Pastor Kurt’s Blog
Reparations: resurrection disciple-life, justice project for water
Disciples and Friends of Living Christ,
Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed. Alleluia!]
The death of Jesus on Good Friday leaves us with the impression that death has the last say in our lives. With Jesus’ resurrection, however, we discover that that is not the case. God creates hope, a new way forward, where there was none before. This is God’s promised gift to us, not because we deserve it, but because we need it. We need redemption from the powers of sin, death, and evil.
That redemption comes at a cost: Jesus’ death on the cross and the death of our old self. We were baptized into this promise of new life, a new life that is here even now, as we begin to lay aside our old, sinful ways of living and embrace the new as empowered by the Holy Spirit: to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
One of the ways we can move away from our old life and into doing justice is dismantling racism. The sin of racism has devastated BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) for centuries in this country. While none of has owned slaves or even necessarily mistreated or acted prejudicially towards BIPOC, those of us who are white (and to a certain degree Hispanic) have benefited from what our ancestors did: seizing land from indigenous people; profiting from slave/indentured labor that was passed on through generational wealth; and, creating social, cultural, economic, political, environmental, and religious institutions that systematically suppressed, marginalized, and exploited BIPOC while privileging white peoples’ interests. This is known as [systemic] racism. You will note that personal prejudice against a person based on their race has very little to NOTHING to do current systemic racism.
Through the power of the resurrection and the Holy Spirit, we have been called as disciples to dismantle systemic racism because it runs counter to God’s vision for humanity. Dismantling racism is not going to happen overnight. It took centuries to create it, though I fervently pray that it doesn’t take centuries to dismantle it because racism literally mangles you: heart, mind, body, and soul. And not just for BIPOC, but for white people as well. Truth!
So, how do we dismantle racism? In many ways, it begins the same way as when dealing with sin: confession and trusting in God’s grace. We have to start with confession, because what you can’t confess, what you can’t name, you can’t change because the Truth won’t be in you. And if you don’t confess, you perpetuate racism, at least passively if not actively.
We who are white need to confess: I am a racist; I benefit from the privileges of systemic racism. I need God’s grace for the amendment of my life and for the healing of my heart, mind, body, and soul, so that I might become one of God’s anti-racist disciples.
We must not miss the importance of God’s grace in this because the typical reaction of whites to this realization, this change in world view, is guilt and shame. When guilt and shame are not addressed, they weaken a person’s ability and resolve to engage in the work of anti-racism, assuming the person doesn’t revert because they are unable to deal with the burden of these emotions. God’s grace, however, provides forgiveness to assuage the guilt and love to refute the shame that tells you, “You are not worthy of love, connection, or belonging.” We were washed in the waters of this overflowing grace at baptism. These gifts are ours for eternity.
This grace is equally important for BIPOC who need God’s forgiveness for having internalized racism in heart, mind, body, and soul, and God’s love to soothe the rage, the hot anger, at racism and racists, so that it may become cold anger, which leads to productive action. White people could use some of this cold anger as well, as it counters malaise and indifference to racism.
From here, there is much work to be done. You can read Ibrahim X. Kendi’s book “How to be an Anti-racist,” to learn more, though I would like to focus briefly on a topic that is a growing part of the national dialogue around race and racism: reparations.
Reparations is basically financial compensation to BIPOC to make up for the lost wealth caused by the seizing of land, forced labor, and institutional/systemic racism over the centuries. In biblical terms, this is restitution, which is a part of the process of repentance and reconciliation.
While Living Christ’s church building was not built using Black, slave labor (as many old churches back East were), our building is built on land that was seized from indigenous peoples through force and violence. The same is true of my home and yours. In other words, we are beneficiaries of institutional racism in the past. This calls for reparations on our part.
As a result of discussions last summer at the Wednesday study group, council meetings, and at our December congregational meeting, we adopted a mission plan that included money set aside for reparations to indigenous, Native Americans. As far as reparations go, the $1500 is a drop in the bucket, but it was a start to get us thinking. While we labeled it “Navajo Lutheran Mission,” the hope was to do something that went beyond helping a fellow church, which seemed kind of self-serving. One suggestion was to partner with the new indigenous health clinic across the street and another was to help build a well on a nearby reservation.
Recently, an opportunity presented itself. An anonymous donor approached me about helping the Navajo Lutheran Mission finish build a new well that is meant to benefit the local chapter of Rock Point, of which more than 50% of its residents are without running water in their homes. While some have small wells powered by windmills, that water is not fit for human use and consumption. As a result, most people in Rock Point (as elsewhere throughout Navajoland) have to go and fill special water tanks in order to provide clean water for drinking, cooking, and basic sanitation needs (in the midst of COVID19!), things that most of us take for granted.
The drilling of this 400’ deep well was recently completed and paid for ($100,000), half the money coming from an ELCA congregation in the Phoenix metro area. To complete the project, the mission needs to install a pump, a large holding tank, water distribution pipes, and a water filtration system. The cost for this project is $30,000.
At the March council meeting, the council unanimously approved starting a fund raiser as a reparations project with a goal of $30,000. This may seem like a lot of money; however, the aforementioned anonymous donor has pledged $15,000 in matching funds. In other words, we need to raise $15,000 by April 30. We can do this, especially with pandemic relief payments already on their way if not already in our bank accounts.
I am pledging $500 to this effort. Please join me in this resurrection disciple-life, justice project for water, so that others can just have water.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed. Alleluia!]
In Christ’s love, Pr. Kurt
Living Christ through Reparations
Recently, our Wednesday book study group has been reading the book Dear Church. The author, Lenny Duncan, is a Black queer man and a pastor in the ELCA. His basic premise is that the ELCA is dying, not because of sociological reasons (demographic and generational changes), but theological reasons. He loves our basic Lutheran theological identity – that we are save by grace through faith apart from our good works for the sake of Christ – and that we are the first denomination that actually accepted him for who he is – a Black queer man. At the same time, he sees that we have allowed our Lutheran theology and practice to become corrupted by white supremacist ideology, toxic masculinity, and nationalism/empire by our acquiescing to American Exceptionalism, the belief that the United States is the greatest country there has ever been, but ignores or whitewashes our history of enslavement, genocide of indigenous people, militarization of the police, imperialism, oppression of women and LGBTQIA, and unabated capitalism.
I am not going to lay out his arguments – you can read his book to understand his points – however, he does lay out a path for how we as the Church can address our part in this system of sin. It begins, of course, with repentance, acknowledging and owning our part in the sin and seeking God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of those we have wronged. Historically, we have then sought reconciliation, which is good; however, we have skipped the intervening step: restitution or reparations.
In the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus, when Jesus tells Zacchaeus that he is coming to his house, Zacchaeus announces that he will repay all the people he has cheated 5 times what he stole. (The Law required 3 times, but Zacchaeus offers 5 times as a sign of his true repentance and his generosity is a sign of the work of the Holy Spirit.) This is a form of reparations: financial.
Another form of reparations is public acknowledgement of past wrong. In Australia, New Zealand, and Canada – countries that also have a history of genocide of indigenous people – every legislative session begins with words that bring to memory the past wrong. In Australia, it goes like this:
“I begin by acknowledging the
Many churches in the aforementioned countries begin their worship services with similar words.
In many ways, we at Living Christ have begun the process of reparations. By adopting a welcoming statement of people of all races, sexual orientation, and gender identities, joining the RIC, and being a sponsor of Flagstaff Pride in the Pines, we have made tangible steps for reparations.
We can take further steps through our hymn choices, liturgical word choices, and liturgical colors / banners that are respectful of peoples’ gender, race, and language.
“We also begin by acknowledging the Diné [Navajo] and [Hopi] peoples who
are the traditional custodians of the Flagstaff area on which we meet, and paying respect to the elders, past and present, of all Indigenous peoples of Arizona and the United States. We extend this respect to Navajo and Hopi peoples here today.”
What are your thoughts on these proposals? Do you have other thoughts or suggestions that you would be open to sharing? These are items that we can discuss in preparation for as well as at our December congregational meeting when we adopt our mission plan for 2021.
While we did not steal the land, our church is currently built on, we have benefitted from the sins of our ancestors. Moreover, our faith in Jesus calls us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and our neighbor. In the midst of Black Lives Matter protests and our own efforts at redevelopment, I hope you will give these thoughts and questions serious, prayerful consideration, as an act of faith active in love.
In Christ's service and yours, Pastor Kurt