message, I felt uncomfortable.
After the service I was speaking with one man who told me how much he appreciated the teaching of the sermon. I commented to him that I had never in my life felt so white and privileged as I did that afternoon. His gracious comment, “Slavery was a fact of life for many of us. You didn’t cause it. But that doesn’t change that all of us need to give our all to God, slaves to the salvation he brought in Jesus.”
I am grateful for his words. Indeed I am grateful to that whole community. Their acceptance of me, and the work that I did among them meant a lot. They mean a lot. And I respect and honour them with the same degree of love that they extended to me.
And that is why what is happening right now, brings me pain. What is happening now should bring all of us pain.
And you can see the pain spreading. First across the United States, erupting in cities from coast to coast. Here in Canada as questionable policing is being questioned this weekend in Toronto as the people demonstrate. I don’t know all the details, but I have heard the pain-filled pleas of the family. In Vancouver there are demonstrations pointing out the painful history of the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Despite years of pleas and political investigations they remain a vulnerable and seemingly targeted population.
And we see the demonstrations about the injustice of George Floyd’s death spread internationally as people gather in Great Britain and Germany and elsewhere.
All of these demonstrations are a stark reminder that racism, injustice and lack of respect for vulnerable populations are the darkness beneath the polite veneer of the societies in which all of us live.
That veneer is being challenged, as demonstrations turn into violence, looting, and vandalism. But this IS NOT ON THE DEMONSTRATORS. Over and over again you hear the leaders urging caution, tolerance, respect. At a press conference in Minneapolis on Saturday morning the chief of police pointed out that all those who were arrested were from out of the state. It was later reported that some were known white supremacists.
When peaceful demonstrations are derailed by those who incite violence, looting and vandalism the message gets lost.
Our world cannot afford to lose the message. Racism is wrong. Treating a person differently because of their colour, race, country of origin, gender, or orientation is wrong. Perpetuating violence against those who are vulnerable and cannot fight back is wrong.
We all need to remember that Jesus came to earth to save the lost. That means you and me. That means people of all races. That means people who are downtrodden. That means the poor. That means everyone. Everyone.
To God we are all his creation and he loves ALL OF US deeply.
Today in congregations around the world we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit who unites us as a Church in unity of purpose and service. The Spirit unites all of us, without checking our colour or financial status first.
So today we need to stand in unity with those who protest, those who ask for change, those who cry out for equality. Those who seek to be respected as people who are created equal, and loved by God.
But we also need to make sure that we extend that respect in our actions and the way that we live. We need to listen to the Holy Spirit and walk with the Spirit’s guidance as we learn (and sadly we need to learn) how to live in solidarity with one another.
Remember the song that was popular gosh so many years ago. Its words, Red and yellow, black and white all are precious in his sight. Outdated language to be sure, but the sentiment will never be outdated and will continue to be true. We are all precious in God’s sight. Let us live in that truth.
For the love of God, let us live in that truth.
PRECIOUS IN GOD’S SIGHT
Patient God, you have called us to love one another, and the stranger and the outcast. Remind us that we are called to take care of the least of these
Enlighten us that in your sight no one is least
Cause us to remember that greater than and less than are human constructs
Instill in us a desire to love, and live with justice for all
Open our hearts to hear the pain, the grief and the anger
Until in conviction we confess that we are a part of this system that fails so many
Silence our desire to put ourselves first
In your wisdom gather us to learn the ways of peacemaking and justice
Nurture our desire to see Jesus in every person we meet
Grant us your heart of reconciliation
Open us to hear your Spirit speak
Deliver us from evil
Shape us in love
Show yourself in all that we do
Ignite us with a passion for your justice for all
Grieving hearts long to know your presence
Hurting people seek your comfort
Teach us all to be your presence, your comfort, your love and your justice. Amen