The Myth of the Melting Pot

As shown in Sacvan Bercovitch’s The American Jeremiad, a ton of damage was done to the future United States of America through the preaching that happened on ships like Arbella as it crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1630.  Setting the colonial experiment up as the choice grain, sifted from the evil chaff in England and planted by God in the New World, the foundational narratives of colonialism (and therefore the United States from which they were born) has been one of eisegesis, presupposing God’s blessing upon the colonies and a fictional biblical narrative for our expansion and development.  As such, it isn’t too far of a stretch to see how some of Paul’s most famous words, found in Galatians 3 and appointed for this Sunday, have been used to create this image of American homogeneity, commonly referred to, at least since 1908, as “the melting pot.”

In the play, “The Melting Pot,” that popularized the term, the Galatians 3 passage is expanded upon to include all kinds of ways in which we might divide ourselves as people. “Celt and Latin, Slav and Teuton, Greek and Syrian,—black and yellow—/Jew and Gentile—/Yes, East and West, and North and South, the palm and the pine, the pole and the equator, the crescent and the cross…”  The vision of David, the play’s hero, is a world in which all ethnicity fades away such that we are all one in the “Republic of Man and the Kingdom of God.”  In contemporary society, we often hear this dream articulated by those who “don’t see color.”  While I would agree that the telos of racial healing is a world in which we all share power equally and in which all are born with the same opportunities available to them, this idea of a melting pot falls short when the base into we are all expected to melt is white, male, heteronormativity and all other cultural expressions are expected to just evaporate away.

Despite Paul’s deep Jewish roots, I think it is safe to say that his image of being one in Christ Jesus isn’t based on an assumption of assimilation to a prevailing culture. Rather, as we hear through his letters and the stories about him in Acts, Paul seems quite comfortable adapting the message of Jesus to the cultural context in which he finds himself. So, as you prepare to preach Galatians 3 this week, dear reader, please be careful not to assume Paul is defining Christianity exclusively in a way that looks, acts, sings, and loves like you do. Rather, I encourage you to lift up the vast diversity that is welcome within what it means to be one in Christ Jesus.

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Caught Unexpectedly

I’ve long since decided that social media is bad for your health.  Yet, like my love for potato chips, I keep at it.  Day after day.  I scroll through my newsfeeds, filled with anger, arrogance, and vitriol.  It certainly doesn’t bring as much satisfaction as the crisp of a kettle cooked and salted to perfection chip, but addicted as I am, my thumb slides, almost as if uncontrolled by my brain, up, and up, and up.

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At some point, it seemed like I had seen it all.  Obama didn’t do this.  Trump did that.  Hilary and Mitch did this or that.  If I wasn’t addicted to the swipe, I’d certainly be hooked on the anger.  The rage cycle is designed to keep us coming back so that the advertisers can get eyeballs on their links.  I’d probably gotten to the point of ennui, If I’m honest.  I couldn’t get angry one more time.  I couldn’t be sad again.  It was all, in the great biblical euphemism, vanity.  Yet, like a dog to its own vomit, I keep going back.

And then it happened.  I was caught unexpectedly by the image of a mother and who two young children, running away from a grenade of billowing smoke designed to sear the eyes and lungs.  What do I do with this information?  How do I react?  What do I feel?  I had nothing.  I was angry, sad, horrified, and embarrassed all at the same time.  I knew as a leader of a faith community that I was being called to say something, but I had no idea what.  So I posted this:

When words fail, I’m grateful for the wisdom contained in our BCP:‬
‪“Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us…”‬
‪And if you could take away tear gas, that’d be good too.‬
‪Amen.‬

Then, I opened the readings for Sunday and I saw this warning from Jesus, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.”  He is talking about the eschaton here, but I think maybe he’s talking generically as well.  Don’t let that day, or any day, catch you unexpectedly.  There will come times when your faith will lead to you question the world in which you live.  Don’t be weighed down by worry, frivolity, or the swipe of your right thumb.  Don’t be so used to the noise that you miss the cries of the oppressed.  I still don’t know what to do or what to say, but I know that I can still pray.

Almighty God, tear down the walls that separate us, human beings divided and enslaved by sin, and gather us up on the banner of your Son, the Prince of Peace, the King of kings, and the hope of all humanity.  Amen.

So Poverty Then…

Last week it was divorce.  This week, poverty.  What’s next, infanticide?  The Lectionary… well, actually, Jesus… won’t give us a break with these tough texts.  I can already hear the range of sermons that will be preached on Sunday.  They’ll run from, “Jesus wasn’t really talking about money,” to “Jesus was really only talking to this one guy, not making a universal statement,” to “Jesus expects everything from us,” to “Jesus was a communist.”  If you wanted to get a full understanding of the range of practice and belief in American Christianity, the sermons this Sunday will give you a glimpse of the truth that “neither height nor depth… can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus,” but it sure can separate us from each other.

This Sunday’s text is an interesting one as it follows on the heels of The Feast of Francis of Assisi on October 4th.  Francis chose a life of voluntary poverty.  Simply put, he begged for Christ.  At Draughting Theology last week, we spent our hour discussing Francis and what he means for 21st Century American Christians.  It was an interesting conversation because, early on, we decided that only a small handful, like maybe two people, in the whole world were living the Franciscan lifestyle.  Not even the Franciscans are doing it.  They know where their next meal is coming from… heck, the order even owns property.  Parish priests are comfortable by the world’s standards.  (Yes, even this lowly Associate, Saint Paul’s treats me very well).  Not even Mother Theresa, for all her blessed work, lived a life worthy of Saint Francis.

So, Poverty then… What are we to do with it?  I’m not 100% sure, but I think it falls somewhere between “Jesus wasn’t talking about money” and “Jesus was a communist.”  Beyond that, I’m a) glad I’m not preaching again this week, b) wondering how my Rector will handle this in light of my daughter’s baptism this Sunday, and c) going to spend the week pondering it all anyway.

I invite your thoughts.