“Peaceful racists”

Some words just don’t fit together.  Like “sweet lemon” or “warm ice.”

Or – “peaceful racists.”

That’s how the organizer of the ridiculously named group “Super Happy Fun America” described participants in the abhorrent “Straight Pride” parade that took place in Boston last weekend.

“Peaceful racists” don’t exist.

Racism is, by definition, violent.

Racism excludes, demeans, ostracizes, and belittles.

Racism robs people of opportunities.

Racism denies people a voice.

Racism categorizes people based on their skin color, ethnicity, or nationality.

Racism refuses to recognize the complexity of human experience with all of its pain, experience, and joy.

Racism keeps people out instead of welcoming them in.

Racism hurts.

There are no “peaceful racists.”

 The poorly attended “straight pride” parade was a weak attempt at mimicking the glorious annual Gay Pride parade which celebrates humanity in all of its diversity. The Gay Pride parade is about widening the circle to ensure everyone can participate; it is a celebration of welcome and inclusion and revels in the vibrant richness of God’s people.

Let’s call racism what it is – despicable.

Instead, let’s live out words that go together well: Extravagant welcomer. Radical includer. Heartfelt sharer.  

And let’s share God’s love and welcome.

God’s Welcome Table

On Sunday we will celebrate communion during worship. Before the bread and the cup are shared, I will say, “Everyone is welcome at God’s table. Whether you have been here hundreds of times before or whether this is a first occasion, whether you are filled with faith or overcome with doubt, whether you are sure of who God is or whether you are searching for even a glimpse of God in your life, you are welcome here.”

Sometimes I use words like, “Everyone is welcome here – old, young, and in-between, gay, straight, transgender, and questioning, people of all races and cultures, all are welcome here.” Each month I wonder how to express the welcome that God offers. God’s inclusion is so broad that it can be challenging to express in words.

How should we describe it? Everyone is welcome here…

–       Those who need forgiveness and those who are seeking to forgive

–       Those who are addicted, those who are celebrating sobriety, those who are seeking to live life one day at a time

–       Those who are angry and seeking solace, those who are worried and searching for reassurance, those who are broken-hearted and feel as if they will never be happy again, those whose lives have been shattered by violence, illness, or loss

–       Those who are parents or grandparents who rejoice in love shared and those who review past moments with an aching regret, worrying about words spoken or unspoken to those they love.

–       Those overwhelmed by the responsibilities of care-giving who wonder if they will make it through one more day, one more meal prep, one more doctor’s visit, one more sleepless night

–       Those who feel permanently, constantly, achingly unwelcome because of their race, gender, or sexuality

–       Those who are overworked and those who are unemployed; those whose calendars are overbooked and those who yearn to fill empty days and hours

Who is welcome? All of us. Us, in all of our variations, differences, and commonalities. Every single one of us – we are welcome in God’s sight and invited to God’s table.

What joy, what relief, what reassurance.

Come and eat.

Taste and enjoy.

Receive the gifts of a loving God.

              This is the message, the Good News, that we – as the church and as individuals – are called to live out every day. We are meant to express and embody God’s love, forgiveness, and new life at work, at home, and in the world.

            Who do you know that needs that message of love, forgiveness, and inclusion?  How can you find a way to convey kindness and understanding?

And be sure to invite them to church sometime – let them know that they are always welcome here.  

Bumper Sticker Wisdom

My new bumper sticker reads, “Be careful who you hate. It might be someone you love.”

It is a reminder not to categorize people or to assume that “all” of “those people” are somehow the same. As soon as we try to clump a group of people into a tidy category or description, we will miss someone’s amazing individuality.

“Gay people make me uncomfortable,” we might be tempted to say. Until we realize that our neighbor or neighbor’s beloved child fits that description.

 “I don’t understand transgender people,” we might declare. Until we get to know someone who has fought for their identity and who advocates honesty in self-expression.

 Although my bumper sticker has a rainbow stripe on it, I don’t think the concept is limited to LGBTQ issues. When we start talking about “all” people of color or “all” immigrants or “all” women who have had an abortion, we are missing something crucial. We are overlooking the sacred individuality that exists in each person. We are ignoring their personal stories. We are missing the unique child of God, created in God’s image.

 I believe this bumper sticker invites me to look beyond the “packaging” of a person to see the individual. I believe I am urged to have a holy curiosity about each person so I can resist the temptation to dismiss someone as “one of them.”

             It is easy to hate groups of people. A group is faceless. A group doesn’t have parents who love them or children who need them. A group doesn’t have emotions and lacks feelings that can be bruised or rights that can be trampled.

It’s when we look beyond the faceless crowd that we begin to recognize individuals with stories and backgrounds, journeys and struggles that have brought them to this time and place. Perhaps then I will not be as quick to dismiss “them.”

 Instead of disregard, could I offer respect? Instead of turning away, could I listen? Instead of assuming I know their story and circumstances, could I be willing to wonder and learn?

A bumper sticker is such a simple thing – but it can teach an important lesson.