Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Marching and dreaming...

Yesterday, a contingent of Amazing Grace folks participated in San Antonio’s march in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As the pastor of a predominately white, middle class suburban congregation, I sometimes feel a bit out of my comfort zone addressing issues of race and injustice. It’s a challenge to make such a public sign of solidarity like marching, but it is the right thing to do. I’m reminded of Dr. Kings words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Next Sunday our lectionary readings include imagery about the Body of Christ from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. We are all connected. We all live together.

In this past week’s sermon, I shared that I don’t know what it’s like to be African American. I don’t know what it’s like to be Haitian. I’ve never lost my home. I don’t know what it’s like to be gay, give birth, or go through menopause.

Every person’s human experience is unique, special, and sacred. Comparing sorrows is a futile task. It’s not helpful to say “my hurt is worse than yours.” Pain is pain. Grief is grief. Joy is joy.

We share in life together with people we love, with people we might not like, with people different from us, and with people across the globe. As we sang on Sunday:

"In Christ there is no east or west, In him no south or north,
But one great fellowship of love, throughout the whole wide earth."

I remember a time I was working with first graders in an afterschool program. It was MLK Day, and we were showing the class a video about Dr. King. My co-leader started with some pre-questions, just to see what the class already knew. Some of the answers were predictable. “He was a preacher.” “He had a dream.” One response, however, was a bit different: “Martin Luther King was the first person to read both the black and the white Bible.”

My co-leader responded, “Um, Paul, you’re in seminary. Why don’t you answer this question?”

I said, “Well, there’s not a white Bible and a black Bible. There’s just one Bible that anyone can read.”

One rather erudite boy responded, “But at synagogue we read the Hebrew Bible.”

The truth is, we read lots of bibles even if we read from the same Bible. If there are ten of us in the room, we might have seventeen ways of interpreting Scripture. I know that Pat Robertson and I interpret scripture in very different ways, but we both profess to be Christians. I know that faithful people in the ELCA have come to very different conclusions on the same issue.

The biggest debates in the Church aren’t over sexuality or politics. When you get down to it, it’s how you look at Scripture. That’s why I really like the ELCA’s Book of Faith Initiative, especially the four ways of looking at scripture: through lenses of devotion, history, literature, and Lutheran theology.

When I have different layers of looking at a text, it makes my reading of it richer. I’m learning how to take the Bible seriously without always taking it literally. At church, we’re doing a home Bible study on Judges. We have the horribly gross story of Ehud assassinating King Eglon (Judges 3:12-30) and the equally violent story of Shamgar slaying 600 Philistines with an oxgoad (Judges 3:31). Taking that story seriously doesn’t mean I should go around stabbing people in the belly with a sword or killing people. It does mean, however, that I should reflect on the violence in my own world.

Let us follow the examples of Jesus and Martin (and countless others…) we keep on striving for peace.

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