Have you noticed the controversy that has arisen from the letter that appeared in Harper’s Magazine a week or so ago? Margaret Attwood signed the letter; Salman Rushdie, JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame, even David Frum—George Bush’s speechwriter, Wynton Marsalis—the Jazz great, Garry Kasparov—chess grandmaster, Noam Chomsky, Gloria Steinem, and a long list of academics, artists, and notables from many different perspectives—conservative and liberal—signed this letter. The letter decries the forces of illiberalism and the likes of Donald Trump; the letter also speaks against the intolerant climate that is present in public discourse—so-called “cancel culture.” Prominent people have been attacked for sharing controversial opinions.
But the letter has received a lot of criticism from many liberal commentators and political activists, especially, I’ve observed, young people. Some of the critics claim that many people who signed the letter themselves engaged in public shaming of people who didn’t subscribe to their views. Others have criticized the fact that many of the signatories wield a lot of power and privilege and then complain when that power and privilege is challenged. Still, others have criticized the fact that many ordinary people, who haven’t spoken up in the public debate before, are finding their voice and challenging the academic, literary, political and artistic elite.
I admit that I’m nervous when I say something that is controversial; and, as has happened, someone who doesn’t agree with me then attacks me. That happened a lot in the 1980s when I supported the United Church’s stance with respect to human sexuality. It’s happened when I’ve made public statements about climate change and the need to take strong action to keep the average temperature rise from getting too critical. I’ve been vilified for speaking out for a progressive, liberal understanding of Christianity or even for just being Christian, period. I’ve raised the issue of Palestinian justice and been attacked. I’ve followed my dad’s footsteps in terms of standing with Indigenous people in the quest for justice. Like everyone, I don’t like being attacked (and I’m not particularly thick-skinned); and sometimes the attacks get very personal and very hurtful.
In a very provocative article, Peter Marty, the editor of The Christian Century magazine, wrote an editorial about white privilege. It was very well-written, in my view; and even though it was written before the letter to Harper’s Magazine, it raised some of the issues in the controversy while dealing mostly with racism and white privilege. Go to The Christian Century website and read Marty’s article. The link will be on our website in a footnote in my sermon.
Near the end of the editorial, Marty wrote about our Christian response: “Here’s what the Christian faith helps me know and reminds me to tell my most defensive-minded (white) friends: look, you have some tools in the toolbox of your faith life that are exciting to put to work in our world of racial inequity. Start by letting go of the defensiveness. That’s a must. It’s a constrictive survival response that only separates you from God.” Marty wrote about Jesus and letting go of our assumptions. We need to reexamine our behaviours, our lives and our biases. Christ is present in the letting go and the pushing aside of boundaries that limit and inhibit. Marty suggested that we all live into our faith, do some soul-searching and, like Jesus taught, pick the parts that scare you and examine them like the cross Jesus mentioned we are to carry. Let go of ego and deny self, as Jesus taught. And then we “live with the mind of Christ, humbly open to changing all that needs to be changed about (you), and (your) world.”
Today’s folksy parable about sowing seeds gets at what I’ve been saying this morning. Who are we? How is the soil of our lives? How receptive are we to receiving the seeds of community, incarnation, equality, compassion, forgiveness, hope, reconciliation? How do we allow God’s presence into our lives to bring about transformation personally and in community?
Well, maybe there are a few things we can do, from our faith life as Marty suggested. Micah asked and answered in his prophecy: “What does God require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8)
Micah’s third teaching is that we need the humility to hear another and to allow God’s love to be lived through us. We need to let go of our filtered hearing to hear all of what another is saying. Or as, a feminist theologian, Nelle Katherine Morton, once said, “We listen each other into speech.” And this takes humility; removing our arrogance from the equation.
Micah’s second teaching is that we are called to love mercy. Another word for mercy is compassion. Compassion is partly about having the imagination and inspiration to dream new dreams of health and wholeness for all. Feeling God’s compassion in our lives gives fuel to our sharing that compassion for the whole world.
And Micah’s first teaching is that we act justly. We act. We can’t just do nothing. We live what we believe. And while it sometimes feels like we are alone, we are not. As our creed reminds us, “We live in God’s world. We are called to be the church… to reconcile and make new.” Christ acts through us and with us. We stand together. We seek new companions along the way.
I heard someone once say that for soil to be good, there needs to be a lot of dirt bound together with something to fertilize it. Good soil is about all of us together supporting the sprouting of seeds.
Those seeds of which Jesus spoke brought forth a yield, some a 100-fold, some 60-fold and some 30-fold. Even the 30-fold yield is pretty good! But that was the idea of Jesus’ parable, that the abundance of God’s KinDom is just that—abundant! Humbly, together, with compassion and action, we bear fruit, nourishing one another and the world around us, contributing to the abundance of the earth. Amen.
 Go to https://www.christiancentury.org/article/editorpublisher/becoming-less-defensive-about-white-privilege?utm_source=Christian+Century+Newsletter&utm_campaign=fe702a93f3-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_EdPicks_2020_06_30_isolation_COPY_0&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b00cd618da-fe702a93f3-82382539.