Sunday, July 10, 2016
Who Is My Neighbor? We're Better Than We Think
In the midst of this, I was witness this morning to a sign of how far, even in the midst of our brokenness, we have already come. I am attending a conference this week in Savannah, Georgia, in the very heart of the Old South. This is a part of the world that has seen much bloodshed and heartache, a place where the economy once ran on the backs of slaves, a place (like all places) with its own particular history of division and tribe and race.
In the midst of the city stands a church, Christ Episcopal Church. Founded in 1733, it bills itself as the "Mother Church of Georgia", being the first congregation of the Church of England founded in the Georgia colony. It may well be the oldest established congregation of Christian worship in the state. Its current building was built in the 1830s and then restored after a fire in the 1890s. John Wesley once served as its rector. It is a place steeped in history.
In that space on a bright, hot summer morning I saw black and white worship together. I listened as a white man, the very embodiment of the racial patriarchy that governed the clergy as well as other aspects of Southern society, preach about the Good Samaritan. He quoted the words of the current Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church - a black man - reminding us that God is a God of compassion for all, and "all means ALL".
I then witnessed as a black woman, another priest in the very same church, celebrated the church's holiest sacrament, proclaiming the words of institution of the Holy Eucharist, the bread and wine which we all shared.
And I was struck by the both the beauty and the ordinariness of the moment. This was a congregation at prayer as they do every Sunday, doing things they do week in and week out. There was no sense of revolution, no sense of their life together being somehow radical. And yet, barely a generation or two ago in this very same place, this very same service would have been extremely radical. It would have inflamed passions, ignited arguments, spurred anger and yelling and harsh words - maybe even violence. Today, it's just a part of the fabric of life in this community.
So for those tempted to despair at recent events: take the opportunity to look around with a sense of history. See where we are today, the things we regard as ordinary that not so long ago seemed out of reach. Give thanks for what we have achieved together, the everyday victories of love and community. In the end, the darkness doesn't win. As Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, the arc of history is long but it bends towards justice - and, let us hope, towards peace and love as well.