I remember the first time black hands placed the white wafer Body of Christ into mine.
I remember that it was the middle of Advent three years ago, in a small church near my parent’s home. I remember that there was nothing special about it when it happened, that I didn’t notice or purpose to notice it, that it was only much later in the car on the way home that it occurred to me. My whole life I had been in churches with people of different ethnic backgrounds, but this was my first time when one of those people was at the altar of God as leader, was placing Sacrament into my hand and speaking over me the words of blessing, that this was Body of Christ broken for me.
We have dinner after the panel in a small dining room where there is a salad with spiced pears and a wine that is a little too heavy on the bottom. We are all white, but there are women, treated with respect and authority, so I feel at least some sort of counterbalance. We have attended a panel on economic growth and whether or not it is an essential good for society.
We turn this question over for a time until I interject, awkward and out of place, the question of race.
Someone had been saying that just having family close does not guarantee human flourishing, that having a stay at home parent in a two parent household is statistically better than a working single parent who relies on grandparents or aunts and uncles to look after a child. I point out this is privilege, luxury, that in cycles of poverty and systemic racism, we have to account for all the people who cannot afford the option of one parent staying home, that this has a lot to do with racial injustice, and if we’re going to talk about policy when it comes to these things, we have to talk about race.
Someone agrees that it is a problem.
And that is where we stop. It is a problem.
We move on to something else.
Human beings are so made that the ones who do the crushing feel nothing; it is the person crushed who feels what is happening. Unless one has placed oneself on the side of the oppressed, to feel with them, one cannot understand.
– Simone Weil.
Last year, I didn’t vote.
I was in Scotland and didn’t mail my absentee ballot in time. Considering I’m from Texas, I’m sure it would not have made much of a difference either way. But from an ethical standpoint I recognize that I have breached the social contract, I have told the State that I don’t want a voice in the midst of it.
But that’s easy to do, I think. The government has shut down. Shut down. Shut down while the Congress who decided to shut it down is still being paid. And I don’t think there is anyone righteous here, left or right, in the midst of this whole mess. This isn’t a post about how to fix it, this is a post about how helpless this all seems.
I don’t know how to do justice. I have no idea what it means to advocate for it. I sit at a dinner and mention that racism is still real and still a part of our system, a system that was recently shut down and in which my one vote doesn’t really matter a whole lot.
And I have no idea, whatsoever, where Jesus stands in any of this. Except for the white Jesus, somewhere in the center of so much of this discussion: the capitalist Jesus, the Western Jesus, the Jesus of colonization and interpretations that make America the city on the hill.
Are we that city?
How high is that hill?
How far do we fall when we realize that the Gospel is too big for us and was never about a country?
Last Sunday, black hands carried the elements forward to the Table. Black hands handed me the offering plate.
We are the same in this space, in the Body of Christ. Regardless of the oppression of the State, regardless of the abstract talk that never quite makes policy, a system that doesn’t want to be fixed.
Some days I don’t know how to do justice, but I can do this: I can walk to the altar of God and kneel beside whomever I find there. I can put my hands out and receive from whatever hands offer me the promise of salvation. I can say, pray for the Christ of no single color, who overcame and overcomes.
On the days I don’t know how to do justice, all I seem to have is prayer.
It’s not enough. It never feels like it’s enough.
But it’s what I have.
It is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.
That seems fitting.