We Aren't There Yet

One of my favorite things to do when I go home is to retrace my footsteps from the early years of my life. It is almost like I'm reliving those moments of my youth. There is this one place that played a huge role in my love for creation. It was a family owned farm. One hundred acres of nothing but trees, water, tall grass, and an insurmountable amount of rocks. While this chunk of land was indeed beautiful and still holds a special place in my heart, the road that you had to take to get there was breathtaking. It was winding and full of dips and curves. In certain parts it was bumpy and in other areas it was canopied by various trees. The way in which the road was paved revealed glimpses of new possibilities and opportunities to explore.

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One night, I was preparing for an event for the organization I was serving. I was voted in by some of the organization’s constituencies to lead in the formation and building up of the community through activities and intentionality. As I was walking from my office to the room where we had planned the event for that evening, I was stopped by one of the executives of the organization. 

She asked, “Hey, when you get a minute, I would like to talk to you. Are you going to be around?” 

I responded, “Sure, I am setting up for the event tonight, but I should have some time within the next ten to fifteen minutes.” 

“Perfect. See you then.” She said.

After our conversation in the hall, I went on about my business. I began to plate the desserts on their trays. I started brewing the coffee in the employee kitchen. I made my way back to my office as I needed to collect more supplies. Shortly after I got into my mess of an office, the executive approached my door, briefly knocked, grabbed a chair and pulled it over to my desk. She invited me to sit down and join her in the conversation. I sat down at my desk and grabbed a pen and notepad as I thought we were heading into a quick organizational meeting.

As I made eye contact with her, the executive smiled and asked me how I was doing. I explained to her the previous week had been a little rough due to me stepping down from a pastoral position because of some rumors that were started about me, but overall I was doing okay. She quickly expressed her concern and then moved on to asking me how my family was doing. She was curious about how many siblings I had. She also inquired about my parent’s employment. I felt like this meeting had turned into an interview.

After I answered her questions about my family, the executive then moved into addressing the reason why we were meeting. She inquired, “I’ve noticed that you have updated your information on facebook saying that you are gay. Are you affirming?” 

I explained to her that, at the time, I was not out of line with the tradition that I have chosen to be apart of but that I felt that it was important to put a face to the conversation as issues around LGBTQIA+ persons and their lives have become polarized. I expressed that sometimes it seems the Church would much rather cling to a disembodied ideal rather than actually seeing the human being, made in the image of God, that our ideals or beliefs will ultimately affect and could potentially harm.

After acknowledging what I had said, she looked at me with a stare that I had felt was blank and cold. Then she stated, “We have had some donors calling the organization upset with you.” 

At the time, I had been sharing about being gay and the experiences that come with that both on facebook and in person. 

She continued, “They have asked me to direct you to stop sharing. I am going to need you to delete the things you have posted and stop sharing. I don’t care what you do after you leave here, but while you are here you do not need to share anything else about this. If you are unable to do this, we will need to reevaluate your leadership positions with us.” 

I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know where to begin. I immediately reverted back to saying, "I am not doing anything out of line with the tradition I am a part of. In fact, I verbally support it and am not encouraging another perspective.” 

She looked at me and said, “I hear what you are saying, but we aren’t there yet. If you could, make sure all of that is take down as soon as possible. If you should have any questions please reach out to me. I don’t want to police your life, but if you have questions about what should be posted, I ask that you speak with me before you share it. Does that sound good?”

I felt backed in between a rock and a hard place. If I kept sharing then I would lose my leadership positions, which would ultimately lead to the loss of financial stability and other opportunities that I was pursuing at the time. She left my office and I went back to preparing for the event. In the dead space of preparing for the event, I took the time to hide everything that I had posted on my social media outlets. I let her know and she smiled and said, “Oh, that was fast. Bless you.” 

To say the least, I was repulsed. As I stated in my previous blog, You Have to be Just Like Us, I knew the risks I was taking by sharing my experience with sexuality and being gay. I knew I could face harm. I knew I could lose opportunities. I knew some of my relationships would be ruptured. I knew the machine and its systems would react. 

Have you ever found yourself walking down a street or road alone? What was it like? Why were you doing it? Maybe you were needing some space to think? Maybe you were walking to a friend's house? Or, Maybe you spent a lot of your time walking to various places because you didn’t have another mode of transportation? Now stop to take the time to remember if any of those roads you walked were considered dangerous or unsafe. Surely, we could think of a road or street that doesn’t have the fondest of memories. 

In the time of Jesus, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notorious for its difficulty. It was a winding and treacherous road. It was not clean cut. It had dips and sharp curves. Throughout most of the Hebrew and near eastern cultures, this road was considered “The Way of Blood” due to the blood that was shed in raids by robbers and thieves.

In Luke 10:25-37 NRSV, we enter into the scene where Jesus is addressing a group of people who are mostly Jews. The text tells us that a lawyer stands up to test Jesus, asking him, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replies as he often does with a question, “What is written in the law?” The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus affirmed the lawyer’s answer, but the lawyer wanted to dig deeper into what all of this meant. The lawyer then asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with a story, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

If anything, the parable of the good samaritan communicates to me that the roads we take have a lot to say about the realities we are living in.

Think about it. The roads we take daily, for the most part, we probably know them like we do the back of our hands. We can travel on these roads without thinking. It has become normal for us to not notice our surroundings. This is not only true for the literal roads we travel on, but I also propose that is true for the roads or systems that are a part of our everyday lives. Society and culture teach us to have certain responses to various situations. The machine attempts to program us in a way that benefits itself, over everything and everyone else. 

I find this to be what could potentially be happening in the parable of the good samaritan. Jesus, as we know, is speaking to a group of people who are mostly Jews. If we know anything about Jewish culture during this time, we would know that Jews and Samaritans reviled one another. There were  societal rules in place to keep these two people groups from interacting. Jews hated Samaritans so much that they even destroyed their temple on Mount Gerizim. Another important item to take note of is that in Jewish culture it was considered unclean to touch a body that was bleeding, or that was considered to be dead or dying. If you touched a body that was bleeding or dead, you were considered unclean. 

When looking at the parable of the good samaritan, a few questions begin to form in me. What reality was the Priest and Levite living in? What reality was the Samaritan living in? Why does it matter what reality we identify with?

Priests were regarded highly in Jewish culture. They were trained in both religious matters and also Jewish law, literature, and tradition. It was the priests' duty to carry out the services of the temple correctly and abide by strict purity regulations, or else their worship could be considered worthless. In a similar vein, Levites were a part of a hereditary order who worked in the temple. Though they had less strict purity laws than the priests, they played a significant role in making sure the ceremonies and temple were prepared and cleaned properly. 

Could it be that because of the positions they held and the systems they were a part of, the Priest and Levite were influenced in not stopping to help the battered man who was lying in the ditch? Could it be that because of the roads the machine employs, that the Priest and Levite felt trapped or fearful of what might happen to them or their institution if they stopped? Could this be The Priest and Levite's reality?

Then we have the Samaritan, who stopped and helped the man. Who treated the man as if he was one of his own. Could it be that because of how reviled the samaritans were considered in Jewish culture that the samaritan in our story knew what it meant to be marginalized, oppressed, and even physically beaten? Could it mean that samaritan saw himself in the man who was lifeless in the trenches? Could this be the Samaritan’s reality?

But why do these questions matter? Why does it matter what reality we find ourselves in? The whole narrative of scripture is this idea of a God who seemed far off and separate from God’s people, but who comes near, who takes on the form of a human being so that God can be with us. We see it time and time again throughout scripture. A God who kneels down, face to face with the untouchable, marginalized, and oppressed, and touches them. God sees them. God hears them. God identifies with them. For Christ to have died on the cross, the ultimate symbol in Roman Culture of being cursed, is for Christ to identify with all that has been cursed. Christ created a new road. The reality is this, the samaritan didn’t go into the trenches because it was a good deed to check off the list. Rather, the Samaritan went into the trenches to the battered man and saw him. The Samaritan touched the man's broken and probably bleeding skin. The Samaritan bandaged the man’s wounds. The Samaritan, just as Christ does for us, identifies with the battered man. The Samaritan touched what was unclean and became unclean in an effort to build a better road for the man and those like him. 

All of us, every day, find ourselves in systems that we have inherited. Whether they be cultural norms, expectations from an organization, oppressive ideologies, and etc.  We find ourselves walking the same roads that those who have gone before us have walked. I do not believe it is helpful to demonize the individuals who find themselves walking on the various roads that they inherited that are paved by the machine. What happened to me was wrong. However, I do believe it is necessary for all of us to ask ourselves “Who is my neighbor?” and realize that most often, our neighbor is found in the faces and bodies of those we revile the most. The truth is this, “We aren't there yet” doesn’t allow for the opportunity to find another pathway. In fact, in saying “We aren’t there yet” encourages us to stay on the same road that was paved by the machine. “We aren’t there yet" refuses to identify with those who may be in the trenches, but the way of Jesus calls us to build a better road that reveals the glimpses of new possibilities and opportunities to explore.

So you find yourself walking on a road. It is winding and full of dips and curves. In certain parts it is bumpy and in other areas it is canopied by various trees. But then you stop. You come across a trench. I ask you, who do you find there and how will you identify with them to build a better road?