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SUMMER 2020 BOOK STUDY – Week Eight

Jul 31, 2020

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” Arundati Roy

Theme for the Week – Growth Mindset: One of the “good guys [gals]”

-As those who regard themselves as “good people”, how did we get here and how can we be made new? That is the over-arching question we want to ask with our summer book study that is a part of the larger work of the Presbytery as we consider ways to continue to grow into our anti-racist stance and leadership.

Readings

  • The Person You Mean to Be – Chapter Seven  
  • For those who want to dive deeper: Emergent Strategy – creating more possibilities: how we move towards life (pgs 151-165)

Scripture

“When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.” -Mark 5: 21-43

Watch

This past week we held a conversation about the General Assembly this past June with our commissioners and other guests from the Presbytery. We talked about Native American reparations that were passed at this Assembly, racism at the Assembly, the general work of the Assembly, and much more. Take a watch or listen to our conversation!

Reflection

This week’s chapter is quite direct in the information it seeks to provide to us and the antidotes to problematic behaviors that are symptomatic of racism. I have a feeling that as you read through the four behaviors that were identified: savior, sympathy, tolerance and typecasting – that you noticed something of yourself in each of them. Since nearly all those who are working through this book series with us this summer are white, that is an easy guess for me to make. 

I would like to take these four behaviors and imagine them through the lens of two well-known healings of Jesus that are described to us in Mark’s Gospel. This story is familiar, Jesus arrives in a new place, people gather who have heard of the healings he has already undertaken, and the leader of the local synagogue (a powerful man) steps forward because he is distraught over the illness that is killing his daughter. En route to visit this man’s daughter, a woman in the street touches Jesus’ cloak, because she is sick from some sort of unknown illness, it is described by the writer of Mark’s Gospel as hemorrhaging. 

There are a number of elements to these two stories that I am sure you have been exposed to before:

  • The healing of women and the status of women in the time of Jesus
  • How women were ostracized for what would today be routine medical issues, easily cared for and treated
  • The juxtaposition between the illness of a religious leader’s child (important) and that of a person on the street (unimportant)
  • How one person who is healed is nameless, the other has a name
  • The number 12. The woman had been sick for 12 years, we find out at the end of the healing that the child is also 12
  • Jesus calls one his daughter and the other not (but that’s not how they were originally named and identified at the beginning of the narrative)
  • The role of faith and faithlessness and the reversals that are presented here

Mark’s Gospel is highly literary. There is always much to unpack in everything that is presented. Let’s sit aside the things we usually think about these two healings and imagine them with our chapter for this week.

Savior – It’s incredibly easy to read these two healing stories through this lens. We literally confess in the Christian tradition that “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.” Jesus saves is the bedrock of our faith. Salvation is an important word for us as Christians and the lens of Jesus being a Savior is in many ways THE lens for our christology. The idea of Jesus as a Savior, who cured “the least of these,” the “forgotten,” the “needy,” the “downtrodden,” has launched a thousand mission trips (and many more) of well-meaning “helpers” to “serve.” 

I’ve been on those sorts of mission trips. I bet you have too. 

Simplistic readings of the healing narratives of Jesus in the Gospels seem to give unlimited fuel to this way of “living out our faith.” Robert Lupton wrote a book in 2012 called Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help and How to Reverse It. If you haven’t interrogated the entire way you and your ministry engage “mission” or “outreach” or “service,” or whatever you call it, this is the time to start. It is absolutely true that in these two healings in Mark’s Gospel Jesus healed two women; one a poor woman and the other a child. It is absolutely true that in the time of Jesus, both of these women, even though their socio-economic status were very different, were both marginalized and forgotten because of their gender, social status and age. It is absolutely true that Jesus healing them provided a radical vision of inclusivity and care and was meant to signal exactly that. 

But does that extrapolate to us as “good Christians” seeking out people to fix and heal because they are “marginal”? 

Nope. 

Jesus wasn’t healing them to erase them, which is what the Savior-mode does. Jesus was healing them because he loved them, and they were part of a series of healings he engaged in that showed the upside-down order of society he was trying to teach people then (and now) that God demands of us. The healings are radical and call for a radically different social order. Our task as faithful people isn’t to save others, so we feel good. Our task as faithful people is to use what Dolly Chugh calls our “ordinary privilege” to overturn the social, racial, gender and economic structures that are being interrogated by Jesus throughout his ministry. 

Sympathy – Sympathy, as Dolly Chugh notes, runs right alongside Savior-mode. I was raised on this mode of behavior as I grew up. I still hear it in conversations with family members. It is embedded deep inside of me, and it’s a hard one to shake because it’s so deeply ingrained into every fiber of my being and was reinforced constantly growing up at church with countless mission projects where we “helped those less fortunate than ourselves.” 

Sound familiar? 

Dolly Chugh writes that “we feel sorry for them, but we try not to feel what they are feeling.” Jesus of course, goes well beyond sympathy. He gets involved in what others are feeling and encourages those around him to do the same. I find that for myself personally, constant self-interrogation is the antidote to this way of engaging the world. I sometimes cry easily. I visited a ministry in this Presbytery my first year here and the ministry leaders shared how broken they were, and hurt that no one seemed to pay any attention to what they were doing and what they were about. It struck a chord with me and I found myself in a puddle of tears. At the same time as I was crying, the voice in my head was telling me to stop it. That my tears were centering me, not them, that this is a reaction I have to get over. Over the last few years we have been in dialogue, this ministry and the Presbytery, about who they are, and what they authentically want to do and how they want to be. It would be easy to work with them from a space of sympathy, where everything I want (and might even emotionally need) is centered. I have to do hard work on myself all the time to plow through these attitudes that are like instincts for me because of how I was raised. So how do I do this? I have trusted conversation partners who do the ministry I do. We have the sort of relationships where we talk about our ministry, what we are doing and sometimes check each other when we are veering into paths like sympathy or saviorism. I tell my colleagues I will give them feedback and expect the same in return. As people of faith, we talk deeply and openly about what we are experiencing, what we hear (or think) the Spirit is telling us to do, and check each other’s privilege(s). I pay deep attention to myself, what’s going on in my gut. Does this work all the time? No. Because sympathy as a way of encountering the world is a part of whiteness and privilege that was drilled into me before I could even explain what it was. But now I see it, and I work hard to interrogate it. We misread the “sympathy” of Jesus in a story like this one in Mark 5. There is a huge difference between sympathy and love borne out of dignity. Jesus isn’t talking here about sympathy – he is modeling what it is to really see someone, and this story also models, what it is to be corrected when you are not fully seeing. Jesus is both things in this part of Mark’s Gospel.

Tolerance – Tolerance is “All Lives Matter” rather than “Black Lives Matter.” 

Perhaps you’ve seen the problematic meme going around the internet about how Jesus seeks out the lost sheep and this is somehow emblematic of why we should say “Black Lives Matter” rather than “All Lives Matter”? That’s a hot mess too. Don’t do that. 

Here’s the thing – tolerance is just erasure. Plain and simple. I love the simple example in this part of the chapter: “I tolerate my back pain.” My husband suffers from chronic back pain from a car accident years ago. Tolerate isn’t a word he’d ever use. He is also annoyed, constantly, and painfully, as he lives in the United States as an immigrant. He is oftentimes “tolerated” for his cultural and language differences, but rarely seen for the fullness of who he is. Tolerance literally and spiritually is painful and exacts a toll and a price. Like Dolly Chugh says, tolerance is a “very low bar.” 

In the reading from Mark’s Gospel we can see how Jesus moves both beyond tolerance and shows a deeper way of relating, and how he and those around him are also caught up in problematic tolerance-behaviors. Jesus is human, those around him were too. They were just as caught up in, trapped and needing to realign as we are today. This doesn’t excuse any of these behaviors in us today, but it is a reminder that they are old ones, and so we have to work hard at exorcizing them from how we engage and how we live. Reread through these two healing stories in Mark 5. Where is “tolerance” showing up? You will find it there. And it is also interrogated. Jesus doesn’t just call the woman on the street his daughter for no reason at all. It’s a direct challenge to tolerance, to use that word. It is a radical word usage, and Jesus does it intentionally.  

Typecasting – A colleague of mine in ministry called me recently and told me that a male colleague who is older than her told her that she’s not doing a good job as a pastor, because she is not being a “mother” to others. This is plain old sexism. And it’s also typecasting. For him, she is a woman and she is a clergyperson. Therefore, she’s not doing it “right” because her “style” isn’t maternal. We’ve had female clergy in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for over 50 years, but those of us who are women and are clergy know that doesn’t save us from typecasting nearly every single day. It is constant. It is draining. I’ve been ordained for 19 years and I still get some version of typecasting thrown my way on a weekly if not daily basis. 

The crowd around the synagogue leader’s home had Jesus typecast. He was simply a healer, utilitarian in his purpose. Now that they thought the child was dead, Jesus no longer served a needed purpose. Jesus uses the word “fear” to describe their behavior. It raises the question for you and I today: how much of typecasting is about fear? Is it about how when we label someone, then we feel like we have power and control? Labels give us agency so we don’t have to really learn, or really know, or in Mark’s Gospel, believe? Or when we decide the rules of someone’s existence, then we don’t have to do any work ourselves to really know them? 

All four of these modalities are ride-alongs to racism, barriers to fully experiencing and knowing someone else. I encourage you to continue to dig deep into this passage in Mark 5. What is it raising for you? When you try to read it through many different lenses, what do you notice about Jesus? What do you notice about who you are as a person of faith, and the different path you might be called to embark on? 

addriene marree brown writes in her chapter this week, “[t]he other tragedy of this quick narrowing is that people get left out, not just in a slightly hurtful way, but left out of how we construct every aspect of society, infrastructure and culture. We come up with incredible plans that don’t account for crucial segments of our communities – I’ve witnessed this as well, unity that entails leaving behind people with disabilities; or trans, Indigenous, immigrant communities and others.”

That’s the heart of the problematic behaviors and ways of engaging that are laid out in this chapter. And that’s what you’ll hear in the video for this week about the problems at the General Assembly this summer. Good intentions are not just mild, but deeply harmful at an individual and a systems level. Jesus came to bring abundant life. That’s not what good intentions bring, actually quite the opposite. And obliviousness isn’t an excuse. 

Listen

The fabulous episodic podcast “Serial” has a new series that was just released. It’s in five parts and called “Nice White Parents”. You can read a description of it here and you can find the podcast here. I highly recommend it and hope you will share it with parents and others who are interested in conversations about parenting, schools, education, racism and what goes on in the United States today.

Action

The newly formed Anti-Racism and Equity Committee of the Presbytery has been working through the summer months with our consultant, Jessica Vazquez-Torres of Crossroads Anti-Racism Organizing and Training. Their “homework” for this week is to read the official anti-racism policy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I encourage you to read it as well. It can be accessed at this link

After reading: 

  • What are ways you can work to give life to this policy in your local congregation? 
  • What concerns and challenges for your local congregation does it raise? 
  • What opportunities are present here for new ways of living out the Gospel?

Journal about this and write down five concrete action steps you would like to propose. If you are a member of a local congregation, make an appointment to talk to your Pastor about this in the next two weeks. If you are a Pastor of a local congregation or ministry, make an appointment to talk to your Clerk of Session about this in the next two weeks. I’d love to hear about what you discover, plan and consider implementing/discussing. I will host a Zoom conversation about this next Wednesday August 5 at 1PM so we can cross-pollinate ideas among those of us in the book study in relationship to this policy and our local ministries. 

Presbytery of Southern New England is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Summer 2020 Book Study
Time: Aug 5, 2020 01:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting
https://zoom.us/j/96460014154

Meeting ID: 964 6001 4154

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