“Isms” That Threaten to Undo Us: Racism

“Isms” That Threaten to Undo Us: Racism

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 28, 2021

Palm Sunday

Psalm 22:23-31; Mark 7:24-30

 

This morning we continue the Lenten sermon series, “Isms That Threaten to Undo Us.” I encourage you to join me for our final segment of Holy Conversations via Zoom tomorrow evening at 6:30 p.m. to share your perspectives and to pray with others who are seeking God’s wisdom. While we all look forward to next Sunday when we will gather in-person and online to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with “Radical Optimism,” today we pause to consider the issue of racism. Racism is defined as prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their race or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized; the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another. While we may have seen prejudice in the world, in our country, in our neighborhoods, in our families, and even been guilty of it ourselves, I daresay none of us expect such discrimination to be recorded in Scripture—especially not by Jesus. But that is certainly an explanation for what we find in our reading from the Gospel of Mark.

 

In his Bible study, Interrupting Silence: God’s Command to Speak Out, Walter Brueggemann notes that Jesus’ ministry is conducted in large part in Galilee. Just prior to our reading from the Gospel of Mark, in response to a hungry crowd gathered around Jesus in a deserted place, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to the people so that 5000 are fed with 12 baskets of bread left over. (The 12 baskets left over represent the 12 tribes of Israel.) Afterward, Jesus enters a house to catch his breath. While presumably enjoying the hospitality and the respite, his peace is rudely interrupted by a Syrophoenician woman. She is NOT a Jew. She is a Gentile, an ethnic “other.” Make no mistake, her intrusion is disruptive, disturbing, and unwelcome. But she is not concerned about decorum. Having heard of Jesus’ powers of healing, she is a woman on a mission to get help for her beloved daughter who suffers with an unclean spirit. Humbly she bows at his feet and begs Jesus for help. Instead of responding with the kindness we expect from Jesus, he retorts, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Make no mistake, is clear to the woman and to everyone within earshot what he is implying. The children are the entitled Jews, the dogs are the “other,” the Gentile, the woman and her daughter, and the food is the power of God to transform life. Interestingly, the woman does not dispute his statement. She accepts that the children, the Jews, should be served first. “But sir,” she reasons, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

 

I cannot overstate the problematic nature of this text. In fact, whenever it comes up in the Lectionary, I cringe—I, along with every other preacher I know. Wells of ink have been spilled to explain away Jesus’ uncharacteristic behavior with some saying he is tired and others arguing that even Jesus has a bad day on occasion. But Brueggemann has another take on the matter. He contends that what happens between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman alters the course of Jesus’ ministry. In Brueggemann’s words,

 

[Jesus] was from Galilee. He apparently understood himself…in the limited provincial categories of Jewish Galilee, and that was the proper scope of his ministry. There had thus far been no challenge to that scope. There was enough to do in Galilee among Jewish peasants…His own people had received him gladly, and that was surely enough.

 

But now an outsider, a woman, intrudes and contradicts Jesus and now he must answer. Again, Brueggemann:

 

Would he dispute her? Would he defend male privilege? Would he argue for Jewish chosenness? Would he stubbornly insist that he had it right the first time: He has no ministry to the “dogs”? No; he does none of that. He makes a different response. He commends the bold woman…Because she broke the silence in a daring, insistent way that reeducated him, her daughter is set free.

 

Indeed, this encounter does mark a change in Jesus’ ministry for immediately afterward he moves on to the region of the Decapolis and there in Greek territory among Gentiles, he heals a man who is deaf and mute. And then, in the very next chapter of Mark, Jesus performs yet another feeding miracle, this time to 4000 people. Starting with seven loaves, Jesus takes, thanks, breaks, and gives so that the crowd eats and are filled with seven baskets left over. The use of “seven,” notes Brueggemann,

 

…is an allusion to the “seven nations” that ancient Israel had displaced in the Old Israel tradition. These nations had been forcibly displaced, and their religious icons had been violently destroyed. But now Jesus sets them alongside his own people in Galilee as those who are able to share with Jews the “food” of the new regime of God. The woman’s speech has set in motion a wholly different history. And we have arrived at a narrative symmetry of twelve baskets of bread for the twelve tribes of Israel and seven baskets of bread for the seven nations of the tradition…Now it is no longer “bread for the chosen people.” Now it is “bread for the world.”[i]

 

I subscribe to Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation and in recent weeks he has explored how difficult it is to see our own biases and how only love can overcome them. Wisely, he observes that no matter what our viewpoint is, it is a view from a point. On the subject of bias, Brian McLaren insists that the more we bump into folks who are so-called “other,” the more we are stretched, the more we are pulled out of that bias and have new truths because we have tangible evidence of the beautiful, powerful creativity of our God who made all of this diversity for us to enjoy.

 

As Christians, we are called to be people who love. That is our life’s work. We love God. We love ourselves. We love our families. We love our friends. But we must move beyond that. We are called to expand love out into the universe—to people who are not like us, who do not look like us, who may not worship as we do, who do not see the world from our point of view. To do otherwise, is to fail Jesus who modeled how to expand our thinking and modify our behavior when the need arises.[ii]

 

Over the course of my 22-plus years of education, I have to say that my time at Columbia Theological Seminary and at Shalem Institute were the most life-changing. While there are many reasons for the impact these institutions had on me, one that stands out is the diversity of the faculty and students—people representing different continents, different countries, different faith traditions, different races, different life experiences, different perspectives. In the company of such diversity, I often gave thanks to God for allowing me to see from different points of view, for allowing me to glimpse God’s kin-dom—a place where everyone is welcome, everyone is included, everyone has a voice, and no one is offered crumbs. Instead, baskets overflow with bread for the world. Glory be to God. Amen.

 

[i] Walter Brueggemann, Interrupting Silence: God’s Command to Speak Out, 46-54.

[ii] Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/?ogbl#inbox/FMfcgxwLswFxwjnhhMSjqBJmRFBwLFss

*Cover Art by Rara Schlitt, used by permission

“Isms” That Threaten to Undo Us: Christian Nationalism

“Isms” That Threaten to Undo Us: Christian Nationalism

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 21, 2021

5th Sunday in Lent

Genesis 12:1-2, Exodus 20:1-5a, Matthew 22:36-40

 

This morning we continue the Lenten sermon series, “Isms That Threaten to Undo Us,” and once again, I invite you to join me for Holy Conversations via Zoom tomorrow evening at 6:30 p.m. to talk and to pray with others who are seekers of God’s wisdom. Now, we turn our attention to the issue of Christian Nationalism. In recent conversations with many of you and with others I hold dear, I have sensed a shared concern for the future of our country. Some of us worry that we are headed toward socialism in which production, distribution, and exchange are owned or regulated by the community as a whole. Some are concerned about fascism defined as a form of totalitarian or authoritarian government in which most of a nation’s power is held by one ruler. Others have expressed various other concerns. While we may differ in how we imagine things playing out in the years ahead, many of us seem to agree that our democracy—a government designed to be for the people by the people—is in trouble.

 

One threat that has been debated and written widely about in recent years is Christian Nationalism. With all the ink that has been spilled, you would think that defining it would be a cinch. Not so. But I will do my best in the short time allotted. In an article in “Christianity Today,” Paul Miller, professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, defines Christian nationalism by contrasting it with Christianity. Christianity is a religion, a set of beliefs drawn from the Bible and certain creeds about ultimate things like life, death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In contrast, Christian nationalism is a political ideology about American identity, a set of instructions for what the nationalists believe the American government should do. Instead of being drawn from the Bible, Christian nationalism is a cultural framework built on a collection of myths, symbols, and narratives. It idealizes a fusion of Christianity with American civic life. It dangerously appeals to tribal instincts, suggesting we are “a chosen race,” while denying the universal nature of God’s love.

 

When I hear the phrase “Christian nationalism,” my mind immediately goes to our Presbyterian Church’s Book of Confessions, specifically to The Theological Confession of Barmen. In part, here is what is provided as an explanation for the confession:

 

The Theological Confession of Barmen was written by a group of church leaders in Germany to help Christians withstand the challenges of the Nazi party and of the so-called “German Christians,” a popular movement that saw no conflict between Christianity and the ideals of Hitler’s National Socialism.

 

In January 1933…Adolf Hitler was named chancellor. By playing on people’s fears of communism…he was able to persuade the Parliament to allow him to rule by edict. As he consolidated his power, Hitler abolished all political rights and democratic processes: police could detain persons in prison without a trial, search private dwellings without a warrant, seize property, censor publications, tap telephones, and forbid meetings. He soon outlawed all political parties except his own, smashed labor unions, purged universities, replaced the judicial system with his own “People’s Court,” initiated a systemic terrorizing of Jews, and obtained the support of church leaders allied with or sympathetic to the German Christians.

 

Most Germans took the union of Christianity, nationalism, and militarism for granted, and patriotic sentiments were equated with Christian truth. The German Christians exalted the racially pure nation and the rule of Hitler as God’s will for the German people.[i]

 

Thankfully, there were church leaders who resisted. Numerous church members, university professors, and ordained ministers (including Karl Barth), gathered in Barmen to discuss, debate, and adopt a declaration to appeal to the churches of Germany to reject the false doctrine of the German Christians. The resulting declaration affirms the church’s freedom in Jesus Christ who is Lord of every area of life. It also makes clear that the church is to obey Jesus as God’s one and only Word to determine its order, its ministry, and its relation to the state. [ii]

 

The relationship between church and state has been an important matter down through the ages. Americans have long valued the separation of church and state. Historically, whenever the church and state have wed, it has been the church that has suffered. Still, history has a way of repeating itself. To shed more light on the topic, allow me to share a portion of an article that appeared in The Presbyterian Outlook in 2019. [iii]  It referenced a letter endorsed by Christian representatives from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, The Episcopal Church, and the National Council of Churches—just to name a few. The purpose of the letter was to condemn Christian nationalism. In part, the letter reads:

 

As Christians, our faith teaches us everyone is created in God’s image and commands us to love one another. As Americans, we value our system of government and the good that can be accomplished in our constitutional democracy. Today, we are concerned about a persistent threat to both our religious communities and our democracy — Christian nationalism. Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy…We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation. As Christians, we are bound to Christ, not by citizenship, but by faith. We believe that people of all faiths and none have the right and responsibility to engage constructively in the public square; patriotism does not require us to minimize our religious convictions; government should not prefer one religion over another or religion over nonreligion; religious instruction is best left to our houses of worship, other religious institutions and families; conflating religious authority with political authority is idolatrous and often leads to oppression of minority and other marginalized groups as well as the spiritual impoverishment of religion; and we must stand up to and speak out against Christian nationalism, especially when it inspires acts of violence and intimidation—including vandalism, bomb threats, arson, hate crimes, and attacks on houses of worship—against religious communities at home and abroad. [iv]

 

We at First Presbyterian Church of Valdosta worship the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We do not worship our country or its president. While we value our citizenship in the United States of America as well as the Constitution and our national symbols, we do not worship a political party or the flag or the national anthem. Our allegiance is and always must be to Jesus Christ. What unites us is more powerful than ideals or opinions or platforms that separate us. We share a deep faith in Jesus. We long to do the will of Christ by feeding the hungry and welcoming the stranger. We have been and will continue to be a place of hope for our community. Sure, we have different political views, but we love one another, we break bread with one another, we support one another in good times and bad. As ambassadors for Christ, we are called to live by a higher standard than other citizens. We seek to follow the way of Jesus, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Do we always get it right? Of course not, but day by day, we are learning. We are growing. We are becoming sons and daughters of God who are equipped to lead others into a brighter future for us all. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Book of Confessions, The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 280.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] https://pres-outlook.org/2019/08/christian-leaders-condemn-christian-nationalism-in-new-letter/

[iv] https://www.christiansagainstchristiannationalism.org/statement

*Cover Art by Rara Schlitt, used by permission

“Isms” That Threaten to Undo Us: Consumerism

“Isms” That Threaten to Undo Us: Consumerism

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 14, 2021

4th Sunday in Lent

Matthew 6:19-24; Luke 12:16-20

 

This morning we continue the Lenten sermon series, “Isms” That Threaten to Undo Us,” and once again, I invite you to join me for Holy Conversations on Zoom tomorrow evening at 6:30 p.m. Our virtual time offers you a chance to speak your truth—without judgment or debate. It is also a sacred space to pray with other believers who are seekers of God’s wisdom. Now, let us turn our attention to the issue of Consumerism. Consumerism is defined as the idea that increasing consumption of goods and services purchased in the market is always a desirable goal and that a person’s wellbeing and happiness depend fundamentally on obtaining consumer goods and material possessions. Of course, purchasing goods and services is not a bad thing in and of itself, but it becomes a problem when it is taken to the extreme, when it puts people in debt, when it harms the environment, when anyone, and especially a Christian, defines happiness and wellbeing by how much they possess.

 

Billionaire Malcolm Forbes is credited with the oft-quoted phrase, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” But the truth of the matter is—he who dies with the most toys—well, he is still dead, which leads us to the wisdom Jesus provides in his story from the Gospel of Luke. While surrounded by a crowd of people, someone urges Jesus to order his brother to give him his share of the family inheritance. Jesus tells him that is not his business and, turning to the people, he warns them of the danger of greed for life is not defined by what you have. Then, Jesus tells the story of the greedy farmer. Commenting on the passage, Eugene Peterson’s has this to say:

 

The eternal relationships of the soul aren’t improved by bursting barns or new cars or bigger homes. Our deepest happiness isn’t influenced by the quantities of food and drink on the table. The profound realities of life aren’t enlarged by material success in status and money. Jesus called this man “fool” because he remembered the wrong things: He remembered himself…Besides remembering the wrong things, he forgot the essential things. He forgot his neighbors. If his barns were too small, there must have been others who would have been only too glad to share in his surplus. [And] he forgot time. It never occurred to him that time could possibly have an end.

 

Tracy Chapman’s “Mountains o’ Things,” paints a picture of someone who also forgets the essentials. In the song, the singer dreams of a life of ease with mountains of things, a big expensive car, a sweet lazy life with servants to care for her every need, champagne and caviar—all so that others will look at her with envy and greed. She imagines reveling in their attention for her mountains of things. Then, “Oh they tell me there’s still time to save my soul. They tell me—renounce all those materials gained by exploiting other human beings.” Then, the final verse: “Consume more than you need, this is the dream. Make you pauper or make you queen. I won’t die lonely; I’ll have it all prearranged, a grave that’s deep and wide enough for me and all my mountains o’ things.”

 

When it comes to possessions, here are a few statistics to consider from an article first printed in 2014, the year in which Americans spent over $57 billion on Black Friday weekend alone, while giving $103 billion to churches for the whole year; that same year, enough K-Cups were thrown out to encircle the earth 12 times. Additionally, nearly 40% of food in America goes to waste, while globally, malnutrition effects 161 million children; despite making up just over 3% of the global population of children, nearly half the world’s toys are in America; we create more electronic waste than any other nation on earth; homes in the U.S. contain more TVs than people, with, on average, each household having three working television sets.[i] Startling as these statistics may seem, they only skirt around the edges of how we are drowning in consumerism, and how our actions are detrimental to God’s wondrous creation, to us, and to generations to come.

 

Scott and Gabby Dannemiller are former Young Adult Volunteers for the Presbyterian Church USA. Their experience in Guatemala led them to embrace a new spiritual practice—to give up participation in consumer culture. Convinced that there was more to life than working to keep up with societal expectations, they wanted to live missionally in their day-to-day life—to be in the world and not of the world. So, they made a New Year’s resolution in 2013 to stop buying stuff. In the book, The Year Without A Purchase: Our Family’s Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting, they share their experience, including goals that guided their journey: To buy only stuff that could be used up within a year, like groceries, gas, and hygiene products (no clothes—they had plenty, already). To fix things that broke, unless the repair cost was greater than the replacement cost. To give gifts as charitable donations or as life experiences with the intent of building connections and making memories by doing things like going to dinner together, visiting the zoo, or traveling to be with family and friends.

 

Reflecting back on the experience, Scott Dannemiller said that after a couple of months, not shopping simply became his family’s new normal, but he admits it was rough at first. The most humbling part was realizing what they were doing as an experiment, is the reality for most of the people on the planet. For them, three big things came from not purchasing for a year: More time, more energy, and a greater appreciation of the things that matter. Now, his family spends on experiences more than on things. They look more at the function of an item, instead of how it makes them feel. Before making a purchase, they ask questions like, “What value is it going to bring? Will it allow us to have more time or energy for the things that are important?” He admits that they do shop from time to time, but the experience has ruined “shopping as a hobby” for his family.

 

God has given us endless opportunities and resources: creation filled with beauty and wonder, life, love, a relationship with God and with others, a faith community, and even God’s own Son. God is the Great Giver. As people created in God’s image, we, too, are called to be givers. Sure, there are things we need, things we must consume. But when the perceived chasm between our wants and our needs drives our every action, and leaves our neighbors dying from lack of food, clothing, clean water, housing, medical attention, community—it is time for us to re-think our priorities.

 

The Gospel of Matthew offers words of wisdom for us to ponder. Hear now these words from The Message:

 

If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds. Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

 

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] https://www.relevantmagazine.com/current/11-stats-will-change-way-you-think-about-consumerism/

*Cover Art by Rara Schlitt, used by permission.

“Isms” That Threaten to Undo Us: Domestic Terrorism

“Isms” That Threaten to Undo Us: Domestic Terrorism

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 7, 2021

3rd Sunday in Lent

Proverbs 6:16-19; Romans 12:19-21

 

A question that often comes up in seminary is, “How long does it take to write a sermon?” A common response is to expect to spend an hour preparing for every minute of a sermon. Generally, I have found this to be a good rule of thumb. But not this week. This week, while preparing to preach on domestic terrorism as part of the Lenten sermon series, “Isms That Threaten to Undo Us,” ten hours has hardly been adequate. Instead, the experience has felt more like drinking from a fire hose only to drown in data. So much so, I will begin with a disclaimer. My goal this morning is not to be thorough. My goal is to open avenues for you to explore, ponder, and pray about on your own. It is also my hope that you will join our Holy Conversation on Zoom tomorrow evening at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the matter with other believers who are seeking the wisdom of the Spirit during these trying times.

 

January 6, 2021 is a day that will live in infamy, a day when we witnessed mob violence at the U.S. Capitol as insurrectionists attempted to disrupt our democratic process. No matter how you identify politically, violent acts against people is contrary to Christian faith. In the aftermath of the insurrection, I daresay most of us recognize the very real threat of domestic terrorism to our nation and to our way of life. Just this week, FBI Director Christopher Wray confirmed that domestic terrorism cases have doubled over the past year—like a metastatic cancer that shows no signs of stopping. As concerned citizens, and as believers in the Prince of Peace, we are filled with questions. What is domestic terrorism, exactly? How are domestic terrorists being radicalized? Is there anything the church can do to help?

 

Domestic Terrorism is defined as the committing of terrorist acts in the perpetrator’s own country against fellow citizens. For many of us, the term became real April 19, 1995 when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. In an article in Presbyterian Outlook, Chaplain Maggie Alsup, who grew up in Oklahoma, reflects on how both the Oklahoma bombing, and the January 6 insurrection, were fueled by fear and hate. In her words,

 

…as I watched the events of January 6 unfold, I felt a wave of emotions — the same wave I felt all those years ago on April 19. I watched as a place of hope, of democracy, of what represents sacred political ground was desecrated. I felt ill, I felt helpless, I felt a wave of sadness come over me. Then I felt a sense of rage and of anger, I felt like shouting, “We warned you this would happen!” And that was the statement that rang in my ears all day as I watched the chaos unfold. It hung in the air because I have seen firsthand the ways hate and rage play out in the violence of domestic terrorism… As a college chaplain, it has become a vital part of my ministry to speak up against such hate and violence, to share stories of lament and loss, to hold people accountable to their actions — not just because of my childhood encounter with domestic terrorism, but also because of the covenant I entered into at my baptism [to renounce evil and the powers which defy God’s righteousness and love and to renounce the sin that separates us from the love of God]. [i]

 

If we wonder how people are being radicalized, it is happening in lots of ways. A common method is demonstrated through a character in Jodi Picoult’s book, Small Great Things. In the novel, Turk was a recruiter for a radical white supremacy group. His modus operandi was to target kids who experienced bullying and to step in to protect them. He would invite them to hang out with him, and act like he cared about their plight in life. He reminded them how superior they were—for no other reason than the color of their skin. And for every complaint they had about life, he pointed them toward someone to blame. These steps toward radicalization are the same steps used by street gangs to garner members. Target the teen who has a broken home, a weak or absent support system, the one who feels lost and unloved and then, convince them that they can keep living as prey for their enemies or they can become the predator. While these types of encounters increase terrorist group membership, a more effective tool these days is the Internet. Using various social media platforms or dark websites, a curious person of any age can plummet into danger with just a click or two.

 

In the Washington Post article, “The Psychology of How Someone Becomes Radicalized,” a research psychologist at the University of Maryland has found that no matter the flavor of extremism—neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, or members of the Islamic State—the necessary ingredients for radicalization are the same. First, there is a universal need to feel significant, and while most people satisfy this need through working hard, having families, and other achievements, radicals tend to find their place based on gender, religion, or race. Second, there is the embrace of a narrative that gives someone permission for violence like an enemy is attacking their group, so the radical has no choice but to fight to maintain honor. The third necessary component is the community—the network that validates the narrative. Radicalization can change a person’s path forever. Yet, there are some who find a way out. Tony McAleer is one such person, a former skinhead and organizer for White Aryan Resistance. He says that the process of deradicalization starts with first disengaging from the toxic community. The person must be exposed “to a different, more pro-social narrative, and particularly [become] attracted to alternative networks that give them respect.”[ii]

 

The phrase “alternative networks that give them respect,” is worth considering for it brings us to our third question, “Is there anything the church can do to help?” Yearning to belong, to be a part of something larger than oneself—isn’t that something that our faith network, our faith community provides for us? If so, might the church possess an intentional, alternative narrative for those lost in a vortex of hatred and anger? No doubt, hatred can become a dangerous tool for survival. But Jesus points to another way—the way of love—because Jesus knows that hatred bears deadly fruit, ultimately, destroying even the hater.

 

Domestic terrorism is a real and present danger for us and our global neighbors. The problem is so big, it is hard to imagine how we can make a difference. But no matter how big the problem, our God is bigger. As people of faith, we are compelled to look beyond what our eyes can see to a vision of God’s wholeness and peace. Challenging the hatred and fear that are driving the increase of domestic violence in our nation will require the hard work of prayer, love, and forgiveness. If we ask for guidance every step of the way, if we work in community, if we bravely speak the truth in love—change is possible. New life is possible—for us and for the world Christ came to save. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

(Let us keep silence.)

[i] Maggie Alsup, “Domestic Terrorism and Baptismal Vow,” Presbyterian Outlook; January 18, 2021

[ii] https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2018/11/01/psychology-how-someone-becomes-radicalized/

“Isms” That Threaten to Undo Us: Ageism

“Isms” That Threaten to Undo Us: Ageism

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; February 28, 2021

2nd Sunday in Lent

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; 1 Peter 5:1-5

 

 

On this 2nd Sunday of Lent, we continue the sermon series “Isms That Threaten to Undo Us.”  Because the series is meant to promote dialogue, I invite you to join me on Zoom Monday at 6:30 p.m. for what we are calling “Holy Conversations.” The setting provides a sacred space for you to speak your truth—without judgment or debate—and to pray with other believers who are seeking wisdom during these tumultuous times.

 

Today we turn our attention to “Ageism,” a term coined in 1969 to describe discrimination toward older people, old age, and the aging process. I learned of the term about 20 years ago when Kinney and I had two friends over the age of 50 with advanced degrees, who lost their jobs when their companies downsized. Months turned into years as they searched for employment. But because of their age and salary expectations based on experience, they seemed to be un-employable. Eventually, both pursued different professions, and both were convinced that they had experienced age discrimination.

 

The American Psychological Association reports that in people over 60, about 80% have experienced ageism. Examples of prejudice include people assuming seniors have memory or physical impairments because of their age, not taking them seriously, ignoring them or perceiving them as dependent, helpless, or demanding rather than deserving.  But the reality is that most seniors are self-sufficient and have remarkable assets and gifts that are beneficial to society.

 

I once heard a story about a 90-year-old woman during a doctor’s visit who was accompanied by her daughter. Throughout the exam, the physician kept addressing the daughter instead of her mother, as if her mother was mentally hampered in some way. But this was no ordinary nonagenarian. Finally, fed up with the doctor, she posed a question, “Do you work the New York Times crossword puzzle?” He answered, “Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I do.” She countered, “So do I, in ink. So, any comments or questions you have regarding my health—you can address to me.”

 

While there are older folk who fit stereotypes like being set in their ways and being unwilling to change, that is not the norm. And even if it were, the aged among us deserve respect if for no other reason than having survived decades of the ups and downs of life. I have a special fondness for the elderly, maybe because in my formative years, it was my paternal grandmother who cared for me. Even with all the love she gave to her 8 children, there was enough love left over for me, and I am grateful. A friend shared a Facebook post on the topic that made me pause and ponder:

 

I asked an elderly man once what it was like to be old and to know the majority of his life was behind him. He told me that he has been the same age his entire life. He said the voice inside of his head never aged. He has always just been the same boy. His mother’s son. He had always wondered when he would grow up and be an old man. He said he watched his body age and his faculties dull but the person he was inside never got tired. Never aged. Never changed.

 

Abram was 99 when the Lord gave him a new name and blessed him with a covenant that would, in time, bless the entire world. God’s love is boundless so, of course, it could not be restricted to one people, the people of Israel. Through Abraham, through prophets, priests, and kings, and then, through Christ, God’s love reached out to us all.

 

Episcopal bishop and Native American Indian, Steven Charleston, offers this perspective on elders:

 

My culture respects the elders not only because of their wisdom, but because of their determination. The elders are tough. They have survived many struggles and many losses. Now, as they look ahead to another generation, they are determined that their sacrifices will not have been in vain, that their children’s children will not grow up in a world more broken than the one they sought to repair. The elders are voices of justice. They are champions for the earth. They defend the science of the community…

 

Our eternal grandparents are watching over us, all those who have gone before. They are our ancestors, and they have seen enough in their own lives to know what we are going through. They have survived economic collapse, social unrest, political struggle, and great wars that raged for years. Now, from their place of peace, they seek to send their wisdom into our hearts, to guide us to reconciliation, to show us our mistakes before we make them. Their love for us is strong. Their faith in us is certain. When times get hard, sit quietly and open your spirit to the eternal grandparents, who are still a part of your spiritual world. Receive their blessings, for their light will lead you home.[i]

 

Recognizing those who have gone before us is certainly not foreign to the Christian tradition. Following a chapter that recaps the history of the faith of our ancestors, Hebrews 12:1 tells us: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. We benefit from their experiences and their sacrifices.

 

In the 21st Century, we are inundated with information, but we are lacking in wisdom. Sure, with the tap of a finger, we can google anything. But there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is simply knowing something while wisdom involves perspective and the ability to make sound judgments based on knowledge. Knowledge might give us something to say, but wisdom will teach us when to say it. During these troubling times, we need elders to help tend the flock, to serve as guides, to teach us humility, and to point us to the grace and mercy and love of Jesus.

 

“Selma” is a powerful movie based on the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Its theme song, performed by John Legend and Common, is entitled, “Glory.” Here are a few of the lyrics:

 

Somewhere in the dream we had an epiphany. Now we right the wrongs in history.
No one can win the war individually. It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy…

 

It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy. To accomplish our most important work—the work of justice, kindness, and walking humbly with God—it will take every one of us, no matter our age, gender, race, or nationality. We are all called. We are all equipped. We are all blessed by the God of Abraham and Sarah. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

 

(Let us keep silence.)

[i] Steven Charleston, Ladder to the Light: An Indigenous Elder’s Meditations on Hope and Courage, 90.

*Cover Art by Rara Schlitt, Used by permission.