DOMA, Voters Rights, Paula Deen and the Samarias of our lives

The great theologian, Karl Barth, used to say to seminarians:  “Take your Bible, take your newspapers, read both.  But interpret your newspapers from yourBible.”

Last week was a wild week in our country — and a perfect opportunity to interpret the news through the Bible.  The striking down of DOMA was historic.  The striking down of the Voters Rights was equally historic, but for very different reasons. The explanation of the justices was that things had changed dramatically in terms of racism in our country.

And then we had the Paula Deen circus.

The preacher Richard Rohr, in his lecture series  The Spiral of Violence: the World, the Flesh and the Devil, explains that traditional moral teaching defines three sources of evil, and these three sources are like a spiral that moves from the bottom up.

At the bottom is systemic evil, or what we call “the world”.  It’s the lies that are told over and over again about power, prestige and possession being the source of  fulfillment and happiness.

In the middle is is personal evil and individual sin — the bad choices people make — what St Paul refer to as “the flesh”.

And at the top is evil disguised as good.  This evil is the one that supports all the other evils.  It’s those unquestionable institutions — like war, or the “laws’ of the market economy; or our penal systems, and sometimes, some police forces; unfair tax systems. It’s a high level evil that always presents itself as good, charming, necessary, on your side — even virtuous.  Rohr says that moral theology calls this “Satan”,  and Satan must present itself as too big or too needed to ever be wrong. (Sound familiar?  “Too big to fail?”)

Up to now most moral theology has concentrated on the personal, individual sin.  Little has been done to address foundational evil in cultural beliefs, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that any moral critique of social institutions was done.

But, with Jesus, it’s just the opposite.  Jesus whole ministry was about exposing evil disguised as good; it was about challenging the systems of his time — the Temple system and Temple authorities who made their living on the backs of the poor and marginalized;  the government of Rome,  to which Jesus refused to pledge allegiance.

Last Sunday’s gospel told about Jesus walking through Samaria on his way to Jerusalem.  Samaritans and Jews didn’t like each other.  Jews thought Samaritans didn’t worship properly.  They worshiped in their own local temples, not did not go to the temple in Jerusalem.  This made them defiled in the eyes of the Jews.  Jews avoided Samaritans at all costs.  They had no use for them.   Most Jews would walk all the way around Samaria to avoid contact with Samaritans.  But not Jesus.  He walks THROUGH Samaria — because he knows God’s love and salvation is for ALL people, including Samaritans.

The Samaritans knew of the Jesus and were hoping for some Jesus perks as he entered their town — healings, miracles, that sort of thing  — but Jesus has his “face set toward Jerusalem” — he is focused on his mission  — exposing evil disguised as good.  But the Samaritans — well, they aren’t interested in that, because they are asleep to the evil in their midst.  They just want the perks, the feel good stuff that Jesus brings.  And the disciples, well they are so misguided by their prejudice that they are no help at all.  They HATE the Samaritans because everyone knew the Samaritans were heathens, scum, blasphemers — you fill in the blank.  They were blinded by their prejudice, proven by their thinking Jesus would find it OK to rain fire down on them — where did they get THAT idea??  They were distorted by their prejudice, and felt justified in it, because they felt superior.

Jesus doesn’t stop to address any of this, because he knows that the root of all this lis in the diabolical, disguised as good evil that is in Jerusalem.  His face is set toward Jerusalem ,toward going face to face with the source of this evil.  and he knows this will result in his murder.  But he also knows that God, Abba, his father, is bigger and more powerful than any evil — even evil disguised as good — and, in the end, God will conquer all evil.  That is resurrection.

What happened in our country this week was historic and thrilling and heartbreaking all in one.  I am moved beyond words  at the advancement toward marriage equality that our country has accomplished.  And I am so happy for the gay couples in our lives who have loved and lived faithfully together for  decades and are now finally recognized as legitimate, legal and sacred unions.

But I am also disheartened by the striking down of the Voters Rights Act.  It amazes me that a country that has come so far, so quickly on gay rights still, hundreds of years in, has not come to terms with our sin of racism.   The idea that racism is gone from our country and no longer needs the jursidiction of the courts to protect those of different color when it comes to voting rights is naïve and proof that, on so many levels, we are still asleep to evil in our society.   And  that was proven by the events we witnessed surrounding the celebrity chef, Paula Deen.

Let me say right here, Paula Deen is not a bad person.  She is a woman, who , I believe, gets up every morning and tries to do her best.    But that doesn’t mean that she is not racist.  Racism occurs when we are asleep and unaware of how our thoughts, words and action impact others around us.

I think our awareness grew at a faster rate with gay rights because homosexuality crosses every race, ethnic group, gender, economic level and religious belief.  We all know and love people who are gay.  And it was precisely the knowing and loving of those people that helped change attitudes and fears about homosexuality.  But racism is different.  It is very easy to separate people by race in our culture.  It is easy to work side by side with people of different races and never really know or understand them if we don’t want to.  We can live our whole lives by walking around the Samarias of our lives.

But that’s not who Jesus was.  Jesus walked right through Samaria.  Because he knew it was the only way to heal the world, it was the only way to bring the kingdom fully into our midst. He walked through Samaria, and it didn’t always go so well.  People rejected him, people didn’t follow him when invited, his disciples didn’t help either by holding on to their prejudice.  But he did it any way – even if it was messy.  Even if it meant his rejection.  Because that is what God called him to do.

And that is what God calls us to do.  God calls us to walk through the Samarias in our lives.  God calls us to look with new eyes and open hearts and get to know the people that are so different from us. And to work for their rights, their freedom, their dignity everyday of our lives.

At the end of Pauls Deen’s interview with Matt Lauer on NBC, she said something that, to me, capsulizes the problem and is the reason why evil is still able to take hold of us in our society.  She said, “I is what I is, and I ain’t never gonna change.”

That is the exact opposite of a life in Christ.  Christ calls us to continually look into our hearts, to wake up to the ways we help perpetuate the systemic evil in our world and the how we participate in the evil disguised as good in our midst.    That is why we kneel every Sunday  and pray the confession – because we are all culpable in the evil in the world, whether we know it or not.  And Jesus calls us to wake up to that, to be bathed in his love and mercy, and to go out and walk through the Samarias of our lives and learn to love  and honor ALL PEOPLE.  It’s not lip service – it is an honest to goodness call from God – and one that we all said yes to in our baptismal vows.

Jesus is calling you to follow him and walk through the Samarias of your life – what will your answer be?


3 thoughts on “DOMA, Voters Rights, Paula Deen and the Samarias of our lives

  1. Well, this is the big challenge, isn’t it? To look inside ourselves and face our own prejudice, our hardened views, our belief that ‘our way’ is the best way, or even the only way. A friend recently observed that we are all so dug in with our views that we end up only talking with people who hold our same views, there is no challenge to our views, we don’t allow it. Where as, real discussion may lead to some enlightenment and perhaps even a shift in thinking. But first we must be open minded and open hearted. I think this is also what Jesus taught. I think evil gets a hold on us because we are afraid to be challenged, we are afraid to change, we become dug in.

  2. Nice column, Betsy, and nice comment, Nancy! One of the challenges we face is also being aware of the advantages we have that others don’t share. If you’re white, American, heterosexual and prosperous, it can be hard to imagine the kinds of roadblocks others are facing; we need to be good listeners and to pay attention to what others go through, if we’re to make real progress as a culture.

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