Order of the Day - "Theological Reflection"

The Ground Has Shifted| October 31, 2017

I want to thank the Conference and the secretary for the opportunity to bring the Order of the Day. Rev. Charlette’ has an interesting way of securing the prospective person… “Hello Rev. Bass, are coming to conference next week? Ah yes, Reverend! Would you do the honors of bringing the Order of the Day? How do you say no to that?”

But, that it is on Halloween…Trunk or Treat! We know the history of this day in the life of the early church as a challenge to keep life holy! So, the early church leaders established “All Saint Day,” to remember us of those saint who through their righteous ways shaped the faith and church over the years.

During my tenure as president of the MCWSV we acknowledged the need to provide additional opportunity for learning and sharing among clergy and lay leaders with the community. So, we established what came to be known as "Theological Reflections.” A moment where we shared knowledge and wisdom from an informational perspective yet theological in nature that helped round-out our roles as leaders in the community as a whole. Today, is such a moment!

And so, the gospel text from this week’s lectionary is responsible for the subject and content of this theological reflection: Matthew 23:1-12New International Version (NIV). You read the fully text on your leisure. However, for the sake of time, I want to focus on verses 11-12,

11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Mat. 23:11-12 NIV

If there were to be a title for this reflection, it is:

 

“The Ground Has Shifted”

 

Walter Fluker’s book with this title proclaims a startling and apparent reality that life for the black church will not…must not…be the same because we are in a post-racial America. Fluker focuses on the crisis of identity and place in the black community and argues that the black church must re-remember [my words] our history of faith and stories of hope…the original foundation of the  black faith experience …our spiritual way of being in America!

Our struggle today, he argues and I agree is found in answering the question, “where is home?” This place where I am fully human, respected as a citizen, and where I actively participate in the naming and shaping of my destiny—yet it is more…

…It’s time for transformation!

In the United States, we are experiencing a continued breakdown of the fundamental pillars of democracy including the individually running branches of government, rule of law, and a free press. There is an ever-increasing assault on human rights… the impact is felt world-wide… with the worst impact is on:

  • Girls and women

  • Communities facing racial and ethnic discrimination

  • LGBTQI people

  • Indigenous peoples

  • People with disabilities

  • Immigrants and refugees

  • And other marginalized people and communities around the world.

In the face of extreme greed, violence, and inequality, we are experiencing barriers and divisions that threaten the strength of our movements and achievement of our deeply held visions. Yet the social-justice community often still operates in hierarchies, we lean on habits and structures that do not serve us, and show up to do the work of social change as parts of ourselves rather than as whole people.

For instance,

My Anti-racism journey and ministry,

  • WFU Div.

  • Green Street UMC

  • City of Winston Salem

  • Foundations…ZSR, MRB, WS and KBR

  • Forsyth County, Dept. of Public Health

  • WS Police Dept.

  • Faith Communities…Southern Province of the Moravian Church, Presbyterian Interracial Dialogue (PIRD),

  •  Business sector

This is why we must develop strategies to overcome the structural failures that are undermining our communities, including racism, misogyny, xenophobia, transphobia, and other forms of structurally reinforced hate, bigotry, and exclusion.

There needs to be a “healthy cultural identity” that is formed in community. Without a collective community there can be no transmission of a “healthy sense of self-esteem or self-worth.” Especially when a dominant culture is sending messages that constantly undervalue a person’s self-worth and identity. There needs to be a counter balancing force to negate the false images and false definitions that [persons are] being forced to adopt…

In my work with the Freedom Tree at IDR, the Institute for Dismantling Racism, one thing seem to play out constantly… an unawareness and lack of understanding of the impact of ‘Culture’ and its ways of being that continue to determine whether or not we as human beings in these United Stated can change or be transformed as we invite our communities to be apart the good news of gospel…repent and be transformed by the renewing of your mind… we often proclaim but are challenged with working it out!

Let’s do this exercise and see what we know about the “Culture” we perpetuate here in WS and its resulting impact on our very life… the place we experience as “Home!” With race there is always a dualism of the concept of Home. We have home in our churches and in public life. Our socialization and conditioning determine how we understand and operate in both.

What is culture?

  • What is it?

  • What makes it up?

  • How do we get culture?

  • How are we shaped by our cultural experiences?

  • What are some of the consequences for your church/community?

Culture is collective/Socialization/Group norms… Geographic Socialization: Importance of geography on socialization!

Debrief Comments…

 

Responding to this moment with collaboration, creativity and courage

This moment in history calls for creativity and innovation, grounded in the wisdom of those both past and present who have resisted, subverted, and transcended oppressive conditions and policies. We must nurture community-based solutions, safeguard human rights, and strengthen key sectors and institutions that ensure a society oriented around compassion and justice.

We are called to dig deeper for different ways of being, rooted in love of humanity and the Earth. We must trust in the experience, vision and leadership of the groups bearing the brunt of regressive policies and violence… those mentioned earlier.

My work in communities like, faith communities, non-profits, municipal/government, and business are all “waking up,” but not as a whole! Folks are responding to the negative rhetoric and actions of violence and greed in ways never experienced…they are noticing the lack of presence and inclusion from groups that don’t look like them…they are attempting to reach across race-line to form collectives for social justice and non-violent social actions,

 

Examples,

  1. 18 Springs Yoga, Hope Tank - work to educate their “white people” about the danger and harm of not acknowledging the negative impact of “white privilege” on their lives and the society as a whole...

Work entitled - “Racism Recovery for White People”

In the aftermath of the tragedy in Charlottesville, African American leaders have issued a call to white Americans to awaken to racism and white privilege, and to take responsibility for transforming these personal and systemic patterns.

“We are unbearable to each other, and so we are stuck looking across a divide we cannot bridge. What I ask of you, my dear (white) friends, is to try the best you can to surrender your innocence, to reject the willful denial of history and to live fully in our complicated present, with all of the discomfort it brings.”  Michael Eric Dyson, the Tears We Cannot Stop, 2017.

If white people are to become genuine allies to people of color, we must take time to grapple with our conditioning as white people.  This involves facing our ignorance of the impact racism has on people of color (specifically African Americans) as well as the way racism impacts many of our perceptions and behaviors.  Additionally, white people must learn constructive ways to process our guilt and shame for this racist legacy.

  1. The Justice Collective – Linda Sutton and Rev. Willard Bass had the idea to begin a cross-movement coalition working together on justice for all people in our community, and the Justice Collective was born. The hope with the Justice Collective is that we will build trust and unity with each other and, in turn, maximize our impact by mobilizing to take action together.

 

Initial Test for support of Communities of Color:

Dear Activists - This week we are once again called to stand together in unity in support of our friends, neighbors and fellow citizens. We kindly ask you to attend a solidarity action (no rally, no speeches, no signs, just a show of togetherness) being held on Wednesday, September 13th at 8:45am - 9:45am. We will gather at Green Street United Methodist Church located at 639 Green Street in W-S. Here is why we ask for your support, your attendance and your assistance in mobilizing your base of activists to join with those who are experiencing another injustice.

 

Group members:

Currently, we have 35 members from various organizations in Winston-Salem and surrounding areas.

And last be not least,

  1. The SHARE Cooperative of WS - began in the Spring of 2015, as a faith-based response to the existence of "food deserts" - areas of a community where there is no traditional grocery store. In a food desert, people without their own transportation often have to spend precious food dollars at convenience stores - typically gas stations that offer a limited choice of high-priced, less-than-healthy foods. The SHARE Coop Food Store, co-founded by Rev’s Willard Bass and Gary Williams, is envisioned as the solution to the community's need for a grocery store and community center which will be a hub for revolutionary, equitable community for all of Winston Salem.

 

In our text,

Jesus gave warnings of judgement to all the spiritually blind religious leaders because of their hypocrisy. Their external rhetoric and ritualism were shams, all show with no inner reality. Such people cause others great pain and are far from recovery [being transformed] themselves.

Jesus says, the Pharisees refuse to address the real question, which was why the needy of Israel did not have land at all. It was the loss of their land [resources] that required the “tithe for the poor.” They are hypocrites… unthinking religious practitioners, because they avoid the serous question of “justice, mercy and faith.

However, there is hope for everyone—even hypocrites! Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, once numbered among the hypocrites, eventually found recovery [transformation] through belief in Jesus.

 

Closing,

If we search for Jesus, we will find him, and he will help us in the recovery [transformation] process! Benjamin Mayes articulated the role of the black person in America. He asks, “what can we, as blacks, do? It may be that God has called upon black people, black Americans to be a special people. It is Mayes belief, his firm conviction, that God has sent every man and woman into the world to do something unique, something distinctive, and that if he or she does not do it, it will never be done and the world will be the loser.

The call to do this distinctive thing does not go to the crowd or to the multitude but to the individual or a specific nation---mainly to a particular person and often a particular race.

I too believe, that God has sent each of you [us]…every man and woman into the world to do something unique and something distinctive…and if you do not do it, it will never be done!

In this crazy and confusing time, God created you to do something unique… not like the Pharisees but something distinctive for uniting communities and instilling love to all of humanity! What are you afraid of…What are you waiting for… go do it and show the Kingdom of God breaking-through, even today!

Amen and Amen!

Rev. Willard Bass,

Director,

Freedom Tree at IDR

Institute for Dismantling Racism (IDR)

 603 Peters Creek Parkway, Winston Salem, NC 27103

Hours: 9am-4pm

Phone: 336-283-3299     

Email: idrusnow@gmail.com

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