By Rev. Nancy Cushman, West District Superintendent
“God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them… This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.”
1 John 4:16, 21
Lent is a time for introspection and self-examination. If God is love as 1 John proclaims, it seems appropriate that part of our Lenten practice is to examine the expanse and depth of our ability to love. Jesus was Emmanuel (God-with-us), and he showed us the expanse and depth of God’s love. Through him we see that God’s love reaches out intentionally to those who are marginalized in the community. The people that Jesus intentionally touched and healed were people devalued and disregarded by the structures and systems in the community. The expanse and depth of God’s love regularly pushes boundaries and as disciples of Jesus we are called to that same love. Let’s make no mistake that this is hard work.
There are many views about race in America from people who say race isn’t an issue anymore to those who say we have a very long way to go to live the values of “freedom and justice for all” that we profess. Over the last year as I have been examining and working on my own understanding about race and equity, I see it as a labor of love. If a brother or sister is devalued or mistreated, I am called by love to notice and do what I can to share and demonstrate that God values and loves them. I am called by love to do what is within my power to change the systems and policies that devalue them. As Jesus’ disciple, I can do nothing less.
Part of my self-examination about race was to look at my family history and experiences. I love researching family history. I love watching other people learn their family histories on the show, Finding Your Roots. I think knowing our family story informs our present story and can teach us important lessons. Researching my family history around race was painful. I learned that much of my family including myself were raised in segregated communities. I knew very few African Americans growing up and I never had an African American friend until I was an adult. I learned from my family history that one part of my family owned slaves. They were plantation owners in Virginia and for four generations my ancestors exploited enslaved people. On Finding Your Roots, I watch African Americans learn of their slave relatives and the wounds of that part of our history are still evident. It is hard to admit that my ancestors were the ones who enslaved theirs. As uncomfortable as it is, part of the work of love is to acknowledge that history. The first step on the road to new life is confession. The Christian process of redemption is confession, repentance, forgiveness, and new life. Of course, I would never approve of slavery and yet my ancestors benefited from it and that benefit has shaped my life and my experiences. I cannot change the past and I am not responsible for their deeds or misdeeds. Yet, love, Christ-like love, demands that I use some of that benefit now to change the structures and systems that continue to devalue people. Specifically, it demands I use my advantages to move toward equity and to intentionally add value to those who have been devalued because of a part of their heritage comes from Africa, Asia, or Latin America rather than Europe.
The problem that I have discovered is that it is hard for me to see what needs to change. I thought everyone was treated like I am treated. It has taken intentionally listening to the stories of African American, Hispanic American, and Asian American people to begin to see life from their perspective, to see that we are not all treated the same. We can’t practice compassion until we learn what life is like from another’s perspective.
Lenten love calls me to continue working toward racial equity. Our RACE Coalition is providing opportunities for us to listen to people who experience life differently than we do. There are many books and resources to guide us. We can ask questions and be respectfully curious to learn from others. I invite you, no I implore you, to push the boundaries of love, to look more deeply into the experiences of African American, Latin American, and Asian American people and work with me toward a more perfect union. Jesus said, all the law and prophets were summed up in the great commandment, “Love God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:36-39 May we be intentional about loving these neighbors, friends, and beloved ones.