A question and a confession:
Question: Did you know that God jumps right into life with us?
Confession: I am a racist.
Let’s start with the question and use a story: There is a person walking an unfamiliar road who falls into a huge hole with steep vertical sides. They call out for help. A doctor comes by, looks down, writes out a prescription and throws it down. A priest comes by and, in response to the call for help, kneels, says a prayer and goes on. Finally, another person comes by and, hearing the call for help, jumps into the hole. The first person says: “Are you stupid? Now we are both down here!” “Yeah,” says this person, “but I have been down here before and I know the way out.”
The larger, Christian, spiritual “story,” of course, is that God loves us so much that God became human, jumped into the hole of our humanity — into the WHOLE of our humanity — with all its joy and pain and will show us the way out. The promise is that when we say “Yes” to God’s love, we will walk the way out with God.
Some people gather together each Sunday to remember God’s promise. For some, it is a spiritual experience of God being with us; for others, it is the experience of Christian help and support through others. It is not one or the other — they both have God walking the Way of Love with them.
Now, let’s apply the “story of the hole” to the issue of racial justice. Who is in the hole? Well, of course, people of color who have suffered centuries of injustice are in the hole. But, can I, a white male, jump in to help because “I’ve been there and know the way out?” No! Moreover, I’ll tell you who I really think is in that hole: It is mostly white folk, who are products of privilege because of our color, culture, heritage and privilege. Racism is mostly, if not completely, a white problem.
Now, the confession: I am a racist. I am a product of all I just mentioned. I am a product of a cultural history that favored white over any other skin color and that actively made sure people with red or brown or yellow or Black skin did not get the same privilege/opportunity as I did as a white person. I know that I need to work every day to overcome that history.
So, who needs to jump down and can say: “Yeah, but I have been down here before and I know the way out.” We need people to meet us in this hole who have confessed their racism and have worked hard to reject all the benefits of their white privilege; who have stepped down to raise up others; who have struggled with being part of the social, financial, cultural, spiritual cost of racial injustice.
The hole/whole of racial injustice is deep and complex. But God is in the hole with us. Maybe you’ve been in this hole, maybe you know someone who has and found a way out. If so, help us with truth-telling and tough honesty, because racism eats away at my soul, at our souls, and at the soul of our country.
God’s promise: Look and you will find help from God and from others who have jumped before and can help you find a way out. Can you help? Will you do the tough work to make that scary jump? Who knows what will happen, but the good news is that it will be with God.
The Rev. Thad Bennett lives in Conway and worships at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ashfield. He retired in 2010 after serving for 30 years as an Episcopal priest in Connecticut, California, Los Angeles and, finally, Vermont. His “privilege” includes growing up in rural New Jersey, Kent School, Dartmouth College and the General Theological Seminary. In 2017 he, his spouse, George, and their two cats moved to Conway. He is a volunteer rowing coach at Deerfield Academy, a member of the Friends of the Field Memorial Library and president emeritus of the Friends of Dartmouth Rowing. He studies the spirituality of dry stone wall building in his spare time.