GROWING IN GRACE
The great debate in school systems all over our country is if and how to reopen schools for the fall. As we wait, however, we find ourselves in a season of learning as our society tries to process and grow through multiple crises.
Learning is a lot like taking medicine – it always does us good, but it’s not always fun. Opening ourselves up to learn means doing the difficult work of admitting the uncomfortable truth that we do not, in fact, have all of the answers. No one enjoys the insecurity of mystery. But the capacity to continue learning is our only hope of seeing life more clearly. And being willing to learn (and live into the insecurity of not having all of the answers in life) is a counter-cultural practice. Paul writes to the church in Rome, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
In other words, to know God’s will is to engage in the practice of admitting how little we know and making the choice to have our minds (and ultimately our hearts) renewed through the learning process.
Author Brian Herbert, once said, “The capacity to learn is a gift; The ability to learn is a skill; The willingness to learn is a choice.” Maybe we now find ourselves in a national/global classroom with some of the greatest opportunities for learning and growing more readily available than ever before.
Could we finally learn to care about things that unite us more than we care about the things that divide us? For example, when did medical knowledge become a partisan issue? Can we not learn to let some things transcend the division in our culture? Why is it that wearing a mask – a simple sacrifice in the grand scheme of things - has become an issue that divides us? I partly blame WebMD for this. Before we had the ability to Google our health questions, we trusted experts – professionals who gave their lives to the practice of learning about medicine – to guide us. Now we’re all armchair doctors with special training in infectious disease transmission. I wonder if God might be calling us to re-learn the art of trusting the professionals God called into their field. Maybe then we could learn to not let something as important as public safety divide us?
Another example of learning in the midst of national crisis is how we should all see we still have a lot to learn about racial justice in our world. For those of us who thought it was all solved by a Civil Rights movement 50 years ago, a few new laws, and the election of a black president, we now see that our learning curve is still very steep. Scholar Beverly Daniel Tatum has a helpful illustration of seeing racism as a moving sidewalk we’re all on. Actively racist acts are like walking fast on the moving sidewalk. But not walking fast (not engaging in actively racist behavior) doesn’t mean we’re not still on this moving sidewalk. Systemic racism is understood as the underlying practices, biases, and institutional policies that promote the advancement of white people. And if they don’t promote the advancement of white people, these systems don’t put up the barriers to white people that are put up for non-white people. That’s the moving sidewalk we don’t even realize we’re on!
It’s no longer enough for white people not engage in racist behavior. We must learn to turn around and walk against the movement of the sidewalk by actively resisting it and naming the systems that keep the sidewalk in motion. We must not just avoid being racist – we must learn to be anti-racist.
This summer my church has committed to a summer reading program to help us learn more fully what it means to be the Body of Christ. We’re taking 90 days to read all four Gospels one chapter at a time. And we’re reading two books to help us better understand things like white privilege and racial justice: “I’m Still Here” and “This Book is Antiracist.”
2020 is turning out to be a year like none other in my lifetime. It’s a year full of crisis and confusion, fear and division, grief and sadness. But it’s also a year when we, as a people, are facing some of our greatest flaws head on and learning how to finally make changes together. When we see our neighbor as more important than the minor inconvenience of wearing a mask, we learn what it means to love our neighbor as Jesus would love. And when we affirm that black lives need to matter more than they have throughout our complicated history if we really think all lives matter, we learn to do the hard work of putting aside our sinful bias to our hearts and minds renewed by a God whose love encompasses all people, especially those who are being oppressed.
The year is only half over and we still have a lot of learning to do. But, with God’s help, a little hard work, and a healthy dose of courage, I like our chances. Here’s to a remainder of the year filled with lots of learning and growing!
The Rev. Ben Gosden is senior pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Savannah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.