Beloved St. John’s community,
What does it mean to be a Christian?
That name has been used in such powerfully different ways by such a vast array of people across time and space, including within our own country in 2020, that it can be hard to answer that question. Being a Christian can’t be reduced to any one issue, including dismantling racism. It is a much bigger, broader, more life-giving and expansive identity. It is simply a relationship with the living God, reflected in Jesus and experienced through the Spirit, that impacts us powerfully for transformation and love. It is a way of life that has distinct practices. It is inherently communal—even if you knew no one else who is a Christian, you’d still be connected with what we call the communion of saints across time and space who surround us all through the potent bond that is God’s Spirit.
But being a Christian is always incarnational. It is always embodied, in specific times and places. In the gospels, Jesus healed so many people. Very often he said, “your faith has saved you.” But what salvation looked like varied greatly from person to person. For the paralyzed man lowered to Jesus from his friends on the roof, it looked like both healing and forgiveness. For blind Bartimaeus, it looked like restored sight. For Zacchaeus, it meant the opportunity to make amends for his fraud and theft. For Peter who denied Jesus, it looked like the opportunity to affirm his love for Jesus once again—three times, the number of times he denied Jesus—and to devote the rest of his life to Jesus, humbled and forgiven and empowered.
My point about the Way of Jesus being incarnational is that we are called to respond to the specific needs of people and the earth in our time. For William Wilberforce, that meant opposing the slave trade. For Mother Theresa, it meant serving the poorest of the poor in India. For Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it meant separating from the mainstream church and affirming that Jesus was Lord of all—which meant that his loyalty to Jesus forbade loyalty to Hitler, and for which he gave his life.
In every time and place, we know what Jesus’ mission is, as he expressed it to the people of his hometown in Nazareth:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ (Luke 4:18-19).
Jesus declares that God is love. Through the strange and incredible stories of scripture, we see in countless ways that God is constantly working for the wholeness and wellbeing of all people—a salvation that is not just spiritual but physical and emotional and social.
In our time and place, there are a few needs that are acute. Minnesota has some of the greatest standard of living disparities between white people and people of color in the nation. We can see that racism is alive and well in police practices, immigration policies and in many other ways. Our nation is also facing the national election this November, which matters very greatly. I believe that to be a Christian means to dismantle systems of domination which violate the earth, black and indigenous people, women, immigrants, and children, beginning with ourselves. And of course, being a Christian is more than that. It is about engaging the beautiful practices of the Way of Jesus – turn, learn, pray, worship, bless, go, and rest—so that we are not just against something. We are for what God is for—a radical love experienced as connection with all of life, and for which we eschew self-centeredness, hoarding, dominance, and apathy.
But because we can’t do all things, what are the few things that Jesus calls us to do right now?
The answer has two parts. First, I and a small team who led the Sunday morning and Wednesday night discussions about dismantling racism are discerning what anti-racism steps we sense God’s Spirit inviting St. John’s to make. We are taking into account everything we heard, as well as all the feedback you provided in the Dismantling Racism survey we sent out (you can still provide your feedback if you haven’t had the chance yet). We will be inviting the whole community to discuss these steps, add your comments and feedback, within the next month. Stay tuned.
Second, I believe we are called to remain grounded in scripture, prayer, and community, even as we discern what particular steps God asks us to take with regard to dismantling racism and caring for the earth. Therefore, St. John’s is going to launch “100 days of prayer”—from September 1 through December 8, which is the day election disputes must be finalized.
During these 100 days of prayer, I am asking each and every St John’s member to pray for 8 minutes and 46 seconds each day, the length of time Officer Chauvin’s knee was on George Floyd’s neck. That time can symbolize all the violence and oppression that has ever been committed—not just racism, but sexual violence, degradation of the planet, caging Central American children, all of the great evils that are committed. During these minutes, pray for all in our country. Pray for the upcoming election, and for every person to be able to vote. Pray for our elected leaders. Pray for God’s Spirit to heal the soul of our nation. Pray for Minnesota. Pray for the church. Pray that we will hear what the Spirit is asking of us, and that we will have the courage and strength to do what God asks of us.
Eight minutes and 46 seconds is the amount of time that Don and Sondra Samuels asked people to pray in the tent in North Minneapolis during their “Healing Our City” 30 days of prayer in July. We are picking up the baton, and seeking ways to connect through our prayer with our partners in North Minneapolis, including Liberty Community Church and the Healing Space, the Northside Achievement Zone, Circle of the Beloved, Alafia Foundation, St. Andrews Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church in Minnesota. We of course must do more than pray. But for us as Christians who follow Jesus, all our discernment and action must remain grounded in prayer and in the power and presence of God.
During these 100 days you can subscribe to a daily email by emailing Rachel Svihel. This email will have a short scripture or prayer and a few questions for contemplation. These short meditations will also appear on the St. John’s public and members-only Facebook pages, and will live in a page on our website (more information about this will be forthcoming shortly).
Let us walk together in Jesus’ Way of Love toward God’s great Shalom, the holistic wellbeing of all people. Let us love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength. Let us love our neighbors as ourselves. Let us pray, and through our prayer, discern how God’s Spirit is calling us to act.