Wouldn’t it be great to live in a Ferris Bueller world?
Everything always seems to work out for Ferris. No matter what the problem is, it always works out. The movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, is one of my favorites. The ironic thing is that I didn’t even want to see it. My friends had to convince me to go see it. Typically, I am not a big fan of teenage comedies where they usually act obnoxious or rude or ignorant or a combination of all three and yet somehow end up on top. But this one was different and I ended up loving it! Ferris is a high school senior who has decided to take a day off from school. So at the beginning of the movie he goes into this great monologue where he talks directly to the audience about how to fake out your parents and he says to us, “I do have a test today… It’s on European socialism. I mean really. What’s the point? I’m not European. I’m not planning on being European, so who (cares) if they’re socialist. They could be fascist anarchists. It still wouldn’t change the fact that I don’t own a car. Not that I condone fascism or any “ism” for that matter. “Ism’s” in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an “ism,” he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon. “I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.” A good point there, after all he was the walrus. I could be the walrus, I’d still have to bum rides off of people.” That line that Ferris used about “ism’s” has always stuck with me, because it’s so true. Society tends to group people into “ism’s” – racism, ageism, sexism – and makes judgments about individuals based solely on these huge group criteria. If we instead evaluated people based on their individuality, the world would be a better place.
(WARNING: There is some sensitive language in the video below – it is rated PG-13)
Our sermon series over the next few weeks is called “The ‘ism’ Factor.”
And in it we’re going to take a look at the three “ism’s” I just named – racism, ageism, and sexism – to see what the state of the world is like today and to challenge ourselves to do better. Even though none of these are new topics, it’s a good idea for us to take stock of where we are from time-to-time to make sure we’re still on track, still heading in the direction we hope to go. Because it’s too easy to delude ourselves into thinking that the problem is solved or to think that there isn’t a part we can play in it. With Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday being celebrated tomorrow, I thought it would be a good idea to look at the first of these three together – racism.
Racism is like a disease, because the more we fight it, the more it goes underground.
Racism is like a disease, the more we fight it, the more it goes underground. Most people don’t consider themselves racist. It has become such a negative moniker that to be associated with it has become taboo. Even those that are racist have probably convinced themselves that they are not. Like the Montana man who is trying to form a new “racially inclusive” branch of the KKK. John Abarr is forming a new chapter of the Ku Klux Klan that will allow people of any race, religion, or sexual orientation to become members. But many, including other members of the KKK, question his sincerity and his beliefs. Abarr still wants to be affiliated with the KKK and wear the traditional white robes and hoods, but the idea being that underneath one of those hoods could be an African-American, a Jew, or even a homosexual. It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking we aren’t racist. In college, my friends and I used to joke that people about to insult another group of people would start off by saying, “You know, some of my best friends are (black, white, gay, women, whatever you want to put in there)…” as if that disclaimer makes it alright to insult “the rest of them.”
But it’s that kind of thinking we have to be on guard against.
It’s too easy to ignore the signs of racism and prejudice within ourselves when we do things like that. It’s too easy to think “Well, they’re not ALL like that” and then say something insulting anyway. Or it’s too easy to recategorize our prejudice by using other terms to cover for our racism. Words like “national security” and “protecting our borders” and “keeping American safe” are great ways of hiding racist attitudes. Sometimes we pass them onto our kids without even realizing it. It reveals something about us as a nation when Caucasian children think of their ethnicity as “American.” One time, and I can’t remember exactly when this happened, but Emma was talking with one of her classmates. I think we were on a field trip, and one of the kids asked Emma “where she came from” and Emma said, “Georgia.” And the kid said, “No, I mean like where did your parents come from” and I knew where this was headed. Emma, realizing what the kid actually meant to say said, “Oh, my dad’s Japanese and my mom’s part European and part American Indian.” So Emma asked him, “What are you?” And the kid said, “I’m American.” And I couldn’t stop myself. I said, “Emma’s American, too. So am I. So are my parents even. We were all born and raised here.” The little boy said, “No, but I’m American-American.” It breaks my heart that this child has no sense of ethnic identity and worries me that he thinks he’s “more American” than us. It’s that kind of thinking that is at the root of racism. This kind of “insider-outsider” mentality. We see that in our reading today from the Bible. If you go to John chapter 7 beginning with verse 45 in your Bibles or your Bible app on your phone, we’ll begin there today. John 7:45. This passage isn’t particularly about racism, but it is about how easily we shift our excuses to fit our way of thinking. It’s about how we fail to recognize the fear and the ignorance within ourselves and instead shift the blame to other people. In this passage, the Pharisees have sent the temple guards to arrest Jesus, presumably for heresy but even that is unclear. What is clear is that the Pharisees are intimidated by Jesus. The people are starting to come around and believe in him and they couldn’t have that. So they send the guards out to capture Jesus and they come back empty-handed. That’s where we begin our reading today.
45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”
46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.
47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”
50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”
52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”
Excuses, excuses, excuses.
Not once do the Pharisees consider that the guards had something meaningful to contribute. When the guards told them that “no one ever spoke the way this man does” immediately they revert to “You mean he has deceived you also?” As if there couldn’t be any other explanation. Then the Pharisees cry out that the whole mob must be cursed! There’s no other explanation in their already closed minds that it could be anything else. Even when one of their own speaks up against the injustice he’s seeing in front of his eyes, when Nicodemus cries out for a fair hearing, they reply, “Are you from Galilee, too?” In a way threatening him to being outcast simply for having a different view. Suddenly Nicodemus has become a “sympathizer,” a “Galilean lover” instead of a Pharisee who sees other Pharisees giving in to prejudice and hatred. It reminds me of a scene from the new movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes where most of humanity was wiped out by an epidemic but left the apes on the planet much smarter than they were before. This one guy starts getting hysterical in the movie and starts shouting that they should just go and kill all those dumb apes since this whole thing is their fault, but even when somebody brings up the fact that it was a human being who created the plague and a human being who spread it and a human being who caused it, the crowd starts to get riled up against the apes who up to this point in the movie have done nothing against the humans. It was simply their fear – their fear about something different, their fear about losing control, their fear of the unknown that fed their irrational beliefs as it did for these Pharisees and as it often does for us today.
We must always be on our guard for racism dressed up in sheep’s clothing.
We must always be on our guard for racism dressed up in sheep’s clothing. And we must be willing to say something when we hear those kinds of remarks, especially when they come out of the mouths of people we know and love. If WE can’t speak to them about what they say and how they act, then who can? We need to take daily stock of our own prejudices and biases to prevent ourselves from slipping unintentionally into attitudes that promote racism, bigotry, or prejudice. Key words to notice when talking about any group of people are “always,” “never,” “all,” or “none.” Key words to notice are “always,” “never,” “all,” or “none.” Using these words should be a warning to us that we’re about to make an assessment not on a person we know, but on an entire group of people we don’t. You could argue that what you’re about to say or just said is “generally” true, but whether it is or not, it’s still a dangerous place to go because it’s that kind of thinking that takes us away from viewing people as individuals of sacred worth, to nameless, faceless objects not worthy of our attention. Above all, we need to remember that before we talk about “those people” no matter who “those people” are, we ARE “those people.” We are all children of God. We are all persons of sacred worth. And Jesus didn’t die for just us, but for justice and mercy and grace for all. Jesus didn’t die for just us, he died for justice and mercy and grace for all.
When I was six was the first time I realized my ethnicity made me different.
Some kid did the whole “Chinese, Japanese” song and it actually made me cry. Thank God for Mrs. Dominguez who busted that kid for his insensitivity. For a while, I’d get insulted like that or called names about once a year. When I was in high school, some guy yelled at me from his car while I was on my bike headed to school, “Go back to China you (insert ethnic slur here).” And I thought that if he was going to take time to insult me, he should at least get it right. Those slurs slowed down over the years, increasing in length between them. The last time I heard one directed at me was about eight years ago. I remember because Emma was in the car along with Cassie and Eve while these jerks drove by yelling out the window, “Ching chong ching chong!” Again, not getting it right. But I pray every day that Emma doesn’t have to ever feel hurt by the irrational hatred of others. LBJ promised us in a speech he made nearly 50 years ago that we shall overcome. I pray for that day for us all when bigotry and hatred become a thing of the past. When we don’t give in to fear and prejudice and irrational thinking and instead embrace the love that Christ wanted for us all. Let us be intentional in our words and our deeds. Let us take the time to examine what we say and what we do. And let us be a shining example to our kids, our communities, and our country of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.