“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Matthew 25:35-40 (NRSV)
“People who imagine that history flatters them (as it does, indeed, since they wrote it) are impaled on their history like a butterfly on a pin and become incapable of seeing or changing themselves, or the world. This is the place in which it seems to me, most white Americans find themselves. Impaled. They are dimly, or vividly aware that the history they have fed themselves is mainly a lie, but they do not know how to release themselves from it, and they suffer enormously from the resulting personal incoherence.”
James Baldwin, “The White Man’s Guilt”, Ebony, August 1965
We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes
Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons
Ella’s Song: Sweet Honey in the Rock
* * *
My partner is taking a landscaping course this semester. Recently, I was editing one of his assignments. Tasked with writing about the cultural significance of Central Park, he wrote that Central Park was created to be a place where all could gather, regardless of an individual’s socioeconomic status. His answer wasn’t wrong, at least according to his textbook, and yet it didn’t tell the whole story. Later that evening, I asked whether or not he was aware that Central Park took the place of Seneca Village, New York’s first free Black community. He said yes, but that according to the textbook, the citizens, whose land had been taken by way of eminent domain, were described as squatters living in shanties. There was no mention of the fact that the vast majority of the citizens of Seneca Village were landowners.
In his book, Dear Church, Reverend Lenny Duncan describes white supremacy as “the air we breathe and the waters we are baptized in.” There is no part of American life that has been untouched by our nation’s legacy of racism. Even in a class as seemingly innocuous as landscaping, history has been rewritten in such a way that it favors those in power and disparages people of color.
This year, many white Americans realized, for the first time, how pervasive systemic racism truly is. With the murder of George Floyd, nationwide protests, a presidency and campaign built on racist rhetoric, and a global pandemic which disproportionately impacts black and brown people, many people’s eyes have been opened for the first time.
2020 has been a year of disruption and discomfort. Jesus was born in a similar time, characterized by political unrest, widespread inequality, and oppression. Jesus’ words challenge each of us to notice the ways those around us are harmed by systems of inequality, which prevent a great number of people from accessing basic necessities, while those with power and privilege benefit from their oppression.
While so many of us are focused on getting back to normal, Advent is a season when we are reminded of the importance of embracing the new thing God is doing in the world. Our normal ways of doing things have not created a society where all people are able to flourish. We are long overdue for something new. The call for each of us to care for the “least of these” is about more than offering charity. It is about standing in solidarity with all who have been pushed to the margins and working to abolish the structures which have created a system where so many cannot access what they need to survive, while others turn a blind eye to the ways in which their own actions allow this disparity to continue. Ask yourself today, what false narratives are you believing about our world, and your role in it, simply because they allow you to remain comfortable? The time for change is now. We who believe in freedom cannot rest. Equality cannot wait.
Laura Jean Allen is a queer, white, reverend, ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She received her Master of Divinity from Brite Divinity School. She pastors a congregation in Helena, Montana, and is the Secretary of the Disciples AllianceQ Council. She is happily married to her partner, Kit.