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Genealogy & White Privilege

Rembrandt’s “Jacob wrestling with the Angel”

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.

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