A Time to Shout

She was shouting.
SHOUTING her head off, I tell you.
Her daughter was being tormented by a demon – tor-men-ted –
so she was just gonna keep shouting until someone listened to her.
Because she needed help.
And the only tool she had was her voice.
So she raised it.
Just as loud as she could.
To see if she could get Jesus’ attention
and Jesus’ help.

Now, the disciples weren’t too happy
with all of this shouting,
and they wanted to send her away, to get rid of her.
People were coming to them day and night for help,
and they much preferred the people who waited patiently and quietly,
the people who didn’t create too much of a scene.
But the Canaanite woman wasn’t about to pipe down and wait her turn.
She needed help, and she needed it now.
And she knew she and her daughter were worthy –
worthy of God’s love and of God’s healing power.

Now Jesus, who we would have expected
to override his disciples’ callousness,
ends up digging an even deeper hole.
He responds to the woman’s shouting, saying:
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
In other words: I’m not here for Canaanites.
In other words: You and your daughter really aren’t worth my time.
In other words: You are nobodies. Go away. Stop bothering me.
But, of course, the Canaanite woman wasn’t about to give up.
She wasn’t going to allow Jesus to ignore her.
And so she knelt down and asked again,
with great dignity,
for Jesus’ help.

And, to our great dismay,
Jesus makes a shocking reply.
He calls the woman a dog…
….a dog.
“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” he says.

Now just stop for a minute and breathe that in.
Gentle, sweet Jesus…calls this woman a dog?
Because she’s from a different ethnic group?
Because she is an outsider?
Because she is different?

Yet, even after this slap in the face,
the Canaanite woman nevertheless persisted.
She was determined to wrestle a blessing out of Jesus,
one way or another.

And so…she one-ups Jesus,
beating him at his own rhetorical game.
“If I were a dog,” she says,
“I’d at least receive the scraps from the table.”
I deserve at least that!

And in that very moment, Jesus seems to have a revelation.
Jesus suddenly sees the Canaanite woman
as whole and worthy –
not just worthy of crumbs, of scraps…but of the Kingdom.
Her persistence changes him,
and healing ensues.

–––––––––––-

Now, for some of us,
this episode might be a bit shocking.
We really don’t like to see Jesus in this light.
Jesus isn’t supposed to be churlish or exclusionary.
And even though Jesus repents and changes his mind in the end,
this passage still paints a pretty deeply unflattering picture.

Even more,
some of us may be disturbed by this depiction
of a woman groveling for recognition,
then being subjected to verbal abuse,
and having to beg simply to receive
what is her due as a child of God.
And even though she persisted and changed Jesus’ mind,
is this really any model to elevate in our time and place?

So…what are we to make of this passage?
And even more:
what are we to make of it in light of the large-scale
acts of hate and violence that have yet again
taken center-stage in our national life?

One of the most powerful features of this passage, as I see it,
is that the Canaanite woman wasn’t afraid to tell the truth.
She wasn’t afraid to shout loudly against
discrimination and disenfranchisement.
She wasn’t afraid to claim her worth,
even in the face abuse and rejection.
She was unwilling to be diminished.
And she was willing to shout about it, until things changed.

And so I wonder:
What are you willing to shout about?
What do you feel compelled to shout about?
And who might need you to shout with them…
…to help their voice be heard?

––––––––––

This week,
Claire sent an email to the staff,
asking us to come up with a new banner for the churchyard wall,
in response to the violent enactment of white supremacy
in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend.

As the staff brainstormed together for a bit,
I recalled a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer
that I thought might be appropriate.
Abridged, it goes like this:

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.
Not to speak is to speak.
Not to act is to act.”

Lauri Cielo mocked-up a banner design,
and as we all deliberated about the result,
we got just a little bit nervous
about putting the banner up on the wall.

What would the neighbors think?
Was the language a bit too strong? Divisive rather than uniting?
Would we alienate people who might otherwise be allies
by being too pushy?

Given the staff’s collective uncertainty about the best approach to take,
we could have easily talked ourselves into speechlessness,
into saying nothing…or at least into delaying a decision about what to say.
But we pushed forward.

As I continued to think about the banner, however,
…my concern shifted, moving from worry about offensiveness
to worry about the potential for inauthenticity.
I worried that it might be disingenuous
to put up such a strongly worded banner about taking action
when we have no plans, as of now, for collective action as a church.

And so…I again nearly talked myself into speechlessness,
or into coming up with something milder and softer and less assertive.

But as I thought more about it,
I realized that putting up a banner about actively resisting evil
would be just as much a challenge
for those of us who gather inside these walls
as it would be for those who pass by them.
And I realized that such a challenge might be very, very good for us.
Indeed: perhaps we need to display just this kind of message
to challenge and goad ourselves
into undertaking bold, concerted, collective action.

––––––––––-

This past Wednesday night,
there was a protest march
sponsored by POWER, our local interfaith social justice organization, entitled:
Philly is Charlottesville – Unmasking White Supremacy.
Did anyone here participate?

I wasn’t there, but I heard it was powerful.
I had a million excuses, and ultimately, I didn’t end up going.
I’m not proud of that.

You see: I’ve always had trouble engaging with marches and protests.
And maybe you have, too.
I so easily fall prey to critiquing actions before they’ve even started:
talking myself out of participating
by deconstructing their premises and procedures in advance.

I often tend wonder, along with an excellent article
in this week’s New Yorker:
“Is protest a productive use of our political attention?
Or is it just a bit of social theatre we perform
to make ourselves feel virtuous, useful, and in the right?”

Now: I’m certainly not here to browbeat anyone.
Instead of protesting, I went to physical therapy,
sat on a park bench and drank some kombucha,
and then met up with several of our St. Peter’s young adults for dinner.
I opted out.
And I’m confessing that to you.

And I’m confessing, in part,
because I’d like to do things differently in the future.
I’d like to be a political participant, rather than a bench-warmer.
Yet I still often find myself wondering:
Is protest simply “politics transmitted into pastime?”
Does protest really DO or accomplish anything?

Now, I say all of this not to disparage or discount protest.
Protests have an important role to play,
and I hope I’ll decide to go next time.
But protest is never enough.

So what comes next???
How do we get where we want to go?
And where is it, exactly, that we want to be going?

Figuring this out is a really important part
of moving toward meaningful collective action.
We all believe, I would guess, that white supremacy is bad.
Some of us might even have been tempted to use
the social media hashtag #ThisIsNotUs
in the aftermath of Charlottesville.
And yet, what this hashtag communicates
is a fundamental misunderstanding
of how white supremacy works.
Because white supremacy benefits all white people,
and it is structured into the very fabric of our public life.
Yet it is also invisible to most white people, most of the time.
White supremacy functions particularly in and through institutional racism:
the fancy name for entrenched, racialized disparities
in housing, education, and criminal justice.
Racism ends up embedded in systems rather than primarily in individuals.

It would be so much easier, of course,
if white supremacy were just about some pitiful neo-Nazis
whose ideology and violence we could
condemn and sanction and then dismiss.
But white supremacy is far more insidious
and far more pervasive than that.
So undoing it requires much more than simple denunciation,
much more than protest.

If we’re going to speak out, then,
we have to be pretty clear about what we want
and about what needs to change.
We have to be a bit like the Canaanite woman…
…asking ourselves questions, like:
From what do we need to be healed?
For what dreamed-of future do we need to be liberated?
In order to speak clearly and powerfully and decisively
about change,
we have to have thoroughly envisioned the world that we want to live in.

Vision, then, is a huge part
of what’s missing from our national discourse right now.
We’ve lost track of our capacity to imagine the world
differently than it currently is.
We’re so mired in anxiety,
that we’ve forgotten that we have
a God who heals,
a God who makes all things new – even you and me

In our text today, we see old boundaries being broken down
and things being made new…even and especially for Jesus.

But all of this change required a person
who was unwilling to accept the status quo.
A person who could envision something different.
Who could envision a world in which she wasn’t a second-class citizen.
Whose need for change was potent and personal enough –
her daughter’s suffering –
that she was willing to raise hell to bring something new into being.

This, then, is the challenge of the Canaanite woman to us.
Are we aware enough of the demon that is afflicting US to rail against it?
To shout at the top of our lungs?
To do everything we can to find healing for ourselves and our world?

For many of us – especially many white people –
the pain just hasn’t felt sufficiently acute,
just hasn’t hit close enough to home,
just hasn’t become all that personal.

So while we may be very willing to denounce white supremacists.
But we may not be quite ready to renounce
the many implicit benefits of white supremacy.
We’re not quite ready to dismantle the system.

And whether we like it or not, this IS a faith issue.
People have died, are dying, and will die
because of our silence.

So…do you want to be healed?
How loud will you shout?
And when will you begin?

Amen.

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