Who is our Neighbor?
There are some lessons that just stick with you right? I was in the 5th/6th grade Sunday school class taught by the Director of Children's Ministry from my church. We were studying The Good Samaritan. Instead of just reading it and doing the word search and put the story in order kind of thing from the leaflet she wanted us to act it out. As everyone got a part I was the donkey. You may be thinking there is not a donkey in the story - it's about the robbers, injured man, the priest, an religious man (Levite), the Inn Keeper and the Good Samaritan. In our story we also had the donkey because how else was the Good Samaritan going to get the injured man all the way to the inn. I do not know if anyone else in my Sunday school class remembers this parable as well as I do. I do not know if Arvilla talked with us about it, I'm sure she did but what has stayed with me was the lesson to go and do likewise.
When I was in elementary, middle & high school, I was taught that race did not matter. That our goal should be that we do not see a difference in the color of someone's skin. I remember my mom telling me about seeing 2 water fountains and where people could sit for meals and many other stories of the past. When I got to college and began my course work in Sociology (the study of groups) I learned that there were great difference and what we did with those differences mattered. When I was in seminary I got into a disagreement with another student when I was talking about my experiences in southern California with racism, primarily that it was present primarily as a conversation about legal immigration status - Mexicans could be there as long as they were legal.
Before you stop reading and say I don't need to read a "devotion" on race, hear me out. We as humans are different. Our experiences are different. Being different is not the problem. It's a problem when we let our assumptions (known & unknown) drive. I grew up a San Diego Padres fan. My brother a Dodgers fan. Neither of us ever lived in LA. We grew up in the same house. The Padres have been to 2 World Series in the history of the franchise 1984 (Tony Gwynn's rookie year) and 1998. They have never won. The Dodgers have won 6 (2 in Brooklyn & 4 in LA). I hate the Dodgers. I should love them - the most successful baseball team near where I grew up, team colors include my favorite one. My Grandfather was a Brooklyn Dodgers' fan. But I root for the underdog. I took great delight when the Astros beat the Dodgers in 2017 in the World Series. Another franchise to have never one beats the big, bad Dodgers. Except we know more now.
It's hard to speak about race. We've been taught that we need to be "color-blind" and if we talk about it then we are not being color-blind. Except by not talking about it we've silenced ourselves to point out that we cannot acknowledge that we still have problems with race in this country. As Christians we are called to love our neighbors as well as we love ourselves. Our neighbors are dying. There are huge inequities in our how black brothers and sisters are treated in any number of ways. As United Methodists, we promise at our baptismal "Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?" Our answer is with God's help. We need God's help to talk about race. We need to listen to what our sisters and brothers of color are telling us about their experiences. We need to listen and then ACT.
In our Gospel reading of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is pointing out all the ways that our assumptions drive our actions. The road that injured man is on - it's a notoriously dangerous place. Perhaps that is why the priest and the religious men didn't stop - they did not want to get hurt. Except when Jesus told this parable - he used "those" people the outsiders, the Samaritans to show what we are called to do. It was very uncomfortable when Jesus taught this.
I do not have the answers. I wish I did. It's messy, complicated and confusing. But simply being silent makes us complicit. As much as I hate the Dodgers, since January I have been unable to wear my Astros' World Championship #EarnedIt hat. I can't. I've tried to rationalize it in my head but I can't. I cannot go back and fix the 2017 World Series and we do not know if there will even be a 2020 World Series.
What I can do is remember that Dodgers are not evil and they were certainly not treated fair by the Astros. Now, I know that I still have work to do (I'm not sure I can ever utter a good word about the Yankees). As we start a new day, if you are ready to talk about race, I am here. If you are unsure, I can provide some more resources. If you are ready to act, there are things we can do. If you are not, I ask that you pray for God's wisdom and discernment to see which character in the Gospel are you? I know that throughout my life, I've been them all.
Let us pray, God help us love you with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves. Open our eyes, hearts and our minds to the pain of our sisters and brothers and use the strength that you give us to make it better, in Jesus name we pray, Amen.