Monday, December 1, 2014

The sacrament of uncomfortability

“Of all the choices we have to make, there is none harder than having to give up something good for the sake of something better. Giving up a present good for the promise of a greater requires faith and a willingness to risk.” – Alan Jones, former Dean, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.

We are a sacramental church. We believe God makes the divine self known to us in tangible ways – outward and spiritual signs of God’s inward and spiritual grace. We believe sacraments are revelatory and sustaining. We believe God through them aims fundamentally to change who we are.

The two great sacraments of the church are Baptism and Eucharist. Both are about death and new life.
In Baptism, we die to an old life of sin so we can be born to a new life in Christ. In Eucharist, we lay our lives on the table as an offering with each other and with Jesus so God may make us into something greater than our individual selves … the Body of Christ given for the life of the world.

Bread broken. Wine poured out. Be what you see, receive who you are.

For many of us, the lives we lay down in baptism and lay on the table in Eucharist aren’t bad. On the whole, they are quite comfortable and even enjoyable. Particularly those of us who enjoy lives of great privilege love our lives the way they are. And yet we cannot escape the fact that God calls us out of that comfort. God calls us to give up something good for the sake of something better. And it absolutely requires faith and a willingness to risk.

Living the baptized, Eucharistic life of following Jesus absolutely requires us to see uncomfortability not as something to be avoided and feared but embraced. To see uncomfortability as an invitation to meet Christ in raw places. To see uncomfortability itself as sacramental ... as a sign of God's living, breathing, challenging and transforming grace in our lives. The giving up of something good for the sure and certain hope of something better.

Right now, in St. Louis, in America, White people like me are growing more and more uncomfortable.

And as hard as it is to hear, it is a good thing. And as hard as it is to bear, it must not stop.

For nearly four months, we as white people have been listening to people of color crying out on the streets. They've been crying for far longer, but it's only for the past few months that many of us have begun to hear.

These voices make many of us uncomfortable because they are loud and raw. They are angry and pained. They challenge our own complicity in a system that causes great pain and injustice. As white people, these voices feel like they are directed at us personally … and some of them are.

These voices make us uncomfortable because the reality they are crying out is so different from ours that often we have trouble believing it could be real. And so we are tempted to dismiss or rationalize it away.

We are uncomfortable because the voices are getting louder, and they are reaching us wherever we go. Even when we try to turn away, they are there – they are in the shopping mall, blocking the streets we’re trying to drive, even holding their hands up in our face as we try to watch the Rams on a fall afternoon.

Because of our privilege, many of we who are white have for most of our lives been able to avoid extreme discomfort, to view things like racism as "issues" that we either choose to engage or not. But now, these voices are telling us it's not optional anymore. That we have to deal with it or they will "shut it down."

And we are uncomfortable ... and confused ... and afraid ... and annoyed ... and even angry.

And we find ourselves just wanting it all to go away. More and more over the past week, people have come to me saying how weary they are of the protests and "how come 'they' can't do something positive" and "why can't 'they' just tell us what they want" ... with the subtext being "so we can get back to being comfortable again." And shouldn't I be doing something productive and reasonable instead of encouraging this nonsense?

I feel that pain. I feel that weariness. The learning curve for we white people on this one is so, so steep (I know it is for me) because most of our own previous experiences of pain and weariness ... though certainly profound and real to us ... have not prepared us to encounter the extraordinary pain and weariness people of color have in this country just trying to live every day of their lives.

Jesus was never one to preach comfortability. In fact, the Gospels paint a pretty clear picture of a Jesus who invited us to leave our places of comfort behind and follow him. To give up something good for the sake of something better.

To have faith and a willingness to risk.

To embrace the sacrament of uncomfortability.

That is where Christ is calling us today. To resist the temptation to flee from the uncomfortablity, to lash out at the uncomfortability or even to reach for the quick and easy fix for the uncomfortability.

If uncomfortability is a sacrament, and I believe it is, then we need to lean into it ... to dive into it even. We need to feel it deeply, knowing that it leads us to the very heart of Christ.

If you are annoyed, angry, confused and weary by the demonstrators, I really do feel you. This is a hard time. But Christ calls us to do what is hard and promises to walk with us every step of the way. So I urge you, instead of lashing out or throwing up your hands in despair ... instead of dismissing the protesters as "thugs" or criticizing their methods ... instead lean in.

Listen deeply.

Feel the anger and the pain and ask "Why?" and don't be satisfied with the initial answers you give yourself ... answers which will tend to reinforce your existing beliefs and stereotypes.

Let your own anger, annoyance, confusion and weariness guide you to empathy with the great anger, annoyance, confusion and weariness our sisters and brothers of color experience every day.

Resist the temptation to tell the demonstrators what they should and shouldn't be hurt and angry about (as if that's how anger and pain works) but instead try to understand how hurt and angry you have to be to day after day, night after night, shout in hopes that someone might hear you and actually do something.

As white people, we must let our uncomfortability be a mirror held up to ourselves. A mirror that humbles us all before the cross of Christ. A mirror that invites all of us to confess how we have fallen short of the glory of God, to confess to God how

We have denied your goodness in each other,
in ourselves, and in the world you have created.
We repent of the evil that enslaves us,
the evil we have done,
and the evil done on our behalf. (EOW confessional prayer)

that through self-examination, confession, repentance, and amendment of life we all might be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

We are a sacramental church, and our present uncomfortability is a sacrament.

Through it God is making the divine self known to us in tangible ways.

Through it God aims fundamentally to change who we are.

Through it God is inviting us to embrace that hardest of choices -- to give up the comfortability of the lives we have loved for the sake of something better -- a life of love, dignity and justice for all. A life where all people are treated as beloved images of God.

We are a sacramental church, and our present uncomfortability is a sacrament. Unlikely and difficult as it seems, it is a gift Jesus offers to us in love.

And if we choose not receive it now, Jesus promises it will be offered again.


Liberal Librarian/Editor said...

Wonderful content. i couldn't agree more. But what's wrong with the words "comfort" and "discomfort" instead of "comfortability" and "uncomfortability"? And the writer uses "we" when he should use "us." ["many of we who are white"; "The learning curve for we white people"] This important message deserves to be heard without grammatical errors.

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg said...

Some of the grammatical choices here made me uncomfortable, too.... Hey wait a minute...