Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | August 10, 2017

Thicker than blood

We often hear people talk about biblical family values. Obviously, those folks haven’t read the actual Bible. The families there are full of favoritism, treachery, lies, cheating, even murder—or attempted murder, as in the story of Joseph and his brothers. (Read it here.)

Joseph is Jacob’s (aka Israel’s) 11th son, and his favorite. You’d think Jacob, of all people, would realized that favoring one child over another isn’t good parenting, since his own parents did that with him and Esau. Or maybe it just is a pattern he knows and can’t escape.

The favoring of Joseph nearly costs his life, and it leads his siblings down a horrible moral path.

We know that families can be schools of kindness, love, friendship, growth.  They can also be schools of meanness, favoritism, dysfunction, sometimes even abuse, as we see here. Most families are inhabited by both good and bad characteristics. Our actions, both good and bad, often have unforeseen consequences, both good and bad.

Joseph’s father Jacob wounds him and the other sons with his favoritism.

Joseph wounds his brothers with his ego and by playing up that favoritism.

The brothers, out of their own hurt and woundedness, harm Joseph and their father in return even more deeply. The boy is sold and presumed dead. Then they grieve with their father as though the story they invent were true.

All of them live with this lie and this deed for two decades.

Jacob believes the lie and never stops grieving. The brothers maybe even convince themselves it is true. But on their beds at night, with darkness penetrating their daytime masks of decency, they surely remember.

Joseph himself never sends a message home. Why? Anger? Ego? Fear?  He names his son Manasseh, for “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” (41:51. Literally, “making to forget.”) I don’t think so!  Every time he calls his son’s name, “Making To Forget,” he remembers.

Everyone in this story is deeply harmed by others, and everyone in this story harms others deeply.

Blood is thicker than water, we say. That isn’t necessarily so, as we see the deep hurt in many families, in every age. And even those of us who are lucky enough to have great family relationships sometimes inflict pain on each other, intentionally or not.

Life is filled with unresolved conflicts.  Sometimes we learn to live with them; sometimes we don’t.

You may want to finish reading the Joseph saga before next Sunday, when there will be some resolution. God will fashion something good, even out of the remnants of this messed-up family. To be honest, it doesn’t always happen that way.

In the good or the bad, we keep on going. We attempt to find ways to keep our strong relationships strong, to fortify the weaker ones, to let go of the unhealthy ones, and to determine the differences among the types.

All of these can be results of the work of God’s work, as well as the spirit-work we do on ourselves.

It often isn’t easy. It often is quite complicated. Yet this God-work and spirit-work can make our relationships healthier, even thicker than blood.IMG_6067, copyright

© 2017, Melissa Bane Sevier

 

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | June 26, 2017

There’s always room

When I was in college I had a friend who would often approach a crowded table in the dining hall, bring up a chair, elbow her way in, and exclaim, “There’s always room for one more!” And there always was. She’d say the same thing when someone else was looking for a place to eat, and she’d make sure that person had a seat at the table.

What if we lived that philosophy?

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” [from Matthew 10]

Most of us are willing to welcome prophets and the righteous, but who are the “little ones”? Is Jesus referring only to the children?

Maybe. But it’s more likely that it refers to all those who are vulnerable, invisible, thirsty or hungry, overlooked, as children were in his day.

Churches are usually great at coffee and donuts, social time where we welcome guests who are a lot like us in appearance, belief, status.

What if we took to giving cold water to the “little ones” instead of just welcoming the usual suspects? It may mean opening our eyes. It may mean going outside our doors instead of waiting for them to come to us. Our own status may even suffer if the identity of our church involves encouraging equal welcome and status to the physically and mentally handicapped, if we go out to meet and to serve the poor and actually get to know them?

What happens if we change our image by spending time with the homeless and join them in their gathering places? If we learn from them instead of just wanting to tell them how to live? If we actually get to know individuals who are not like us?

In that case, we won’t just be giving a cup of cold water. We’ll be sharing cold water with each other, as we learn to change our preconceptions and welcome people as Jesus did—with grace and a determination to bring equality.

Why? Because there’s always room for one more at the table.IMG_8078, copyright, low

© 2017, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | June 21, 2017

Family time

 ‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

 ‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

 ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
[from Matthew 10]

I love my mom. Actually, I love my father, too. And I’m sure I would have loved my mother-in-law if she had lived long enough for us to meet, though I still do interior battle with the sainted mother of my husband who “made the best bread pudding in the world.” That’s kind of hard to disprove when she’s been dead for over 50 years.

I digress.

This passage from Matthew is hard because families are sometimes hard, and Jesus says we should be willing to fight with them. That he came to set us against each other. Well, I think we can argue just fine in our families without Jesus’ help, thank you very much. But why would he want us to turn against them?

Isn’t Jesus about peace, after all?

Jesus is getting ready to send the disciples out on a mission. He’s giving them instructions. The oft-repeated theme: Don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid when opposition comes. And it could come in many forms, even through the people you love.

You’ll be called names like Beelzebul—devil. Don’t let that make you fearful.

Now is the time to start telling aloud what you’ve heard from me in our private tutorials. Don’t be afraid.

God will be with you in a big way. Don’t be afraid.

You may be called to account. Don’t be afraid.

If God can care about a single sparrow among thousands, then how much more God will care about you. Don’t be afraid.

Finally, your own family may turn against you. Don’t be afraid even then.

And here we’re seeing something of what went on in Matthew’s world. As he was writing his gospel, the church was beginning to experience some problems from religious authorities, and even from family members.

If the head of household has a particular religion, everyone else has to follow. This believing in Jesus thing may make your family disinherit you, or kick you out. That has economic fallout, not to mention social ramifications (you won’t be invited to cousin Sarah’s wedding) and the simply personal issues of feeling abandoned by those who are supposed to support you.

Bearing the cross may be the cause of all kinds of difficulty. But Jesus calls us to give our lives for his sake. Because in giving them up, we find them.

Sometimes the gospel, the good news of Jesus, requires us to do some things that don’t look like peace. We yell at the 2-year-old who’s about to run out in front of a car. We make our kids do their homework or take their medicine even when we know they will get angry and fight us about it, but we do it because we love them and know it will be better in the long run. We tell our loved ones, when we’ve worked up enough courage, that we don’t like the way they treat each other and maybe they should go for some counseling. Or that they are harming themselves and the people around them with addictions.

So maybe we don’t believe in peace at all costs after all. Those who give up their lives for my sake will find it, says Jesus.

But we have to be careful we don’t sound like a cult. Our culture is very different from the one to which Matthew addressed his gospel. We’re not about telling people to leave their families, because Christianity is an accepted religion in our country, not one that is suspect, as it was in the first century.

That doesn’t translate exactly into our world. However, some things do translate. Families can be either a place of nurture or a place where nurture is in short supply. In every faith community there are those who have experienced family as nearly everything it should be—love, peace, fairness, affection, tenderness. And there are those who have experienced family as troubled, difficult, lacking in something, or even a place of neglect or abuse.

Family is, by default or design, our first school of relationships. But by now we know that family is far greater than biology, and even greater than the family that lives under the same roof.

Family is as large as a church, as great as a community, as huge as a world. As we understand what Jesus is getting at, we find that our sense of family is enlarged, and we find ourselves enriched.

We give up our hopes for the “perfect family” (as if), and make our hopes rest instead on creating the kind of community where all are loved, welcomed, and nurtured.

Those who give up their lives for my sake, says Jesus, will find it.IMG_5409, copy

 

© 2017, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | June 14, 2017

Take no bag

I have always wanted to be a tiny-purse carrier. Alas, my nature seems to work against it.

At this moment, I’m on an airplane. At my feet, crammed into the space under the seat in front of me, are two items. One is my computer backpack; the other is my rather large purse. In that pocketbook are essential items (wallet, phone, lipstick) next to the non-essential ones. I consider the latter to be in the you-never-know-when-you-might-need-this category, and I have used each of them at some time or other. Here’s a partial list: 6-foot tape measurer, a tiny screwdriver with interchangeable blades, a small flashlight, toothbrush and toothpaste, hair paste, Kleenex, Purel, Band-Aids, Sudafed, Tylenol, chocolate (oh yeah), sweater, sunglasses, reading glasses, carrier for my business cards, a bazillion pens, notebook, a packet of those wonderful little Post-Its that mark a page in a book, and a book that may need to be marked with Post-Its. I also typically carry a Swiss army knife, but when I fly it goes into my checked bag to be returned to the purse at my destination. (In my backpack are computer, tablet, camera, charger cords, journals, and more.)

On occasion, I’ve tried to convert to a tiny purse. I am able to do it for an evening out when I can get by with just a phone, driver’s license, credit card, and a $20 bill—my large wallet won’t fit in a tiny purse. Beyond that, I’m at a loss. What if I start sneezing, or need a bottle opener?

When Jesus sends out the twelve, he charges them to do good work, and tells them what to carry along, or not. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts… So far, so good. I don’t usually carry those things, except for the random penny.  …no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. [Matthew 9—10]

Wait, what? Did you say no bag? Not even a tiny purse?

“Tee hee, Jesus. I know you haven’t traveled that far from home, but I find that when I’m traveling it sometimes gets chilly in the evenings and I may need a sweater.”

“You may.”

“Plus, fellow travelers might stub a toe or get a headache.”

“They might.”

“Or” (I think this may strike a nerve), “what if we need to take notes about your stories and lessons so we can write a gospel later on?”

“Write this down,” says Jesus. “You won’t need them on this trip. I’m trying to teach you something.”

“Which would be…”

“You’ll be going among strangers. Some of them have different religions. All the villages have their own customs. Some may be hospitable and some may not. Instead of relying on yourself, rely on them. This will teach you to receive as well as to give. It will help you to appreciate the things they have to share with you, including their food and its particular spices, their hammocks for sleeping and their tunics for when it gets chilly, their stories and their experiences, their faith and the things they care about. When you stub your toe or get a headache let them take care of you. If they don’t do these things, just walk away. But if they show you hospitality, you will have gained a relationship that will warm you and reward you. Most of all, you will be changed by them, just as they will be changed by you.”

When we let go of the things that don’t matter, or even the things that do matter, like food and security, we find out whom we can trust. We learn who will reflect God’s character to us.

Helped by each other. Warmed by each other. Changed by each other. Strengthened to keep on going to the next place. And when we get to that place, if it gets chilly in the evening I may need to ask you for a sweater.

© 2017 Melissa Bane Sevier

from airplane 6-14-17, lightroom adapted, copyright, low

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | May 30, 2017

Spirit and statistics

So, there they are, having breakfast together in the fellowship hall, worried about the future. Budget. Attendance. Absence of young people.

Talking about statistics.

Nobody believes anymore. Nobody cares anymore.

When do you think Jesus is coming back? Tomorrow, says one. Next week, says another. I don’t know, says a third, I mean he seemed to be leaving for a long time, on the cloud and everything…  It didn’t appear to be a round trip. Do you think he’ll ever really be back?

I don’t know. But here’s what we should do. Let’s sit in this room and worry. Yes, that’ll do it. If we sit here and worry, then all those unchurched people will come in. That’ll be the key to bringing back our youth. Yep. Sit here. Worry. Oh yeah, and pray. Maybe before we die, Jesus will return.

Okay, maybe that’s not exactly how the Pentecost story is told in Acts 2. But it is interesting that after following the guy all over the place, now they are sitting in a room, worried and afraid.

It’s not that different now, is it?

What is happening to and in the church? What do the statistics tell us?

Well, there are lots of different answers to that. A few years ago I attended a conference that had lots of speakers. Every single one spoke to this issue, and every single one had a different answer. All of them—all of them—are certain they are correct. They know why the church is declining. They know how to make the church better. They have the secret.

Some of their prescriptions:

  1. Return to the strongest parts of our tradition. We need to recover what we’ve lost and the right way to do that is to go back. Avoid electronic stuff in worship and social media. Use only traditional music. Preach longer sermons. (Seriously, someone said that—preach longer sermons.)
  2. Throw out tradition. The culture has changed and we need to change along with it. Use electronics and social media to the max. Use only modern music. Preach shorter sermons. Or no sermons at all.

What do we do with all that conflicting advice? The “secret,” if there is one, is always local. It’s not what someone is doing in Atlanta or Calgary. It’s not what someone is doing at one of the megachurches, or at some new house church. It’s what we need to do in every local congregation.

What is that? I have no idea. But here’s what I think. It has something to do with Pentecost.

Let’s go back to those early disciples at Pentecost who don’t know what is going on, and who don’t know what to do next. But they are doing some of the right things. They are together, they are praying and singing, they are thinking and talking.

They are also, I humbly suggest, doing some of the wrong things. They are together, but they are alone, behind closed doors. They are praying and singing—alone, behind closed doors. They are thinking and talking—alone, behind closed doors.

So what happens? The spirit happens. And it is crazy. Alone and behind closed doors, the Spirit enters like a mighty wind. This is not what they are expecting or what they think they need.

It looks as though some of them have flames of fire resting on their heads, and the flames are not extinguished by the wind—they are fanned by the wind. And something—the spirit—makes them run out into the streets. Maybe they are trying to get away from this wild ecstatic experience. Or maybe they can’t help themselves. And they start speaking in tongues—in foreign languages they apparently don’t understand. But other people understand. The Medes and the Parthians. The Cretans and all those others. And they marveled. They marveled that these people are—get this—speaking in a language we understand.

They are speaking in a language we understand.

And that is the story of how the church began. Speaking new languages, the languages of the people outside its doors. The languages of the world at large. Some of those people who heard it went back to their own communities changed by the experience. And they didn’t repeat the flames-of-fire-speaking-in-tongues thing. They did their own thing. The spirit moved differently in different communities because there were different cultures, different needs, different languages, different people.

So how does your congregation get to the right place when nothing seems to be working? I haven’t a clue. But you will start to get a clue when the spirit chases you out into your community to speak the language people understand, to meet them in the streets, to understand that the spirit is out there, not just in here.

Should we be talking statistics? Sure. It’s helpful. But the mission of the church is always to be blown into the spirit’s future. Whatever the statistics show, they don’t show the whole story.

The spirit and the community are the whole story.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2017

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | April 17, 2017

Making space in our souls

All the Jesus followers have a similar experience to Thomas’s. They just happen to be together in one place at the same time when Jesus comes to them. Thomas stands out because of his absence, and he pointedly tells them he doesn’t believe their story.

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’  [from John 20]

The soul space Thomas has allotted for faith is already full. He already knows everything he needs to know. The things he’s been taught from birth that have come down from the ancestors. The experiences he’s had in synagogue and religious instruction. The teachings of rabbis. He made a little more space, or at least tried to, when he learned from Jesus all sorts of things that seemed different—not to take the Sabbath so seriously, to avoid hypocrisy, to consider God’s heart in addition to the Law.

But this? It feels as though his whole group of friends has become, well, unhinged. As though reality has lost its meaning. At least any reality he’s experienced.

When he agrees to go back with them to the house, he’s determined he’ll stick with only what is real. But reality takes a sudden turn. New receptors in his soul are switched on, making space for him to see and receive things that a few moments earlier were invisible, incredible, and unacceptable.

As people of faith, we often believe and act as though our faith is fixed. Finalized. We’ve had enough life-changing, life-shaping experiences, thank you very much. And so we unintentionally shut ourselves off to things that force us to grow. Growing is sometimes difficult and painful, because it often requires us to let go of something we’ve believed or held dear for a long time.

We stop learning. We stop expanding. We stick to our ideas, not ever examining the origins of those ideas or where they are located in our souls. We become afraid of (even demonize) people whose very lives challenge us because they come from a different place, geographically or emotionally, politically or metaphorically.

Honestly, having static souls is normal and understandable. But this story calls us to make space for things that feel abnormal, for things that we may not ever fully understand.

When we make soul space for unfamiliar people and experiences, our very hearts, lives, minds expand. We become fuller. We grow into greater faithfulness. Our inner selves are amplified.

In this Easter season, let’s emulate the open-hearted disciple by making space in our souls for new people, new experiences, new faith.IMG_7390, LR adjusted, copyright, low, blog 4-17-17

© 2017, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | April 10, 2017

Resurrection is life

On Palm Sunday, at least 49 people died—bombed while they were at worship in Egypt. The week before, Syria attacked one of its own cities with sarin gas, killing over 80 so far, with hundreds more still critically ill.

I can hardly bear to read or hear about these stories; they are so painful, senseless, tragic, evil.

And yet, it is essential that we approach Easter with clear eyes, avoiding clichés about resurrection and about life itself.

Both resurrection and life are complicated.

This week’s lectionary offers two choices for the gospel reading: John 20 and Matthew 28. Either one gives us a glimpse into how being confronted with death, life, and resurrection creates fear, consternation, confusion, joy, and so many other emotional responses. Life itself is complex enough; throw death into the equation and we realize how little we know. We just sort of feel our way through.

As people of the resurrection, news of death reminds us that life is for a limited time, and that the limit is unknowable. Therefore, Easter pulls us to make as much as we can out of our own lives, and to bring life to places where it is needed.

Resurrection pulls us

  • From the things that are soul-killing toward those that are life-giving
  • From fear to peace
  • From despair to hope
  • From gazing at poverty to making sure everyone has enough
  • From turning our backs to offering our hands in friendship and equality
  • From hiding to receiving the hospitality of others
  • From being distracted by so much that is meaningless to paying attention to the important
  • From sticking with the familiar to exploring the world
  • From being disconnected to reaching out

The darkness, death, and evil we see in events like those in Egypt and Syria serve as deep reminders that we have work to do. Life to share. Hatred to conquer.

How do we do that? We live. We move through every day with resurrection in our souls.

What gives life to you? To your loved ones? To your community? To people you don’t know?

Look for resurrection—that complex, beautiful, important, imperfect, confusing, hopeful resurrection that is part of what we profess—and let it pull you toward life.

© 2017, Melissa Bane SevierIMG_1969, copyright, low, blog 4-10-17

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | April 3, 2017

The suffering of Jesus

As we enter into Holy Week this Sunday by contemplating the passion of Jesus, it’s time to think about what that really means.

There have been some deeply erroneous theological ideas around in the popular culture for at least a few hundred years which have, I think, hurt our understanding.

We have talked about the death of Jesus as though he experienced something far above what anyone else ever suffered. Here’s something you need to know. Crucifixion, though a horrible way to die, was frighteningly common in the Roman empire.

The Persians probably invented crucifixion as a punishment for people considered criminals. Alexander the Great used it in the Greek empire, but for slaves only, and the Roman Republic restricted crucifixion by law to slaves and aliens. Some governors ignored the restriction and used crucifixion against freedom fighters. There were mass executions by Rome in Judea, including some 800 at one time. Crucifixion as a form of execution didn’t end until Constantine, some 300 years after Jesus.

What’s my point? Rather than seeing something Jesus endured that was far beyond the suffering of any other human being, what we have is just the opposite. What Jesus experienced was a very common form of undignified death. And, I think, that is exactly the point of the death narratives.

What the gospel writers would like you to know about Jesus’ death was that it was no different from, no worse than, the human suffering that goes on every day. Jesus entered into our human condition and joined us right in the thick of it. He didn’t have to go beyond our suffering to see the really ugly stuff; it already is really ugly.

We don’t have to say, “No matter how bad this feels, what Jesus went through is so much worse.”  No, we can say instead, “Jesus has been in my place.”

His suffering was the same as that experienced by the cancer patient. Alienated from others; shamed; exposed; in pain.

His suffering was no different from that of an American soldier or Iraqi police officer or civilian maimed or killed by a bomb.

His suffering was no different from that of a parent who sits awake night after night at the bedside of a sick child, or who wonders when the wayward child will return.

His suffering was no different from that of the person who is at the end of her rope with depression, or who can no longer stand the pain of grief over losing his spouse.

Jesus knows.

As we await the hope of Easter, we do it in the somber face of death and suffering. We stand with each other and with Jesus, longing for the light.

© 2017 Melissa Bane Sevierwood and black cloth , altered, copyright, low, blog 4-3-17jpg

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | March 27, 2017

Movements of grief

I am not a huge fan of the “stages of grief” way of looking at loss. That puts me in a minority among ministers, I think (often the case). I’m not saying this view has no validity, but I sometimes see it used as a way of prescribing how grief should work for most people. In my experience, grief is all over the place, it’s messy and resists definitions. Everyone grieves differently, and every grief—even for the same person—is unique. Each loss is complicated and some are so nuanced that a lifetime of therapy could never heal all the issues that the loss exposed.

Even so, grief usually has a movement to it. Not in a straight line, but in some unpredictable course that often takes us where we don’t want to go—to that place of profound loss.

There is a surprising amount of physical movement in the story about Lazarus. (A long text, read it in John 11.)  A messenger goes to Jesus to tell him Lazarus is dying. After waiting a few days, Jesus and the disciples travel to Bethany. Mourners arrive to console the family. Martha hears Jesus is on his way and goes to meet him. Martha goes back to her home to get Mary. Mary and the mourners go out to Jesus. All of them go to the tomb. The stone is rolled back. And finally, Lazarus emerges.

And alongside the physical movement we see the flow of grief and its attending emotions. Two sisters who grieve differently. Many “if only” questions and comments. Reflection about life and about God. Tears. The company of friends who have come to mourn with the bereaved.

What I find most touching in this story is the stream of Jesus’ own grief. He takes his time getting to Bethany. He goes to a place of danger because of love for his friends. And when he sees their pain, that pain goes deeply into his psyche and dark emotion overcomes him. He is “deeply moved.”

As we anticipate Easter, here in Lent, we’re reminded that grief and loss are inevitable human experiences. Even Jesus is willing to risk his own safety to travel and be with his friends in their loss. In that place he feels the movement of grief on his own soul, and he models the strength of faith that allows—no, encourages—deep loss to move through us and bring us to new places.

They may not be places we want to go, but those places, like the people who can’t be replaced, help make us who we are.

© 2017 Melissa Bane SevierIMG_6063, LR adjusted, copyright, low, blog 3-27-17

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | March 20, 2017

Born blind

SueAnn walks into the fellowship hall, feeling more harried than helpful. She’s worried about her kids getting where they need to go on this Wednesday evening, but she has committed to being here at the church, setting up the serving table with a colorful cover, plates and napkins, coffee and soft drinks, and the all-important homemade chocolate chip cookies. Gerald, the 16-year-old,is at swim practice. 12-year-old Ginny and 10-year-old Lulu are at SueAnn’s friend Tilda’s home where they are supposed to be doing homework. Tilda will bring them to the church at 6:00. Gerald will bring his friend Ray after practice, and Ray’s mom, Lanier, will also meet them at the church. SueAnn has ordered pizza so all the kids can eat before the program at 6:45. They’ll hang out in the youth room while the adults meet.

In the midst of all this calendaring, SueAnn is wondering why she volunteered to set up for this program, why she joined the Mission Committee, why she thought she had time for any of it. When did life get so complicated, anyway?

SueAnn loves what the Mission Committee is about. It’s certainly not her parents’ Mission Committee. SueAnn’s church is all about social justice, and this committee has recently brought in speakers to lead discussions on  immigration, refugees, the Affordable Care Act, and reproductive rights. Controversial in this conservative state? Definitely, but this progressive outlook has become part of the congregation’s identity, and it’s the reason SueAnn joined this church a decade ago. Tonight’s theme is race.

After the kids have eaten, the adults, including SueAnn, Tilda, and Lanier, go to the program. SueAnn is glad that Lanier, in particular, is there. SueAnn respects her very much and they’ve become pretty close as they sit at endless swim tournaments next to each other, laughing and telling stories about their kids. Making fun of the helicopter moms.

Near the end of the program, the speaker, a leader in the state NAACP,  allows time for questions and comments. Lanier, who is the only African American in the room besides the speaker, stands. SueAnn is sitting next to her, and she can see Lanier’s hands shaking as she speaks. That’s a surprise. Lanier tells about her son Ray, who got his driver’s license about a year ago. Since that time, he has been pulled over by the police nine times. In none of those traffic stops was he charged with anything. She is afraid every time he walks out the door with the car keys that someone will take a dislike to him for no good reason. Ray is a tall, athletic young black man who wears his favorite swim team hoodie everywhere. He drives their fairly new Toyota, and sometimes he has black friends in the car with him. Lanier thinks all these things make him look “suspicious” to some. She glances around the room and her eyes meet SueAnn’s for a millisecond. “How would any of you feel,” asks Lanier, “If your child were subject to being stopped because he was driving a nice car, had friends with him, and was wearing the same clothes he wore to school?” She was met with silence.

“That,” she said, “is white privilege.” And she sat down.

In the story of a man born blind [another great, but lengthy story in John’s gospel that you can read here], those in leadership lose their ability to see what’s right in front of them, even as they are presented with new information about someone else’s experiences. A man has been healed of his blindness, and many witnesses testify to his previous condition. The clear message is that people are designed to grow in our sightedness. We do that by listening to voices different from ours, by taking people into our hearts, by opening our eyes and ears, by creating opportunities to hear from those whose voices have been silenced—sometimes silenced by our own preconceptions. We may all have the tendency to spiritual blindness, but because we retain the image of God we are given many opportunities to learn to see.

After the meeting, SueAnn asked the boys to do the cleanup of the cookies and drink. She wanted to talk to Lanier.

“Why?” asked SueAnn. “Why haven’t you ever told me this?” She was bewildered. Hurt. Ashamed.

“Because it’s not something in your experience,” Lanier said. “I didn’t know if you’d believe me, or tell me it’s not so bad, or think it was all my imagination. I should tell you that it is part of the experience of every black family I know.”

SueAnn said, “And now it’s part of my family’s experience, too. Not directly, of course. But if it’s happening to you, it’s happening to us. After hearing the speaker tonight talk about working together to change the system, I see that I have so much to learn that I’d been blind to. I’m so sorry. I hope you’ll remain my friend and help me to understand your experiences.”

“Of course,” said Lanier. And they gave each other a hug before rounding up all the kids and getting them ready to go home.

We can be born blind and gain more spiritual sight and insight. Or we can choose to remain blinded to the experiences and deaf to the voices of others.

Spiritual vision is something we can learn.

© 2017 Melissa Bane SevierIMG_7236, LR adjusted, copyright, low, blog 3-20-17

Older Posts »

Categories

GOOD BLACK NEWS

Your Source For The Good Things Black People Do, Give and Receive All Over The World

Ricky Tims Creative

Cultivating Creativity Together

Georgetown Pediatrics

Caring for your children.

My Journey as a Newcomer in Canada

New country, new life, new discoveries - A peek into the mind of a Canadian immigrant

itnbluegrass

Just another WordPress.com site

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is the best place for your personal blog or business site.