Saturday, October 10, 2009

Confronting the Powers that Be—in Yourself

Last week I "let someone go." The person was in the probation period of the new job, and we said, "You are not a good fit for this job." It was unfortunately true, despite my high hopes—somehow concepts weren't translating into results, despite my efforts to figure out why and to provide alternative approaches and explanations. If/when those alternatives don't work, I know that I can't change other people. It's not that people can't learn, but they have to be in a state of mind to do so. I can't make a person learn who is distracted by their own life's crises or problems, or who is not really engaged in the task at hand. You have to focus and pay attention and want to learn in order to translate concepts to results.

Of course, I say that from the position of being the person doing the hiring and firing, that is to say from the position of power and privilege. I've had to do this before and it always makes for sleepless nights, nausea, and other feelings of discomfort. The day I stop being discomfited about firing people, is the day I need to stop having that kind of power.

As often happens, my friend Bob sent a timely reminder in his morning scripture reading a couple of days after my exercise of power.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
I would like to think that I exercised my power in the interests of others, given that my agency receives public funding, and we need to be accountable, but surely at least one person was probably not happy at the results.

Then, as if I hadn't been confronted about my own power and privilege issues enough, this link arrived in my email box: On "Real" Christians and Christian Privilege. Click the link to read the whole, but here is a sample.
Christianity, at least (and especially) in America, is a privilege—and, like any privilege, it can be uncomfortable to face the ugly reality of what other members of a privileged class can do to non-privileged folks, even if you don't do it yourself. I'm white, I'm straight, I'm cisgender: I understand the impulse to distance oneself. But as a white person, I am obliged to acknowledge that the history of white supremacy in America is one of slavery, of lynchings, of segregation, of sundown towns, of internment camps, of genocide, and of all manner of institutionalized racism. I don't get to say (nor do I want to) that the KKK aren't "real" white people. …

The "they're not real Christians" refrain rather quickly loses its strength as a consolation to someone barraged by hatred from people calling themselves Christians. Even the liberal Christians I know had a harder time choking out that line after watching Donohue et. al. exact their "not real" Christian terror campaign upon me, because it sounds so hollow when you're telling someone with an inbox full of prayers they'll burn in hell as soon as they die (and hopefully soon).

In this arena of power and privilege, I claim gray—it is not black and white. As a follower of Jesus, that is, as a Christian, I have been told by other "Christians" that I'll go to hell for being who I am, or I've been told that some churches would never consider me as a minister because I'm a woman.

For many progressive Christians, "coming out" as a Christian is a challenge because the label had been usurped, at least in the United States, by the kind of "real" Christians described above. In a recent sermon I challenged a congregation of "progressive" Christians to come out as Christians, following the text of David's anointing (1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13):
In mainline and especially in liberal and progressive churches we have ceded the idea of conversion to the conservatives, and I think that's an error. We are all David. We are called to be other. Like David, it doesn't mean that we are perfect after we recognize that, but God calls us out. …

Once I started going to seminary, I started having conversations with people about God, faith, beliefs, the meaning of life, but not so much before then. Going to seminary caused me to come out as a Christian. It gave me a reason or perhaps an excuse to come out as a follower of Jesus, as a believer in God. Realizing that I was other, that I was called to be other gives me a reason to claim my difference and share it.

What is your reason or excuse to come out and share with someone outside of these walls what this faith community means to you, or what our prayer time means to you, or what God is doing in your life or how you hear a story from the Bible reflected in your own everyday life? When you do the work of social justice that so many of you are called to do, do you tell people about the faith that motivates you to do so, and if not, why not? It's one thing to be called to be different, to be other; it's quite another to figure out how you really need to live that out and speak out about our difference. When we are called out, how do we live faithfully as other, as different?
We don't want to be different. We want to enjoy our privilege. But with any exercise of privilege there must be corresponding responsibilities, and that's where we need to pick up this conversation. What are our responsibilities as Christians?

Yes, there is privilege in being a Christian in a nation where Christmas is a national holiday, but Yom Kippur and Ramadan are not. But does the story of the birth of a child to homeless refugees make us take action to help refugees, or to help those who are homeless? If not, what did you really learn from the Christmas story? We must act and call our sisters and brothers who are Christian to action.

Yes, there is privilege in being a Christian in a nation where the Lord's Prayer is part of our Presidential Inauguration, rather than a Jewish Sabbath prayer or the Muslim call to prayer, adhan/azzan, or Hindu or Buddhist prayers. But then our responsibilities as Christians then lie in listening to this prayer and in forgiving our debtors, as we ask God to forgive our debts. How might we do that? One idea that recently caught my eye: Common Security Clubs.

Yes, there is privilege in being a Christian, and yet are we following Jesus in having compassion, taking care of the sick, giving the hungry something to eat, as Jesus did when he fed the 5,000?
When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 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.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Matthew 14: 14-16
Food pantries are in great need now. If you can afford it, take five cans off your shelves and give them this week, and buy five more cans so you can do it again next week. Many local grocery stores have donation bins.

Equal access to health needs to become a given, not a privilege. We who are privileged with health or access to health care: let your representatives know that extending access to health is something that Christians want.

You have power and privilege simply because you are able to read this.

May we each claim our power to work for change, acknowledge our privilege and act upon the responsibilities that go with privilege.

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