This past Sunday’s lectionary reading from the Old Testament was the story from Genesis 32: 22-31 of Jacob “wrestling with an angel.” My parish had a guest preacher, the Rev. Dr. Don Hamer, who is part of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut’s Racial Justice, Healing, and Reconciliation Network. Don pondered Jacob’s anxiety and stress as he prepared to meet Esau, the brother whose birthright he had stolen twenty years earlier. Then Don delved into the meaning of “birthright” from a biblical standpoint followed by how we, as Americans, have a birthright as stated in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. That is – those of us who are white have received the benefits of this birthright – the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our siblings of color were never intended to be part of this inheritance. I don’t do his sermon justice with this summary, so listen to it here before reading further.
As I contemplated Don’s words, I “wrestled” with one of the projects that have been occupying my time over these past months: my ancestors. Many of them fought (and died) in King Philip’s War, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War (for the North) as well as all the wars that have followed. They fought for freedom as good Christian men (yes, it was a patriarchy). They purchased property, built new towns that are now cities, and farmed the land. The American dream. My heritage.
The life and legacy of Absalom Jones is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, his faith, and his commitment to the causes of freedom, justice, and self-determination. Born a slave, he became one of the founders of the black Episcopal church in America, becoming the first African American Episcopal priest. He was a leading figure among Philadelphia’s African American community (born a slave in 1746 in Delaware, he was manumitted – released from slavery – in 1784) who advocated the abolition of slavery from the pulpit. You can read more about him at the Episcopal Church Archives site. His feast day (day of death) is February 13.
Set us free, Heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Collect for Absalom Jones, February 13 in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2006, p. 160)
There are many sermons and documents, plus an official portrait of Absalom Jones. Choose more or more of the following to delve deeper into the life of this important American and priest:
Since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, his birthday on January 15 has been honored with speeches, sharing Dr. King’s values of the American Dream, equal opportunity, and that one day white and black children might be judged by “the content of their character . . . [and not] by the color of their skin.” How do we do justice to Dr. King’s commitment to social justice that involves (as it do for him) personal faith, the New Testament’s gospel of unconditional love, and the Old Testament prophetic insistence on righteous justice? “It is not enough for us to talk about love,” he told his followers. “There is another side called justice . . . . Standing beside love is always justice. Not only are we using the tools of persuasion––we’ve got to use the tools of coercion.”
I am personal of privilege – white (Anglo-Saxon to boot); financially independent; a home owner; a graduate of high school, college, and seminary – all with honors; and I have a voice in circles of power. I am a beneficiary of the GI Bill – I have no proof of this except that my father (and two uncles) seemed to be able to marry, buy property, and build homes in the suburbs within five years of returning stateside after being in the Pacific or European theater. For this alone I can recognize I was born to succeed in America. Not something my eight-year-old “colored” friend who was bussed to my elementary school in the 1960s could ever say. This is just the tip of the iceberg to understanding how much more I need to do to help dismantle racism.
For the past several years I have been doing “personal work” regarding my privilege as a white person in America. Yes, over the years I have taken lots of “anti-racism” trainings and workshops – even so much as to be a trainer to lead workshops for others. Yes, I have consciously made decisions about not succumbing to the “white flight” of many of my young children’s friends’ parents to flee to the white suburbs . . . called many people of color my friends . . . come to grips with the racism (what I saw as bigotry) from my family members . . . and tried hard to make sure diverse voices were heard and included in the many committees, task forces, and projects I have participated in. But that isn’t enough. Continue reading More Resources for Dismantling Racism→
I have written about the VUCA World since attending a conference many years ago (Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes) that featured Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future. His research and predictions struck a chord with me and I continue to be reminded of his predictions as they are being lived out today – even though he spoke of these issues emerging in the future. The future is just as much a part of our past and present as they will be fifty or one hundred years from now.
Bob also spoke about his earlier book Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present – look for what you have in common, not what you are polarized about. The Book of Provocation, written for the Episcopal Church, is a product of IFTF and CEEP. Bob said “Faith will live in the space between judging too soon and deciding too late.” The Book of Provocation highlights 15 sources of provocation for the Episcopal Church from the custom ten year forecast map. For each provocation the author suggests dilemmas that are likely to be raised for Episcopal churches if this forecast comes to pass, as well as discerning questions for church members to consider.
This VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) can also lead to opportunities (vision, understanding, clarity, and agility) in the present moment. Several polarities are being lived out in our country today that he names: the Rich/Poor Gap, Polarizing Extremes, and Urban Wilderness.
As we have watched young black men die and our cities have been filled with events of violence, hatred, and polarity the Church has again named the sin of racism that is alive and well in our society. At the 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, three resolutions were put forth regarding resources for discussing racism and anti-racism training. And funding was provided for the creation of new resources in the triennial budget.
But what about now? What is available for our congregations to delve into this fall as a new program year arrives? Here are a few that are available to begin the conversation, according to each resolution: Continue reading Resources for Discussing Racism→