In Search of the Kingdom of God: The Blessing of Mourning, Part Two
Psalm 139:1-18, 23; Matthew 5:4
- Prelude – “His Name Is Wonderful,” by Audrey Mieir; Ken Lillagore, accordion
- Welcome – Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 593 – “Here I Am, Lord,” by Dan Schutte; Dr. Jerome Wright, hymn leader; Pauline Olsen, organ; Terry Reitz; keyboard; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Prayer Time – Deacon Kathleen Charters
- Special Music – “A Symphony of Spirituals – II Andante (I Want Jesus to Walk With Me, Let us Break Bread Together, Great Day!),” arr.by Joel Raney; Donna Grubbs, Piano; Pauline Olsen, organ
- Scripture reading – Psalm 139:1-18, 23; Matthew 5:4; Ken Lillagore
- Sermon – In Search of the Kingdom of God: The Blessing of Mourning, Part Two; Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 3140 – “Give Me Jesus,” African-American spiritual; Dr. Jerome Wright, hymn leader; Pauline Olsen, organ; Terry Reitz; keyboard; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Postlude – “I’m A-Rolling in the Service of the Lord,” African-American spiritual; Pauline Olsen, organ
I was around six or seven years old. I still remember the day. My dad and I talked about it again this past week. He had been asked to preach at the all-Black Zion Baptist Church. It was an incredible honor. I was the only one of my siblings who went with him. I remember feeling a bit lost, and no doubt overwhelmed. We had already marched with folks; leaders like Ralph Abernathy and others. But that day, it was different. I sat in the front row next to a woman who shared that at least for that day, she would be my gramma.
I remember she smelled wonderful if not a bit overpowering. There was a point at which I was beginning to fall asleep. I remember that she swept me up into her arms, got me comfortable on her lap, and whispered to me, “Your dad is important. He understands. It’s why he’s here.”
My dad and I were the only white faces in that church that day. Like the marches, like the singing of “We Shall Overcome Some Day” this was a memory I will never forget. It’s why I keep the copy of Life World Library: The United States, in my office. It is a constant reminder of that time. Here’s the picture. It is of my dad in the Capitol Rotunda singing that familiar song.
February is Black History Month. Normally at Trinity, we spend the month either singing or listening to, what were known for a long time as “Negro Spirituals,” or just “Spirituals.” I need to share that things have changed. They’ve changed a lot even in the past year. We’ve seen the growth of movements like “Black Lives Matter,” overt actions with white supremacists, even things like QAnon, including right here in Sequim. We witnessed an insurrection at our nation’s capital, and we’ve gone through a deeply contested election. We’re feeling a lot of different emotions as each walks through these times. In the midst of it, all we who are white have been challenged in ways few of us have ever been challenged before; challenged around our attitudes including our own racism.
Books like White Fragility and others have occupied places on the New York Times Best Sellers list. A week ago Monday I went through an all-day class, required by our Conference, that dealt with systemic racism. I was pushed, challenged, even confronted about some of the statements I made. One of those was a statement I’ve shared with you, that I believe I need to “win the right to be heard.” I was confronted by a Korean colleague, a woman clergy person. She found that statement oppressive, disturbing, even inappropriate. I shared that the term describes my own approach to ministry. I didn’t share given the climate of the conversation that it is exactly what my dad had done. It’s why he was there at Zion that day. He had won the right to be heard. She believed that no one, particularly brown and black clergy, and particularly women should never have to seek the right to be heard.
I shared that I wasn’t trying to place that statement as something all-encompassing or descriptive of anyone other than my approach to ministry. Neither was it intended to be focused on anyone else, particularly those of other ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. It was my personal approach and wasn’t intended to cause harm. She continued to challenge my assumptions and my statement. I still struggle with that conversation, I struggle with it deeply, as I remember the death threats coming to our home, the brick through the window, and the tears of my mom as my dad engaged, with courage, the hatred, the anger, and the racism. I’ve shared that struggle with colleagues and friends. Most are white and most are male, but not all. I’ve worked for equality my whole career. It wasn’t always just racial or cultural, but the work was important.
It’s why when I was told that I had unintentionally become a white supremacist, one who even unintentionally practices attitudes that create separation between races, that I wanted to leave the meeting. That was a first for me. Again, I grew up marching for equal rights, for equal pay, for justice for all. It was hard to hear that I am something other than what I thought I was.
I’ve approached the trainer who offered leadership in the workshop as I continue to try and navigate through all of this. I’m reading White Fragility even as I write this message. I’ve asked about you, Trinity United Methodist Church, about our demographics, our primary ethnicities, and cultures as white. I’ve shared about all of the challenges we’re dealing with right now, and whether this is a time when I should be focused on any of this. Aren’t we already stressed enough? Aren’t we already dealing with enough? She shared that I need to be gentle in my approaches with you. She shared more resources to read. I’m now journaling the process so that I can examine with intentionality, my own issues around culture and race.
Again, it’s tough, but Black History Month, and what we’ve normally done in this month with our music, begs the question, are we being sensitive to all of this? I’m still not sure. I do believe all of us have work to do. Here’s why.
Throughout all of this, I keep going back to my past two sermons; the messages on the Beatitudes, the posture that is expected of us as we approach God. And here’s another realization; what I’ve shared regarding posture is also insensitive. I was reminded by a trusted leader here at Trinity that many of you simply can’t assume the posture I’ve talked about. The whole idea of kneeling would be just too painful. I want to apologize for that. It was insensitive and, given the class last Monday, it makes me pause a bit as I try and come to terms with other ways I’ve been insensitive, whether around ethnicity, culture, or even aging. Yup, been a bit of a tough couple of weeks, but sometimes that’s what creates growth in us; having to confront things where we’ve unintentionally caused harm. If we don’t recognize them, how can we make the appropriate changes in our attitudes and actions? How can others make the same shifts and changes if we don’t confront them?
So, here is what I would like to do. I would ask that we assume the posture I’ve described but not look at it as something physical.
I believe the posture I’ve described around kneeling is still appropriate, just not so much in a physical way. I can be humble before God by sitting in a certain way with a certain attitude. I can be in that kind of intimate relationship with our creator emotionally as much as physically. I can sit in my walker, or my wheelchair. I can sit in any chair that allows me to be humble before God. It really is an attitude as much as a physical act.
I think we can do the same with those around us. Last week I talked about mourning and that one of the more difficult areas of mourning is when we approach those we’ve harmed, even unintentionally. It is to kneel before them, whether physically or emotionally, and seek forgiveness. But the next step is to learn and grow in the midst of it, whether it is around cultural insensitivity, racism, seeing my way as the norm or of primary importance. Any one of those can cause harm. So, I turn to colleagues, friends, loved ones, and particularly those whose lives have been impacted by attitudes like mine. I turn to scriptures like this Psalm about being searched and known by God.
So, I’ve said no to Spirituals, at least in the ways we’ve done them before. The whole idea of Black History Month carries a whole different weight today than it did even a year ago. So, instead, I’ve asked the music team to look at gospel songs rather than spirituals. Friends, I do believe that those of us who are white don’t understand, can’t comprehend the pain that led to the creation of those songs. We can’t begin to fathom the suffering that brought those songs about. To sing them as simply a part of our worship services is no longer appropriate.
Instead, we can turn to music from our own backgrounds, our own cultural experiences, and beliefs. Gospel music is certainly a piece of that. So, I thought today, I’d offer an example of what I mean. I love the song “I’ll Fly Away” but was concerned about its origins. So, I looked it up. The idea of the song began in 1929, by one of the great gospel songwriters in history, Albert Brumley.
He was working on his dad’s farm and was humming an old prison song that said, “If I had wings like an angel, over these prison walls I’d fly.” It planted a seed in his head and three years later that become “I’ll Fly Away.” It’s a song that talks about our lives on this earth as sometimes like a prison cell, and yet heaven is so much more. It really is the whole idea of bringing heaven to earth, to be one who is willing to search the heavenly aspects so that we can bring them to earth. And as I go through this study, as I seek to grow in understanding and sensitivity, I’ll continue to teach and preach about what I believe we seek to do as we create a new reality that Jesus called the kingdom on earth. I’d sure rather do it without the kind of judgment I felt in that Monday class, and that will be my intention. Now, here’s the song…
“I’ll Fly Away” Introduction to Communion