Not that Kind of Baptist

in Racism

Pastoral Reflections By James Lamkin “Symptoms, Systems, and Spirituality…a Reflection on Charlottesville”

          God!  I’m using the word God as a prayer, not an expletive.  In fact, God, is a complete sentence.  In saying God, I am confessing…as in, “God is God and I am not.” I am beseeching…as in, “God do something!”   And, I am questioning…as in, “God, are you paying attention?”

            These are all prayers; but none are original with me.  I plagiarized them…right out of The Psalms.   These ancient psalmists poetically wrestled God, worshipped God, walked with God, whined to God, and wondered about God. 

            Though Charlottesville is nowhere near Babylon…the biblical writers experienced the same kind of acute cruelty, chronic racism, and senseless death that visited that city last weekend.  The psalmists, too, were taunted. “Sing a song of Zion, sing a song of Zion,” they heard from their captors (Psalm 137).  It sounded like, “Jews will not replace us.”  And all hung their harps and wept. 

            Plenty has been said about the Charlottesville tragedy.  Need there be more, you ask? 

            For me, reaction is easy; and silence is even easier.  But spiritual reflection is hard.  Maybe it is more like refraction…like a prism separating light into its component pieces.       

            In my opinion, Charlottesville is a symptom.  It’s like walking into the doctor’s office saying, “Doc, I’m jaundiced!  Can you give me some lotion to rub on my skin?”  I may be wanting the doc to try a drugstore shelf full of ointments and creams.  But, this approach is only topical.  Any doc worth her or his salt, would also check my liver.  Without treating the liver’s systemic failure, no salve on my skin will save me. 

What I’m saying is: racism is more than skin deep.  It goes to the bone.  Our racial identity informs our relationships; and our culture informs our racial identity.  That is the system.  For me, this system requires confession, repentance, forgiveness, patience, and practice.  And love.  It takes a lot of loving and looking to acknowledge the glass walls and ceilings that centuries of sin have polished. 

  As long as there will be human beings, I believe there will be racism.  It seems to be a seminal piece of the human story.  But, not only that, it particularly is true of the American story.   The early Explorers’ ships brought back effusive tales of discovery.  And, sadly, slave ships quickly followed the same maps.   

I greatly grieve Charlottesville.  But, I try to think beyond this case study, symptom, and local outcropping of racism.   I want to keep working on the big picture.

  If you want to read further about this, here are two offerings from two authors I admire.  Jim Wallis wrote: America’s Original Sin.  And Robert Jones (a former NDBC member) wrote The End of White Christian America.

I suspect these books may be frightening; but they may also help us see the invisible glass.  And more than that, they may help us see the resourcefulness of our relentless God.  And after all, God! is a complete sentence.    

Posted by Rev. James Lamkin with

Lectionary Reflection on Matthew 14:13-21

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The Gospel reading this Sunday comes from Matthew 14:13-21

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. 

What did Jesus hear in verse 13? That John the Baptist had been brutally executed by Herod. The man who had baptized Jesus was languishing in prison because he had spoken a bit of truth to power. One can guess that John's critique of Herod's marital relationships was one of several topics that brought his name to Herod's attention. But Jesus' reaction to this news was to withdraw, to be by himself..."to a deserted place." Jesus had managed to get to the wilderness without any crowds in Matthew chapter 4, just after John the Baptist had baptized him. It seems the bookends of these sacred moments between Jesus and John involved the wilderness. That is, after all, the place where God shows up over and over again in the Bible. The burning bush, the Exodus, Mount Sinai, the thick "silence" of 1 Kings 19--all of it remote and deserted. Wilderness.

But here is the rub: Jesus no longer has the luxury of being by himself. The "crowds" follow him to his monastic hide-away. No doubt, he wanted to flee, to be alone with his grief over the death of John. But there they were, the "crowds." And the text says that Jesus "had compassion for them and cured their sick." I don't know what this means to you, but what I hear and "see" in the text is God showing up in and through God's own grief. Jesus' heart was broken, in my imaginative reading. We can't know precisely why he withdrew in the text. Broken at the violence of this strange world, broken at the death of a friend--no less the man who baptized him! And so, broken as he is, he breaks the bread for the thousands present. Compassion breaks through. Broken, and somehow, whole. May we be made whole again by God, in and through our brokenness.

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