Dear Christ Church Family,
Today, Jesus speaks out against the “yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” warning us that we are just as capable as the Disciples of hearing a message other than God’s, especially when we are actually listening to our own cultural religion.
Wednesday, June 10, 2020 RCL Daily Office Readings, Year 2
Matthew 16: Unlearning Racism; a Hidden Yeast. When Jesus tells the Disciples to “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees, he is not telling them to ignore all their teaching, but to watch out for those interpretations that have turned God’s word into something that God never intended. This is a good warning for us, because there is a uniquely American interpretation of Jesus and God’s Word that has been “leavening” God’s Word in defense of social injustice for centuries. That yeast is the hyper-individualized focus on Salvation and piety; a focus that ignores how our personal faith is to be lived beyond our own self-interest. This yeast has given rise to what some call “slaveholder religion.”
What follows is a posting by Richard Rohr, Christian author, priest, monk, and writer of contemplative prayer and thought. In his Daily Devotional posting for today, he recounts a conversation between Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, an author, minister, and contemplative activist; and Mark Longhurst, editor for Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation. In the light of George Floyd’s funeral yesterday, and events of these past weeks, it seems especially relevant today.
“My journey toward freedom from slaveholder religion has been one of unlearning a hyper-individualized piety. [This is what I would call an obsession with our individual salvation project—RR] . . . I’ve had to learn that this is a spiritual version of the myth of the self-made man or woman that [the social systems that privilege] whiteness created.”
Mark summarizes Jonathan’s next statement:
“Jonathan shares about his prayer practices and how the practice of confessing sin helps him dwell in solidarity with the marginalized:”
“We need relationships of accountability—spaces where we listen to black and brown folks say what actions are hurting them and their communities. Given the power imbalances in our society, confession for white folks really has to be something of a reverse confessional. It’s not the job of people who’ve suffered generational injustice to sit and listen to us. No, we’ve got to position ourselves to sit and listen to them. Then talk to one another about how we can unlearn implicit bias, leverage social privilege for the common good, and follow the leadership of impacted people working for systemic justice. The daily practice of confession is a radical act of listening.
“Wilson-Hartgrove finds that communal spirituality and action for justice have helped liberate him from the individualistic, self-made myth of systemic whiteness:”
“[The] antidote [to hyper-individualized spirituality] is, in many ways, in the communal contemplative practices of the black-led freedom movement in America. I’m thinking about the prayer practices of song and shout in Pentecostal churches, of call and response in black Baptist preaching. There’s a mantra-like repetition in that experience of worship that is every bit as much contemplation as you find sitting in silence. In fact, it is a silence—a still point of complete simplicity—that’s beyond words. For me, I find that silence in the praise and testimony service at the St. John’s Baptist Church, and I find it singing and marching in the streets with the Poor People’s Campaign.”
“At the same time, Jonathan cherishes stillness, embodying a true ‘centering down,’ in the words of Howard Thurman, that can take place just about anywhere.”
“The silence of the early morning is why I wake early. I can’t be myself without it. But as I grow in the life of faith, I feel more and more the connection between that silence and the silence at the center of [a mourning mother’s] cry—the silence of the down beat between the claps in a freedom song. There is a still point in the turning world, and we practice contemplation as we ground ourselves in that place, not apart from action, but in the center of it.”
I had to learn all of this as a priest in North Carolina. As the only white clergyperson who regularly participated in the local Chapter meetings of the NAACP, I quickly learned that what the Chapter needed of me, and what I needed for me, was to just listen; listen so as to really hear. My constant prayer was “Lord, get me out of the way of the message you are speaking.” I came to realize that I was praying for the Lord to get the “yeast” of my own preconceived cultural understandings out of my head so that God’s true Word could arrive “unleavened” in my heart. I needed to pray that way, to tune my heart, and most of all, my ears, so that I could do the work that the Chapter needed me to do: namely, be that (often sole) white clergy voice at City Council and County Commission meetings that would stand to speak what the Chapter needed said by a white person.
This is actually something that all of us can do: pray to lose the yeast of cultural religion, listen to hear God’s unleavened message in the voices of others, and stand with those who need you to be that one person.