In the course of a single weekend, I experienced two visions of the world. Two visions at such odds with one another that it was hard to contain them side by side, in spite of the fact that they both inhabit the same world in which we live. The fallen world with its rage and pain, and that “here-but-not-yet-here” of the world we await as people of faith.
It started with a phone call from my Brother, suggesting that we attend a very special event at a local parish the next Sunday morning. This, while the horror of Charlottesville raged and the so-called leaders of the nation chose to further divide us in response. That Saturday night, every priest I know was busy rewriting their sermon for the next morning in light of the ugliness that metastasized like a cancer that weekend.
Sunday morning, in addition to five baptisms we watched, with glee and hope, a re-naming ceremony for a young person who had come out to his congregation as a transgender person. There, in that church, in front of 200 or more people, this young boy was given his new name, Sam, and commissioned to remain faithful to his Christian discipleship in his new identity. Dressed to the nines with blazer, pocket square and bowtie; surrounded by family and community; Sam’s new self-assured and unfolding truth was greeted with thunderous applause and some tears. Most especially my own.
The preacher did his due diligence by speaking about Charlottesville, about the evil of racism and white supremacist ideology. Yet, I couldn’t help but marvel at how little he did to connect it to the special event that morning. It was a missed opportunity – because standing right before us was the juxtaposition of one vision of this world with the other that raged outside the walls of churches across the country. One, a Christian vision of hope and human dignity. The other, an anti-Christian vision of hopelessness, human depravity, and hatred.
Like Jacob became Israel; as Abram and Sarai were re-named Abraham and Sarah; and like Saul of Tarsus was re-named Paul; a young Christian with the loving guidance of the Holy Spirit and the human drive for truth and authenticity, chose to be re-named Sam, and he was overwhelmingly celebrated and honored for the courage of having done so. In our midst, an unwitting prophet of joy was introduced to the world.
The vision of the world that raged in Virginia, and now threatens to spread like a consuming fire, is not one of courage and authenticity. It is a vision of fear and loathing. Of deceit and distrust. Not merely of other people, but distrust of God and God’s power to lead us in faithfulness to the Beloved Community. It is a violent vision that denies the dignity of human persons and the fact of our redemption. It is a vision that flies in the face of the Creation and the magnificent diversity of all that is a part of it. It is a vision that coerces human freedom to the will to power used to deny that freedom to others. That reduces the exquisite complexity and beauty of the human person to a caricature, and a demonic one at that, and seeks quite literally to murder the human spirit.
While I witnessed that beaming young boy receiving his new name; while I reveled in his joy and the love that washed over him from the gathered assembly; I kept repeating to myself “and a little child shall lead them…” Truly, this is a breaking-through of the “here-but-not-yet-here” of the glorious Reign we await. For here was a vision of a world knit together by love and celebration. A vision of the human spirit striving to be true to God’s call. A call that was nurtured by loving parents and a community of faithful disciples rejoicing that a prisoner had been set free from the bonds of a gender that wasn’t truthful; a call for the blind to see the full truth of Sam’s authentic self being brought forth in holy trust; and a call for all of us to cast off the bonds of oppression that would deny this sweet young person the freedom to be himself. Here is a vision of the call of Jesus to meet all in love and mercy.
The truth of our world is that these two visions exist side-by-side, and that a great battle has bubbled to the surface again. From time immemorial, this battle has raged, sometimes just beneath the surface, and sometimes out in the open. It targets people of color, marginalizes women and sexual minorities, and vilifies the stranger. The earth is scattered with the bones of those who have been crushed by the ideology on display at Charlottesville. Our pathway, as Christians, has been watered by the blood of those who have stood witness against these powers of destruction and their vision for the world. You would think it would be easy to choose the side of truth, justice, and love. But it seems, for many Christians today, that it is not so easy. The will to power is too tempting, and the desire for self-preservation too ingrained. But I believe in my heart of hearts that when we stand before the throne of God on that last day, we will hear the question “for whom did you stand?” We will have to account for not only the evil we have done, but the evil we allowed. The evils in the face of which we remained silent.
On that Sunday, I saw what the Church is called to do. To be willing to speak the truth of love, to die for it. To stand barefoot and ready by the side of the oppressed and marginalized against the armies of power in Charlottesville and elsewhere that would subdue them. Whether they be people of color, immigrants, those of other faith traditions, or a young transgender boy. Not for us to lift a sword, but to shelter these beloved of God with the very Body of Christ from the hail of fire and violence that rains down upon them. To live in love and to cry out for justice against the powers of hatred. To proclaim peace even unto death until Christ comes again.
Which vision do you choose?