Pr24A No Easy Answers

Exodus 33:12-23
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

My “Me and White Supremacy” group is now starting its last week of readings. Our time with the 28 day workbook is nearly over. We’ve learned a lot. We have new terms and concepts, and a renewed commitment to the work of dismantling White Supremacy. Still, none of us are confident that we know exactly what to do next.

It’s a critical moment. We run the risk of falling into White Apathy. [1] As Layla Saad explains it, White Apathy kicks in because:

  • We realize there are no easy solutions, and we get frustrated.
  • We say we didn’t create White Supremacy so maybe its not our job to dismantle it.
  • We know we don’t know exactly what to do next, so we do nothing. Better to do nothing than to be caught making a mistake.
  • We see that the system of White Supremacy is deeply entrenched, so we doubt anything we do would make a difference.

Saad calls on White people to avoid falling into White Apathy. Without telling us exactly what to do next, she says:

The aim of this work is not self-loathing. The aim of this work is truth – seeing it, owning it, and figuring out what to do with it. This is lifelong work. Avoid the shortcuts, and be wary of the easy answers. Avoid the breaking down into white fragility. [2]

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is questioned by disciples of the Pharisees. They demand a “yes” or “no” answer to their question, which almost always signals a trap. Jesus’ answer left the disciples amazed — he deftly articulated the governing principle while giving no hint as to what he thought were just or unjust taxes. Very savvy, but not very helpful if the disciples (or their teachers, the Pharisees) were really trying to decide which taxes, if any, a religious person ought to pay.

Jesus offered no easy answers. He offered only a governing principle and left the Pharisee’s disciples to figure it out for themselves. They knew the Law and the Prophets. They knew how to learn and pray and discern together. They would figure it out.

The work of dismantling White Supremacy has general principles and no easy answers. It is work for White people to do, and the specifics of how we do that are for us to figure out. Day after day, because as Saad writes, it is “lifelong work.”

One could wish for more details and specifics, but each of us – and all of the neighborhoods, town and cities we live in – are different. Fortunately, we know the Law and the Prophets. We know how to learn and pray and discern together. I believe we can figure it out.

___________

  1. Saad, Layla F. Me and White Supremacy, (Sourcebooks, Naperville, Ill., 2019), 131.
  2. Saad, Layla F. Me and White Supremacy at 74.

Art: Jesus and the Sadducees…, James Tissot, French, 1836-1902.

Pr20A The real thing

Exodus 16:2-15
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

You’ve probably heard the pony joke. An optimistic child looks at a big pile of poop and undismayed, starts digging because “there must be a pony in here somewhere!”

In the third reading – Matthew — some laborers asked for a day’s work. They got the work and the promise of a fair wage and were happy with that until the end of the day. In the evening, when they saw other laborers being paid the same wage for less work, they were unhappy.  As the laborers’ spokesperson complains: “You made them equal to us!”

This parable contains multiple editorial layers. The story Jesus might have told is the first layer and probably ended at verse 15 when the landowner asks: “Are you envious because I am generous?” A second and third layer adds “the last will be first” in order to make points about the inclusion of gentiles and the prominence of the original twelve disciples.[1]  The earliest version of the parable focuses on how offended the first-hired laborers feel to be considered equal to the last-hired.  

As Americans, we believe in equality.  

And yet, as I get ready to begin working through Me and White Supremacy again, I realize that saying I believe in equality does not mean much.  It’s a great idea, but I am protected from equality by my white privilege. The first-hired worker in me complains every time my white privilege is challenged. 

I can remember listening to complaints about affirmative action and thinking “they’ve got a point” because advancement should be about merit and what one has earned.  I was oblivious to the operation of white privilege: e.g., legacy admissions and the old boy/old girl network. I conveniently forgot that my career-launching job was not earned. It was given to me as a favor to a family member.  Even today, I continue to be surprised by how uncomfortable I am whenever I get a glimpse of what real equality would look like.

In the first reading — Exodus — the Israelites find themselves in the wilderness: free, but hungry. They complain, hoping for the meat and bread they ate in Egypt. God sends something, but it did not resemble the meat and bread they remembered.  Moses said it was real thing so they ate. It satisfied their hunger, and as the story goes, the people ate that strange, new, very real stuff every day for the next forty years until they finally reached the Promised Land.

In the pony joke, if the girl finds the pony she will learn that the idea of a pony is a lot different from the real thing. A real pony is a lot of work.  

Real equality is going to be a lot of work. To find and then to keep.  It may turn out to look and feel much different from our idea of it, the idea in which we say we believe.  But only the real thing is worth looking for.


[1] Reginald H. Fuller, Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 1984) at 170. This is a wonderful commentary. Scholarly, in plain language and no fluff. There are three editions: 1974, 1984 and 2006. The 2006 was co-authored and the added voice is nowhere near as substantive as Fuller’s. You can often find copies of the 1974 and 1984 books on ebay. Buy one if you find one. You’ll be glad you did.

Photo by Melanie Dretvic on Unsplash