We have done those things
Friday and Saturday of this weekend, Oct 25-26, we had our Diocesan Convention. This is the time when the diocese gathers as a whole to discuss the business of the diocese, to worship together, and to make policy. All of these things interweave back and forth throughout our time together. Gordon Park-Li, Mary Vargas and I were your representatives to convention.
The theme of this convention was racial reconciliation. There has been a task force looking at the way that this diocese benefited from the slave trade, both directly and indirectly. It is very clear that the Episcopal Church as a whole benefited from the institution of slavery, but I know that as a child, I was told that the West was not involved with slavery. That is simply not true, unfortunately. It was not as pervasive as it was in the South, but it was still here, because people moved here with their slaves. And, as I heard recently on the radio, slavery in this country was the biggest economic driver in the world at the time.
The deeper underbelly of the slave trade was the establishment of an unacknowledged class system in this country based on race. The problem with an unacknowledged class system is that the people that benefit are not even aware that they are benefiting from it, or that others are not. We have had a myth in this country that if you just try hard enough, you too can have the American Dream. What is being exposed finally with the backlash to the immigration situation in this country is that you may be able to work hard enough to achieve the American Dream if you are white, perhaps if you are Asian. I had no idea growing up that the other kids in the poor part of town that we lived in really did not and would not have the chances that I did.
And I knew more than many of my peers. My grandfather tried to protect the Japanese farmers in Red Bluff. My father invited the black pastor and his little daughter over to our house to talk over tea, and sent my little sister and the little black girl out to play in the front yard. There they would be seen by people driving by, in our town that was very polarized racially at the time. My father explained that symbols are important. The children would learn to play together, which was a good thing, and the adults seeing them would have to think about this. Later, my father would be involved with the farmworkers in Delano, and he brokered a peace deal between the farmworkers and the farmers who attended his church.
But I really did not understand white privilege until I came out as a gay person. Through no fault of my own, I became a very public figure in the Episcopal Church in the South, a very unacceptable public figure. I was asked to leave many of the best churches in the Diocese of Atlanta because of what I was, not who I was. Because of that history, I know something of the pain of people looking at you and seeing “different.”
While listening to the various references to reconciliation over the last two days, I thought about the time at CDSP when I saw Fr. Shintaro Ichihara do a formal apology for the Japanese treatment of the Korean comfort women. Everyone was in tears. Remembering that, I thought to myself, I want to give the Japanese members here a formal apology for this government’s treatment of people of Japanese ancestry and the destruction of community and personal property with Order 9066 sending them to concentration camps, and to the Chinese members for the Chinese Exclusion Act, and to my Filipino friends for the laws that affected the Filipino bachelor farmers. I am so ashamed of this government. While I have been a victim, I also acknowledge that I have indirectly benefited.
The need for reconciliation is hard work. It starts with acknowledging that we have marginalized certain people whom we have called “other.” The preacher on Friday evening was Bishop Singh from the Diocese of Rochester. He has done a lot of work with the Christian response to the Dalit or “untouchable” people of his land. In India, the class system has been explicit, and exceedingly rigid. In some areas, the Christian response has been pathetic, keeping the Dalit class outside the door. Some courageous leaders, and Bishop Singh is one of those leaders, saw that Jesus invited everyone in, and started opening the doors. As we know, the Holy Spirit starts moving when we start acting like Jesus. But it is dangerous sometimes, and takes courage.
Another speaker at convention suggested that we all have been marginalized at some point in our lives. We all know that pain of being “other,” of being outside the door. When we recognize that pain, we can decide to be part of the solution. We can look at where we might have caused that pain, and see if there is something we can do about it.
When we look at our lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures, we see that it is the lesson we traditionally read for Pentecost. The incredible thing we hear in this passage is that everyone will receive the Spirit of God. No longer is this reserved to special people. Just in case we don’t get it, everyone is named, male and female down to the servants, who also will receive the Spirit. God does not see people differently, there is no caste system, no division for any reason whatsoever. This is a very difficult thing for us, having been taught carefully to trust “our own” and to not trust “others.”
Our Gospel lesson takes this one step further. Jesus, following last week, is giving more instruction on how to pray. You want to know how to pray, he asks? Look! Here is the professional religious man, who seems to be the kind of person who would know how to pray, right? As a matter of fact, he is doing it “right,” according to the law. He recites all of the things he has done to do in order to be right with God. But Jesus says no! Who is he talking to? Not God! He is assuring himself and anyone who listens that he is a good man.
Over here on the other side is a bad man. He has done bad things, personally and socially. We don’t like him. But what does Jesus do? He says, look at what he says! He knows he has done wrong. Anyone familiar with 12 Steps knows that this is where you start, by acknowledging that we have done wrong. We have all done wrong. In the traditional words of the Prayer Book, “we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and we have not done those things which we ought to have done, and there is no health in us.”
Then after acknowledging his wrongs, the bad man asks God to forgive him, just as we can ask God to forgive us, already knowing the answer. We are forgiven. It is important for us to state that we have done wrong, and it is important for us to then know that we have been forgiven, and to accept that forgiveness. I have said several times about how forgiveness is simply refusing to hold anger at the one who wronged us. God does not hold anger. We are forgiven. But in order to “receive” forgiveness, we must acknowledge that wrong we know we have done, and then move on. We also need to go back and look at what we have done wrong, and to start changing things!
Back to convention! Bishop Marc always gives a major talk, and the sentence that jumped out at me from this speech was this: “What would it mean to become an invitational church?” He gave a bunch of examples to kind of get us started thinking about this, and while none of his examples clicked with me, I still think it is a fascinating question.
The whole notion of being an “invitational” church is the idea that the people of the church set up systems that make it “normal” to open the doors, to invite outsiders in. Thinking about this systemically is interesting. What do I mean by that? An example would be St Mary’s, down in Los Angeles. They started thinking about how to become an invitational church, how to open the doors, how to invite people in. What they realized when they stepped back and looked at it systemically was that the doors were literally hard to find. The doors on that church are not on the front of the building. How do you “open the doors” when no one can see them? They didn’t even realize this was a problem until they started looking from an outsider’s viewpoint – because they all knew where the doors were.
A final question that comes out of the first reading for today: where has the Holy Spirit been moving in your life? We read that everyone receives the Spirit. Throughout the Bible, more and more people receive the Spirit. We try our best to confine God’s work in a building, to certain people, and over and over, God breaks out in new and glorious and troubling ways. How and where has the Spirit been moving in your life? God is always reaching out, always forgiving, always knocking on the door waiting for us to answer. What is your response?