Total Eclipse of the Heart
I thought I'd post this in case you didn't hear the whole thing.
I'm grateful this morning for Ryan and Anna Beth and all of the good dialogue and honest searching for Christian responses to these times. Here's one voice . . .
Because solar eclipses don’t happen that often, and because of the pure wonder they inspire, there’s a way in which solar eclipses feel like suspended time; kairos time: day turns to night, things hidden are revealed, and anything feels possible when the shadow becomes the light.
Joseph was left for dead by his brothers. Enslaved and imprisoned as a foreigner in Egypt, he rises to become second only to Pharaoh. This outsider saves the whole known world, because those in power listen to him, believe him, and share in the work of his dreams. “God sent me before you to preserve life,” he tells his brothers, when they finally meet again. “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.”
Jesus, our brown-skinned Savior, deliberately moves outside of his own zone of safety and comfort to engage those different from himself: he leaves Israel for Lebanon. He’s just given the teaching that it is what comes out of our mouths that defiles us, because it comes from our hearts. And lo, Matthew places a woman, a Canaanite, and someone in need, in Jesus’s path. It would be hard to say just how “other” she was from Jesus, but he fills in the blanks for us, calling her a dog. In other words, Jesus himself violates the teaching he’s just given. He reveals his own prejudice. She calls him on it, and, to his credit, I think he gets it, and, in the exchange, one gets the feeling that it isn’t only the woman’s daughter who is healed. Jesus is also healed.
In these days, we who have white skin are being called out by those with black and brown skin. Like the Canaanite woman who calls out Jesus, we are being called out by those we have enslaved; those we have “othered.” We may not have personally been a part of their oppression; we may not have personally called them dogs, or worse; we may not even think those things in our hearts, but, in our refusal to see how we have benefitted from the system of white privilege, and our refusal to dismantle that system, we, too, have contributed to their enslavement and oppression. We white folks have been grafted into the roots and trunk of native and black and brown America; grafted into the land itself. It’s that root which has supported us, not the other way around, even as we have, as a race, rounded up, murdered, imprisoned, and enslaved the earth and these same native, black, and brown people.
Our actions and words are being shown to proceed from our overshadowed hearts: the moon of history is revealing the white hot corona of truth that we’ve benefitted from this system all along. Even we progressives who think we are somehow above it all for condemning Neo-Nazism and white supremacy? That’s the easy work. As the queer, black writer George Arnett reminds us, the harder work for we as whites includes things like scolding and shunning our friends who gentrify neighborhoods, or going on vacation and taking pictures with poor black children, or teaching in inner city schools where we feel like saviors or missionaries. We need to stop listing the things we’ve done for black people when a black person is trying to hold us accountable. We need to stop excusing our racist friends and family by saying, “they were just raised that way.” We need to stop playing black music in our cars while avoiding being in spaces with black people because those neighborhoods are “sketchy.” Our white guilt, Arnett concludes, is a way to feel human while we continue to benefit from the dehumanization of others.
Sunday morning, it has been said, is the most segregated hour in America every week. It’s an indictment of the white church that the President’s
business and arts advisory groups have resigned in protest over his lack of moral leadership, if not his outright racism, while his religious advisory group remains intact. It’s #sad that, as Jesus kind of predicted, the tech companies go into the kingdom of God before us. All of this led our UCC GMP John Dorhauer to write a piece this week, in Huffpost, asking out loud whether or not the white church is the Antichrist: part of the powers and principalities of the world that keep humanity from advancing into the city God has prepared for us. It’s an open question.
Here’s the challenge to us, then, as white people, as a white church, in these times, for we are also, like Jesus, being called away by his example from our places of tradition and comfort and privilege. Remember, he look the lowest place so that all might be exalted, and called us to take up our crosses and follow him in that Way . . .
Will we as whites deem the earth and her native and brown and black people worthy of more than just the scraps that fall from our tables? Better still . . . Will we give those we have enslaved and imprisoned by virtue of their race a seat at the tables of power? Maybe, better still, will we act in such a way that when the table is theirs, they will give us a seat? Maybe, better still: will we step away and cede the whole dang table without violence? Will we be about the healing of the children of those we have enslaved and imprisoned? Will we listen to their dreams, believe their dreams, and share their dreams, that the world might be saved?
The time has come for the eclipse. It’s time to take off our goggles of color blindness, and see our whiteness and its implications. It’s time to put on our eclipse goggles and look to the skies, that we may see our privileged place in the world, repent, and change our ways. The corona soon to be revealed is hotter than the sun itself, and no one knows why.
Anything seems possible, even the reconciliation of estranged brothers, because what we’ve meant for evil, God will use for good. Statues, mostly erected during the time of Jim Crow laws in the south, statues which were meant to remind black and brown folks of white power and their place, those statues are coming down quicker than the time it takes to sing, “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” (5 minutes, 32 seconds) Lest you think this is all a southern thing - which is another sermon for another day - Google “Rhode Island slave trade,” or note our beloved Red Sox, eager to distance themselves from their racist past (they were the last team to field an African American in 1959, ten years after Jackie Robinson); the Red Sox are renaming Yawkey Way.
When the celestial spheres engage in pure syzygy
May brother forgive brother, sibling forgive sibling
May slaves and dreamers and their children be elevated to the highest places in the land
In this is the salvation of the world
For there are others God is gathering besides those already gathered
May the eclipse find us weeping upon each other’s necks
Like Joseph and Benjamin
Weeping with siblings that we have not yet met.