I used to think our island was a place of relative immunity when it came to the many and stressful social ills that are so abundant on the mainland. Neighbors care about neighbors. We can still leave our homes unlocked. It is not unusual to stop by to visit someone and find no one at home, doors and windows wide open, a vestige of an era long disappeared from so much of our country and culture. It used to be the same with the various churches and the synagogue too. Open doors, easy access for a moment of quiet reflection in a sanctuary, office personnel ready to welcome and provide assistance.
But we are living with change. As the local Congregational Church prepares for a guest preacher from Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, the deacons meet to learn how to evacuate the sanctuary in the event of a crisis. Police presence is considered. With rare exception, church doors in the community are locked with entry codes provided to church members.
There is police presence in the synagogue for Shabbat services now. The doors are locked when services begin. Latecomers must be admitted by an armed officer. We are living with change - change initiated by fear as assaults on civilians by individuals armed with devastating weapons happen with increasing regularity. As happens with every unspeakable event, the outcry against gun violence and the urgency to "do something!" surges across the nation...and very little effective action is taken at the highest levels of government to insure the safety of human beings in this country.
Our pastor challenged us with her passionate preaching last week. She spoke about privilege, economic and white: The problem with privilege, particularly economic privilege, is that it gives us a false sense of accomplishment. It disregards whose shoulders we stand upon, and obscures the labor and struggle of those who have paved the way. Privilege inches us further and further away from our vulnerability , and our vulnerability is a key ingredient to our humanity...privilege inches us further and further into isolation and away from God, the Creator and Provider.
There is another type of privilege that requires just as much, perhaps even more, self examination, internal monologue and prayer, and that is the privilege of being born white, or identifying as white. The great sins of our nation, slavery and segregation, are painful and powerful and they remain unaddressed. Since we dare not discuss such sins in public, they get twisted up inside of us in the form of racial prejudice and racial bias. We all carry bias, the burden of our nation's sinful past, within us. It's our societal inheritance, and it's a barrier to realizing the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. (Rev. Cathlin Baker)
I sit with her words and realize once again that the gun violence that we experience across the country is but one symptom of a national and collective "soul sickness" arising out of the failure to address the sin's of the past. This is an enormous work, clearly not yet undertaken. It is hard to hear "I'm not a racist" being shouted thru the national bull horn when the confession needs to be "Yes - I am a racist. Confession and repentance and truth and justice are part of the healing that I will work for across this nation." This is the subtle melody I yearn for as the election rhetoric ramps up. Will we be able to identify and elect a leader who understands the sick soul of this country - one who can bear the pain of consciousness, who can confess, and repent and seek justice - one who will "lead us in the paths of righteousness", one who will inspire rigorous self examination and humility in us in the face of the enormity of the task of truth telling and healing and reconciliation?
Our pastor's closing prayer was this: May we be vigilant in our self examination, allowing God to illuminate the privileges that escape us. May self-awareness disarm our prejudice and draw us into consciousness. May we each reflect the virtues and values required for peace and justice -generosity over greed, compassion over coarseness, decency over denigration, humility over hubris. AMEN