I have been thinking about this time we are in, half-way into the year 2020. Did you even imagine this would be our world six months ago? Did the thought even occur to you that we’d be in the midst of trying to figure out how to live with – how to survive – the systemic reality of an invisible viral pandemic we can’t yet stop or cure, only to find ourselves face-to-face with another systemic and deeply rooted reality that has rocked us to our very soul as a nation? Facing two systemic problems – both of which, though, have similar solutions.
A black friend of mine recently tried to clarify the systemic reality of racism when he said, “When you walk in front of a car stopped at a four-way intersection, does the white driver look up and quickly lock the door? When you see a police officer, do you get anxious, your heart racing, like you’re gonna get accused of something random and arrested — even injured?”
Of course, that scenario is often true. But that’s not all of it. Racism is generations deep and much more debilitating and ugly. It’s systemic and systematic and 400 years deep into our history as a nation.
So, I’ve been thinking a lot about systems lately.
The brain and body, for example, operate in a kind of systemic way that we rarely think about. Right? In fact, the body largely operates outside our conscious choices and awareness, which is why that “governing” part of our body is called the autonomic system.
But calling it a distinctive part of the body is really misleading. Our bodies and our autonomic system are in most ways so indistinguishable, so intertwined as to require years of meditative training to become more aware of the distinctive ways one influences the other. For example, monks, athletes, or yoga practitioners spend months – sometimes years – to gain some sense of mastery over autonomic functions as complex as correcting digestive patterns and as simple as breathing deeply to slow the heart rate.
In a similar fashion, families, cultures, nations – these too are systems whose seemingly individual parts are in fact significantly interdependent and intertwined in ways we are hardly aware. The system functions (or remains dysfunctional) to maintain itself and its way of being until it either becomes something better or eventually falls apart.
Racism is a systemic reality. We know it’s there. We see its symptoms and consequences. And for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), this awareness of systemic and systematic racism continues to be all too present and painful. And yet, even though we are aware of its systemic reality, we have not fully understood the role each of us plays in the entire workings of the system.
And I think this is especially true for me as a white person.
The prophet Isaiah spoke about this reality more than 2300 years ago: he confronted the Israelite people who were on the brink of self-destruction and condemned both their greed and their ignorance of those who suffered as a result of their political and civil practices. He reminded them of the potential of God’s love and blessing, comparing it to a lush vineyard, but they forgot that everything in the vineyard is dependent on everything else — and so the vineyard was destroyed. Jesus also spoke to it in his parable about the “wealthy farmer on the verge of losing his soul.”
Gaining greater mastery over our systemic racism can be as complex as tackling hundreds of years of intentional educational, economic, and social policies that sustain racism — or as simple an act as changing our daily relationship to those who suffer most from its reality. Both paths are important and both are ours to travel as people who understand that the ground of our very being is love.
This Sunday, I want to think with you about the crazy, fascinating, unbelievably huge reality of the systems we live in and the way we relate to, sustain, or change them. What I find hopeful in exploring our systems, like these two biblical stories, is that once we’re willing to take a hard, clear look at them we may discover the incredibly transformative and healing potential of small, intentional acts of humility, courage, and connection.
As people of God, as people on this path of seeking Shalom, we are at an important time – with a unique opportunity – to take a 20/20 (and 2020) look at who we are in relationship to the systemic realities of our nation.
Join in the conversation and let us know what you think, Sunday at 11:11 am, live online at fumcfw.org/1111-live .
See you soon!
Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven
In this world where racial tensions, polarization, and violence are reaching all-time highs, our faith calls us to lead a new conversation — and personal and corporate action steps toward racial reconciliation.To dig more deeply into this topic with others, check out our 4-week churchwide discussion of the book, Be the Bridge, by Latasha Morrison where together in large and small groups we will learn together how we can work toward discerning our part in God’s work for racial reconciliation. Learn more
Wednesdays at 6:00 pm
Thursdays at 10:00 am
Sundays at 3:00 pm
Registration Required | Upon registration you will receive your Zoom invitation
While it is helpful to have read the book, it is not required. We realize that hard copy books are hard to find; order on Kindle at Amazon.com .