I read with interest the calls for a word from the clergy about the present disruptions in our community. Since I am the pastor in our town closest to retirement and someone who cares deeply for this town and the problems that are tearing our world apart, I thought I would write.
A pastor tries their best to attend to each parishioner’s spiritual needs and to help their congregation find their compass points in their calling to follow God faithfully. This involves respecting the struggles and the degrees of willingness to change present in every church. It often creates a deep and respectful silence that is the result of caring for their congregations. The silence of my peers in the public sphere may just mean that they are working very hard to help their churches to be as healthy as they can be. That will indirectly help us all.
Now, that I am so close to retirement, I have more freedom to speak then I have had in the past. So, God help me, this is what I have to say.
I appreciated Bill Woods, excellent use of Scripture in his letter to the editor last week. His stressing of the importance of hospitality and kindness touched the root of what has caused the people of Forks such anguish. We are increasingly dependent on being a hospitable place not just for the business of tourism, but also because we are living through a huge shift in our population. I have heard many old-timers to Forks saying that they don’t feel like they know anyone anymore. I have also seen way too many people who we need in this community to provide services necessary for us to grow just leave because they were not welcomed or were too lonely. And, just like Forks has attracted waves of new immigrants in the past, it is doing so now. Every immigrant group brings changes. Right now, we all feel off-center in the midst of so much change.
We need to relearn hospitality. Not just with well-run restaurants, hotels, and events, but that life-changing hospitality where we share ourselves and learn about our new neighbors and what they see about us that they like and how we could improve. Hospitality is not just something we do to guests, it is a value we live by that changes us and expands our capacity for compassion and understanding.
That was what was missing on June 3rd when some of us panicked and thought that we needed to defend our town from Antifa. We didn’t practice hospitality. We assumed the worse about the people on the bus and by extension everyone who is involved in the uprising that is happening across the United States. And since a lot more of us have sympathy for the unequal way that the Covid-19 virus has impacted the essential workers of our country, and by extension, the racism of that inequality, every one of us who felt differently about Antifa, or the protests, felt threatened by some of us who reacted to the Facebook warning.
I am using “us” everywhere because what happened affected all of us, and if we are to make it better, needs to still include the people who out of misguided concern for our community did things that they probably regret now. If we single out the people who thought they were the ones to defend the town and we shun them as if they aren’t part of us, we will all still be wounded. Even if people confess to what they did, it can only be possible for them to regain their sense of belonging to our community, if we realize that we are all capable of great wrong.
We cannot use the mistakes of others to make ourselves feel righteous.
I was pleased, with Katie Krueger’s use of John 8:7, “Let the one without sin cast the first stone,” in her letter last week. If you remember, the setting of that verse, Jesus is asked to judge a woman caught in the act of adultery. He writes in the dust….then stands up, brushes the dust off his hands, and after saying what he does, all the accusers leave, dropping their stones, from the oldest to the youngest. Then Jesus talks to the woman, refusing to accuse her, and sending her into a new life.
Lutherans are very aware that we are at once capable of great good and great harm, and we are always dependent on the grace of God to move from paralyzing guilt to a humble wisdom in our faithful walk. At our best, we find our way toward greater faithfulness by looking for Christ in our neighbor.
As a Lutheran, then, I am writing because I don’t speak from a position of righteousness. As a Lutheran, I am from the second oldest Christian tradition represented in the West End. Not the oldest religious traditions…that honor remains with our Native American friends. As a Lutheran, whose traditions span over 500 years, we know our capacity to make terrible misjudgments about people different from us. We were part of violent religious wars, we were complicit in the rise of Hitler, we carried old European resentments into our new world churches, we were indifferent to the rights of Native Americans as we migrated into the Midwest to farm. We also know how to recover from these terrible sins.
We recover by taking seriously the harm we have caused in our history and making amends. We seek reconciliation with the people we have harmed, and we depend on Christ for our forgiveness. Notice the order. We do not get to rush past the harm we have caused to get personal forgiveness. The work we have done in relationship to the harm we Lutherans have caused in the past has lead us to the understanding that there is both personal and systematic sin. That is why we retain the traditional confession, “we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.” It is an inclusive statement that each individual makes. A system of sin that tempts each person to sin.
The problems that percolated under the surface of the incidents on June 3rd, were part of the deeper problems that twist our country away from its better self. It is part of the systematic sin that distorts our view of ourselves and each other. We heard insulting things about Antifa in some of our news feeds. People called by the name Antifa, are pushing back against white supremacy groups. It is necessary work. But, we conflated anarchists with Antifa because that was what we were told by some news sources, and we became afraid.
The opposite of hospitality is not recognizing the humanity of our neighbor, the stranger, and even our enemy. It lies at the root of racism. None of us want to be racist. All of us want to be respected for who we are. Racism is a blight on our life together as a nation. And it weakens all of us. It creates the climate of fear and defensiveness that brings out the worst in all of us. It is also used by people in power to divide us from each other making us all susceptible to poor wages, inflated mortgages, unequal schools, poor transportation systems, unequal access to food and medicine, fair trials, and … fear of cities. None of us benefit from that, at least not for long.
The key to recovery for our town from the events of June 3, and for the problems under the surface of those events is simply to look to find Christ in each other, and then, to welcome everyone to our table as if they are Christ himself. Along the way, we will be healed and become a healing community.