Belief matters.

Reading Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi and RCL 9A

JUL 7, 2023

In his book, Stamped from the Beginning, Kendi looks for the origins of anti-black racism. He tries to ascertain what western Europeans knew about sub-Saharan Africans in the 1400’s when Portuguese and Spanish entrepreneurs began enslaving and selling them. The short answer is, “not much.” The two known books on the subject had been written by men who had little to no actual knowledge of sub-Saharan Africa, its people, language or society. The authors had been paid to write by those who wanted moral justification for the lucrative business of selling kidnapped Africans.

From these two unreliable sources, western Europeans came to believe that Africans were uncivilized: that”[t]hey had no understanding of good, but only know how to live in bestial sloth,” and that it was a moral good to capture and transport them to Europe or colonial America so they might be civilized and brought to Christ. These so called facts/lies live on in contemporary anti-black racism, despite the few people who knew better then and the many who know better now.

Beliefs matter. That was Jesus’ observation in this week’s gospel: he saw that what mattered to people about John the Baptist and the Son of Man was not the truth about who they were, but what people had decided to believe about them. They choose the “facts” that fit what they wanted to believe.  

It might be helpful for the rest of us to be more vocal about what WE believe.

Belief matters. Belief is vision. And visions grow stronger when spoken and shared. On Sundays, for example, we might think about sharing our vision and belief in the things that matter to us like hope, transformation and justice. We could speak of our belief in those things instead of reciting antique beliefs in things like virgin birth and the resurrection of the body, which I doubt anyone one really believes in, or should.

What would a such a creed sound like? The YWCA’s “Stand Against Racism Pledge” is a good start. Click the link and see what you think.


Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash.

Lent 1C: Perfect Answers


Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13

I found myself thinking about the TV gameshow “Jeopardy” this week, after hearing that Alex Trebeck has stage IV pancreatic cancer. That is a tough diagnosis to receive. He has a difficult journey ahead of him.

I started watching Jeopardy with my grandmother and when the host of the show was Art Fleming. I had favorite categories, like “Explorers,” because I was in 5th grade and we were reading about the explorers so I knew who they were.  I did ok with the Bible category, but my grandmother usually did better.

Whatever the category, it always felt good to get the right answers.  On Jeopardy, there was only one right answer and they always showed what the right answer was.

The devil in today’s gospel does not say what he thinks of Jesus’ answers.  We always presume that if Jesus said it, it must be the right and most perfect answer. But one can imagine different answers, and in the story there is no ringing bell or flashing light or voice from the heavens saying “yes, that’s right!”  Instead, after each of Jesus’ responses, the devil just moves on to another temptation, until he gives up.

It’s possible that what is important about Jesus’ answers is not that they are “correct” in the Jeopardy sense that they are the “the one and only” correct answers. It’s possible that they are “right” because they were the right answers for him. They were the answers that focused him on what mattered to him, on what he valued, on the things he believed because he knew them to be true from his own experience. They were right for him because they were what he needed to resist his temptations.

Something else might work for us. Maybe something from a Bible category; maybe not.  Whatever our answers are, they need to be about what matters to us, what we value, what we believe because we know it to be true in our own experience.

Creeds are about beliefs in a way. The Nicene Creed is a centuries-old, well-beloved summary of key Christian concepts. But that is not the kind of belief that we need when we are in the wilderness.  Knowing whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father or from the Father and the Son will not work to keep me in touch with my better self when I am hearing my devil and facing my temptations. When that happens, I need, we need the answers that are about what matters to us, what we value and what we believe because we know it to be true in our own experience.

Maybe something from the second reading, something pithier like, “Jesus is Lord.”  Or something from the first reading, a story that talks about where we came from and how we got here and where we think we’re going: “My ancestor was a wandering Aramean…”  Maybe a line from the psalms or a verse from a hymn or something someone we loved or admired always used to say. Whatever it is, what will make it the right answer for us is that it will be about what matters to us, what we value, and what we believe because we have lived the truth of it.

The journey of Lent is just beginning. Along the way there will be wilderness and in that wilderness, there will be temptations which can’t be avoided. They will require a response from us. We need to know what it is we value, what matters to us, what we believe because we know because we have lived it.  If our response comes from that, it will absolutely be the perfect answer.