Most preachers are not very humble even if they seem to be on the surface. As my son once remarked, you have to have some kind of crazy to get up every Sunday and claim you have a Word from the Lord. Yes, that is true. You also have to have a certain amount of stubbornness given the amount of criticism we take as well. All that to say that over time, we build up a hard exterior to protect our hearts. It was not until a few weeks ago that I realized the hard exterior also keeps us from developing as spiritual leaders. At some point we kind of stop. We lack the vulnerability and humility to move deeper into our spiritual journey. We somehow think we know it all and if someone suggests we have more to learn, we roll our eyes.
Last week, I was prompted to take a test on spiritual maturity. It wasn’t my first time to take one. Usually, the results are very disappointing. My spiritual life moved very little over time. So yesterday, I went through the questions again and this time, something had changed. There was a patience that was not present three years ago. There was a willingness to adapt that had not been around for a long time. I’m looking at the results and wondering what changed and why did I not notice it until now. Was it COVID? No, it was definitely not the pandemic. If anything, COVID precautions provided a step backward. Something had move me forward and I could not put my finger on it…until last Monday night.
Every Monday night I gather with fellow disciples and we walk through a discipleship study. We have done a variety of studies over the past four plus years so there is enough trust to tackle the big stuff. For the last six weeks, we have been walking through the video series and study guide of Jemar Tisby’s Color of Compromise, a history of the complicity in the American church regarding racism, slavery, and Jim Crow. I read the book when it first came out in 2018 and watched the videos when they launched but it is the first time we have view it in our small group. For those who watch it the first time, it is hard. We know bits and pieces from our study of history and our experience of the church but Tisby lays it out bare here and sometimes you just get sick watching it. You recognize your church. You see your own arrogance in thinking you already understood all this. WEll, maybe you do but not me.
As we began talking through last Monday’s lesson on the rise of Jim Crow, I realized what had changed. When I moved here in 2018, I had just begun reading about black history but has become my passion for the last four years. Until this week, I had not realized it had become a spiritual discipline. As I grieved through the stories of the Tulsa Massacre, the dormitory fire at Wrightsville, Arkansas in 1959, the unjust sentencing differentials for drug offenses between white and black offenders, and the history of lynching and bombings, it was more than my heart could bear. When you add that to the church’s role in rebranding and promoting our losses in the Civil War as the “Lost Cause” and the sheer evil we have done in the name of God, whatever defenses I once held, crumbled. All I could do is place myself before God and beg for forgiveness and change.
The psalmist declared “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:17. God finally had me exactly where the Spirit needed me to be. It did its work. It is not finished but at least it is a start.
I know, many people roll their eyes when I speak of racial justice. Either that, or they complain to their neighbor, “There she goes again.” Like me, you probably think you have heard it all and it is unhelpful. Or maybe you have struggled with the issue already. I have a suggestion for a different way to spent Lent – read about something you judge. Read about something that causes you to roll your eyes. Read about something that makes you uncomfortable. Maybe it is black history, or gay rights, or being transgendered, or even the Japanese internment. Maybe God will use something else to crack you open and bring you to your knees. Facing my own ignorance is what it took for me.