When I accepted a preaching gig this summer (a first since retirement nearly five years ago) it was for two Sundays, one in July and one in August. I kinda knew the second one was always iffy. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, especially in these years since leaving church, seeing the brutal truth of Amerikkka, and losing my nice.
So I can’t say that I was surprised by the disinvitation that arrived on Saturday. I had preached my one sermon and named, as clearly as I could, the gospel call to repentance of the sin of white supremacy (text of sermon here) based on the assigned lectionary text. What has been surprising is the sweet outpouring of support from my virtual community when I shared the disinvitation on Facebook and the subsequent uptick in reading of the manuscript. If the goal was to foster conversations about whiteness, white supremacy, and the gospel imperative of justice, the disinvitation was probably more success than the original sermon itself. In the ensuing conversation, I was also reminded both of what I treasured of church… and why I had to leave.
This morning I awoke thinking about the verb choice in the letter: upsetting. The “message from the pulpit was upsetting to many”. As I awaken this morning holding that word, I find myself amused. In all the years of writing and sharing sermons, never was I able to so effectively prod folk from a place of comfort. For better or worse, on this ill-fate re-entry I managed to move a community so thoroughly that I got myself run out of town. And I know that means I am in good company.
More I am thinking about the privilege inherent in the message. While Black mothers and grandmothers are burying children whose lives are literally taken by systemic violence, white mothers and grandmothers are concerned when their comfort is disturbed. I am reminded of a time in parish ministry when one Black mom was having to face “the talk” with her son and another white mom was upset that a children’s story about civil rights used in church included the word bomb. Really. Black children were killed by white people’s bombs and a white mother can still demand (and receive) space free of even the word. Our presumed privilege to not be upset is the epitome of whiteness.
What is clear to me on the 24th day of this 56th trek around the sun is that being upset is symptomatic and necessary if (as white folks) we are ever going to face the evil with which we swim. While I like roses and tranquility and warm fuzzies just as much as everyone else, I am keenly aware that Rome is burning and we (white folk) are still blithely throwing gasoline on the fire. Though no doubt upsetting, the biblical mandate for justice is clear and so too the call to speak out. While it may well be too late for Rome, I can sleep at night only insofar as I have joined my voice with others calling for a new and just world order.
And this week I’m sleeping much better than I have in a very long time.