Monday, February 04, 2008

"They," "Them," You Know, the "Other"

I spent a portion of Saturday afternoon in a glass shop. It was not part of the plan. In fact, there were four things on Saturday's agenda: drop off things at Goodwill, pick out bridesmaid dresses, make time to enjoy rest with Craig, and go to a birthday party on Saturday night. While three of these things were accomplished, the time for rest with Craig was replaced by Craig taking me to get my car window fixed after I discovered one of the windows had been busted sometime on Friday night.

It is the third time that someone has tried to break into my car in the two and one-half years that I have lived here. The first two times someone tried to break the locks, toying with the passenger side first before assaulting the driver side lock. The second time I went out to my car on a Sunday morning and found it running. Someone had again busted the locks, broken the key hole off and got my car started but was unable to drive it because of the Club lock. And, on Friday evening, someone broke the back window of my car, reached inside to unlock the door and then rummaged through my glove box. Nothing was taken. It appears that they were following the lead of a GPS cord in site and assumed that the GPS monitor was in the car; it was in my purse, however.

I spent much of Saturday talking about "them." "They did it again," I told my friends and family. "They have once again busted into my car, costing me a $100 insurance deductable." This conversation continued at the glass shop with a woman who was waiting for her car. "They" had gotten into her car, too. "They" had broken their glass.

By Saturday night, I had done a lot of thinking about "them." I began to realize how much I had allowed my mind to construct who "they" are. I concluded quickly that "they" were probably linked to the young man sitting in his car in front of me when I parked it on Friday night. He was sitting there in a hoodie sweatshirt with the hoodie pulled up. He seemed to be watching me, and my instincts told me to find another parking spot, but I was tired. So, I waited until the street was filled with cars, got out of my car, and rushed to my home. "They" were certainly not the people who live in my building. "They" were the other - the people who do not look like me. "They" were the people who banter the employees at 7-Eleven, crowd the corners of the neighborhood, and skip school to wreck havoc.

"They" were people for who I needed to seek forgiveness as I realized that my cultural context had once again told me that somehow I was not like "them" even though I am the minority in this neighborhood.

I then went to a viewing of film, "The Bible Tells Me So" yesterday afternoon at Calvary Baptist Church where my friend, Amy, is the pastor. I had heard a lot about this film, but it was my first time seeing it. For nearly two hours, I watched the stories of five families who have struggled with what it means to have someone in their family who is gay or lesbian. I watched as a former presidential candidate talked about his daughter. I heard things from the parents of Gene Robinson that have made me see the split occuring in the Episcopal Church in an entirely new light. My eyes filled with tears at times. My heart ached at other times. I wanted to weep. I wanted to clap. I wanted to go out and join some of these families in their quest to ensure that all people are considered equals - that the "they," "them" and "other" are no longer separated because of difference.

The viewing of the film was followed by a panel discussion of three area clergy: one Jewish rabbi and two Protestant pastors. These three individuals all lead congregations that are inclusive of everyone - actively inclusive. They all spoke passionately of their willingness to preside at same-sex unions and ensure that something like 'Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors' does not hang on a shingle outside the place of worship without being practiced inside the place of worship. And, their words touched me.

Any group that gives privilege to one group does so at the expense of another group.

If there is any oppression of any kind, it burdens everyone, it is a burden to oppress someone.

We need to always remember that we were once slaves in the land of Egypt. We were once hated by everyone.

This is a civil rights issue.

If your congregation votes on whether or not you will be fully welcoming of gay. lesbian and transgender people then you are voting on the humanity of an entire community.

Any kind of exclusion is always contrary to the ways of our Lord.

We are so good at setting aside people who are different from us whether it is the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their age, their economic standing, their disability, and the list goes on and on and on.

And yet, the Bible tells us that we are all created in the image of God. We are all called to create a culture that reflects the character of God. We are all born into this world in the same way: with nothing. And, we all leave the world with nothing.

Why, then, are we so good at separating ourselves - at putting labels on people - "they," "them" and "other." And, why does the church seem to always be the leader in this separation? The hypocrisy that is detailed in this film is real and ugly.

I love my neighborhood. I love the rich diversity that I see everytime I walk out my door. One of my favorite images is to see the children go on a walk from the nearby daycare center. They all take a hold of the same rope and if you look at the hands holding on to this rope then you will see about a dozen different colors - but they are all holding on - they are all connected - to the same rope.

I also love my church. I love the congregation that I am privileged to see every Sunday when I stand up and say, "Welcome to Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church." This congregation is young and old, Anglo and African American, Asian and Hispanic, rich and poor, housed and homeless, gay and strait, believers and doubters, sinners and almost saints, fully committed and tipping toes in. This congregation is the body of Christ.

Dear Lord, please forgive me for too often labeling individuals as "they," "them" or "other." Forgive me for thinking that I am somehow better than anyone else because I am a privileged, young, white, heterosexual, educated woman. Forgive me for ever labeling someone as anything other than your child who is made in your image. Remind me often that we are all attached to the same rope; all holding on to life in your hands. And, grant me the wisdom and courage needed to do whatever I can to see that the church is always open to ALL people. Thank you for the privilege to serve and love you through being pastor to this amazing group of people. Amen.

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