Fact: I just used my first sports analogy in a homily a couple of weeks ago. Are you proud of me or what?!
(Now you understand why I posted the above picture – Go Warriors, go Warriors! Warriors, you have my heart even if you lost to those icky Cleveland Cavaliers in game 7 of the NBA finals).
But I digress.
I’d love for you to take a listen to my First Time Ever Sports Analogy, so click here to hear my words at a local Lutheran church a couple of weeks ago. [And bonus: homilies are seldom longer than fifteen minutes in length – thank you, Luther!]
Think: social justice. Think: racial justice. Think: the uniform we wear in Christ.
Otherwise, something close to the sermon I gave is posted below if you’re more of a reader. Enjoy!
I have a confession to make: I’ve slightly become a sports fan.
Now, for starters, I say that because I’ve never started a homily or sermon with a sports analogy, in fact I’ve promised myself that I’d never be one of those kind of preachers who only know how to use sports to reach the masses. Additionally, I wasn’t exactly the sportiest kid growing up: I tried to play soccer in the fourth grade, but Coach kept taking me out of the game because my face was so red and he thought I was overheated. Granted, I was also just fine sitting on the sidelines, drinking a Capri Sun. I tried out for the volleyball team in high school, but was gently ushered to the side on the fourth day of practice and encouraged to find something else that gave me life (which I did, which included a life on the high school musical stage). Granted, give me Tae-Bo video (college), or a Zumba class (now) and I’ll rock that mother like nobody’s business, but give me a football, basketball, baseball or hockey game on TV, and I’m like, “Hey, guess what just happened in the novel I’m reading?”
I think I’ve become a basketball fan, and more specifically, a Golden State Warriors fan. I have, indeed, watched all SIX games of the series, without reading a book EVEN ONCE ….well, I kind of zoned in and out of Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? When the Warriors were down 21 points on Thursday night. But regardless of whether or not you label me a bandwagon fan, I’m a fan nonetheless. I am the real deal Holyfield. THIS is the uniform I wear.
And literally, this is the uniform I’ve worn over jean shorts for almost every single one of the games, and this is the uniform I will wear at 5 pm tonite when the Warriors cross my fingers, hope to die BEAT the Cleveland Cavaliers in game 7 of the NBA finals.
I use this slight-sports analogy (which really, is more of a fan-alogy) to bring it to present: the before and after of the uniforms we wear when it comes to our religion or faith.
Who Christ is and what he’s about becomes the uniform we wear. “So in Christ Jesus,” Paul writes to the church at Galatia, “you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Through Christ, we’re in. Through Christ, we’ve been made a child of God. Each one of us, we matter. We are loved unconditionally, no matter what. This is who we are. We’ve clothed yourselves with God, so we too are clothed with the things that make God’s heart tick and beat wildly and mourn appropriately.
So when horrific tragedy, as happened a week ago in Orlando, comes our way, we respond as God would: we mourn with those who mourn, and we show justice and mercy. For this is all we can do. These are the only clothes we can wear, as followers of Christ and as humans.
We see and we acknowledge the brokenness in our world, and we remind ourselves and each other how much and how deeply we are loved. You are loved, you are loved, you are loved, they all say (which is a favorite line from one of the books I read my boys and a line I oftentimes repeat to myself when I need to hear it most).
One of the most haunting articles I read this past week was from The Washington Post, entitled, “What happened when an Orthodox Jewish congregation went to a gay bar to mourn Orlando.” The rabbi writes about how, during the festival of Shavuot, which celebrates God’s giving of the Torah, they don’t travel or use the Internet. But Sunday was different. After the events, they knew they needed to travel to a local gay bar (which also happened to be a black gay bar) in an act of solidarity. As the holiday ended, a dozen Orthodox Jews, some gay, most not, showed up at The Fireplace. This is what happened:
“We didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out that we had so much in common. We met everyone in the bar. One of the patrons told me that his stepchildren were actually bar-mitzvahed in our congregation. Another one asked for my card so that his church could come and visit. The bartender shut off all of the music in the room, and the crowd became silent as we offered words of prayer and healing. My co-clergy shared a blessing related to the holiday of Shavuot, and she lit memorial candles on the bar ledge. Then everyone in the bar put their hands around each other’s shoulders, and we sang soulful tunes. After that, one of our congregants bought a round of beer for the whole bar.”
Showing up and mourning with those who mourn became the clothing they wore. I think they clothed themselves with God. I think they responded as God would have responded. I think they encouraged the rest of us to do the same, to just do something.
So, I ask, what are YOU doing? I say that in the best way: for how do we, who are committed to justice, do anything? How do we in the suburbs, who are committed to justice, do anything at all?
As Holly alluded to, I’ve found myself on a journey that I never thought I’d be on, mostly because I didn’t think it had anything to do with me. I didn’t think I had a role to play. I didn’t think it was my problem.
Until it was.
The “it,” as you may know, has to do with racial justice. I grew up in a mostly white suburban area, and didn’t think that issues of race had anything to do with me. I claimed a colorblind rhetoric. I believed in a white Jesus. I judged people who didn’t look like me and act like me as The Other.
And then things began to change: I worked in places where high concentrations of other cultures, ethnicities and races were not only celebrated but were needed and admired. I began to realize that there might be another way of viewing the world other than what I had been “schooled” in. I began to ask questions and learn and I began to shut up. And when I started dating the man who would become my husband, I began to intimately learn about systematic injustices toward the black community (and toward black men specifically) that I had never thought about before, because I’d never HAD to think about it before.
On our third date, my husband sat me down to tell me about his father, a man also named James Meredith, who was the first black man to integrate into Ole Miss (or the University of Mississippi) in 1962. A key voice in the Civil Rights Movement, he fought not necessarily for equal rights for African Americans but for all humans, everywhere.
And when it came to my James, eventually, we married. Eventually, we had two little caramels. Eventually, we realized we couldn’t avoid conversations about race and color because this was our everyday dinner dialogue. This was our world, and how we saw and experienced Christ in our world.
Answering that question, “How can I, a person now committed to issues of justice, do anything about this larger than life problem?” became what I sought to answer.
So, I have some ideas, for every single one of us. I have some ideas, about this bigger picture of justice, that might pertain to you, that might answer the question, “How can I, as someone in the suburbs who is committed to justice, do anything at all?”
Educate yourself. The luxury, or privilege, of living in a predominantly white, mostly suburban context, is that we often times don’t have to deal with or think about issues of injustice. We can claim immunity if we really want to. But when something like Sunday’s tragedy happens, when another young black male is gunned down because he was wearing a hoodie after dark, we can’t not think about it anymore. So, make it your problem. Begin to ask questions. Soak up big ideas that have never held space in your brain before. I assume you’re readers: look at your bookshelves. If you’re only reading books by white authors, read with intention. Read books written by people of color who’ve had experiences different from your own.
Own your own story. Oftentimes, in conversations about racial reconciliation or justice, we have to look at our own stories so we can honor other people’s stories. Sometimes this means lamenting. Sometimes this means apologizing and asking forgiveness. Sometimes this means examining our own histories and identities so we can more fully enter into the histories and identities of other people. See then if you can find God in the midst of your story – and if by finding God, you are helped to seeing him or her in the midst of other people’s stories.
Notice the marginalized who are already around you. I’m not an expert, but as I’ve entered the conversation about race, there’s one question I’ve heard over and over again: “I live in a white, suburban context. There really are no people of color around me. What do I do now?” It’s easy, when we head down to southern California and experience poverty, racism and discrimination first hand, to notice injustice. But what do we do when we get back home? What I’ve begun to learn, mostly from people who are wiser than me and who’ve been on this journey longer than me, is that the marginalized – who are sometimes people of color, but also sometimes are not – are always all around us, even when we live in mostly white, middle to upper class areas. So, look around you. Notice who cuts your grass or cleans your house. Look beyond the teachers at your kids’ school: who else serves the community? Ask yourself, who am I not noticing, because I don’t have to? See then if a natural noticing begins to take place.
These are just a few steps I’ve begun to implement, but I do believe they can be the clothes we wear, in and for whatever justice we find ourselves fighting. From what I hear, you are a community already deeply committed to issues of justice, so continue to question injustices around you. Continue to have big ideas. Continue to seek God authentically in this world, and continue to be transformed by the path you walk together.