Wednesday, March 05, 2008

God Bless America
even the ignorants

I led a memorial service today for a member of our church community who died last week. She had special needs, was someone that is most often overlooked in our culture and society. What struck me during the celebration of her life and the gift of God that she was to so many in our community and neighborhood was the deep existential truth that we often reject what is different, that we avoid it, deny it, and seek to subvert it, when in fact we don't have to. The comment I heard repeatedly at the reception today was, "she taught me so much...." What are we missing out on in our culture of uniformity, conformity, and anonymity?

I've blogged about the recent trip I took to France. On Sunday as I preached on the Gospel text of the day (for March 2, Jean 9:1-41) I told some more stories about that trip which illustrated the blindness of the pharisees in that story as they missed out on what Jesus was doing, talking about and modeling. I thought of them again today after this memorial service/celebration of life.

In returning from Paris I flew through Philadelphia where my wife and I went through customs. As our passports were checked we gave 2 distinct answers to a question, so the customs agent, doing a good job, followed up with a myriad of questions. Included in those were why we had stamps from Jordan, Israel, and Egypt in our passports. The agent was stupified that we had visited those places. When we shared how fantastic they were and are, he quickly responded saying, "Why would you go there? They hate us. They're all out to get us. Better to just stay home." Flabbergasted I muttered politely that they were amazing places and people to visit.

We moved on, getting our bags and then proceeding through customs again, turning in our forms. As we approached that place there was a huge bottleneck in the line of waiting people loaded with baggage. Many were foreigners visiting the USA, unable to understand what was going on - like all of us there - because of the chaotic atmosphere and then also because of their limited English skills. A woman with a jersey accent pushed past us, trying to cut us off. When she was blocked by an unaware foreign person, she got in her face and screamed "IGNORANT!" Then stomped off to return to her family behind us. My wife and I laughed and reflected upon who was actually the ignorant person in the situation.

If you know me, or merely have read the blog, I admit that I am an Obama supporting Democrat, relatively socially liberal, Californian greatly shaped by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and my desire to follow in his footsteps. I find myself troubled when I repeatedly hear the statement "God bless America." Now I'm not anti-American, nor am I un-proud of who I am, where I come from, and who we are as a nation-state-community. But I have to wonder (not that this is a unique reflection), why would/should God only bless us? Why is it that we are so quick - all human beings - to reject what's different, to overlook the different, to dis-engage - even villefy - the other? I'm as screwed up, making as many mistakes every day as the next person. But I have to wonder what we're missing out on when we act like that customs agent and the jersey-born woman when we not only reject, but utterly refuse to even engage with what is different. I too do the same. Yet when I think about the people that have greatly influenced, and shaped me for good, they often aren't like me and weren't the people that I would necessarily gravitate towards out of a sense of facility, efficiency or safety.

A friend once told me a saying of the South, "We know where we've been, but We don't know where we're going." We definitely won't just get there if we only stick with what we've known, where we've already been, and what we ourselves are like. Bruce Reyes-Chow wrote a great entry with a similar thing talking about the PC(USA) and the future of the church "Four Cultural Shifts the PC(USA) Needs to Make." I wonder what the shifts are that WE and by we I mean ME (too) need to make in order to move from ignorance to sight, from blindness to perspective, from ego-centricism to holistic worldviews?

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