What kind of world do we live in?
It would be GREAT if we all lived in a Ferris Bueller world. Everything always works out for Ferris. No matter how deep a hole he gets himself into, somehow he finds a way out. If only life could be like that for everyone. Instead, we seem to be trapped in a world of “isms” – ageism, sexism, racism just to name a few. But it shouldn’t be this way. To quote the sage himself, Ferris Bueller, “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.” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off might seem like a simple teenage comedy, but it’s also a poignant statement about finding value in yourself and in others. And while Ferris himself probably wouldn’t put it this way, his story is a reflection of the idea that every person is of sacred worth and deserving of being valued and loved. It’s too bad we still haven’t learned that lesson.
It’s been over 50 years since LBJ gave his famous “We Shall Overcome” speech.
Over 50 years since he gave voice to racism in America and called it out as President of the United States. The Civil Rights Act had been passed the year before, but many refused to abide by the law of the land. And in this speech he gave on the Ides of March, 1965, he holds up a mirror to the nation for them all to see how far we had yet to go. Sadly, reading his words today, they are words he could speak right now and they would sound the same. As Santayana once famously wrote, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It appears we have not learned from the past. Listen to these words from President Johnson and see for yourself how relevant they are today:
“Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right. Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes.
Every device of which human ingenuity is capable has been used to deny this right. The Negro citizen may go to register only to be told that the day is wrong, or the hour is late, or the official in charge is absent. And if he persists, and if he manages to present himself to the registrar, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle name or because he abbreviated a word on the application. And if he manages to fill out an application he is given a test. The registrar is the sole judge of whether he passes this test. He may be asked to recite the entire Constitution, or explain the most complex provisions of state law. And even a college degree cannot be used to prove that he can read and write.
For the fact is that the only way to pass these barriers is to show a white skin.
Experience has clearly shown that the existing process of law cannot overcome systematic and ingenious discrimination.”
Meaning: We can convince ourselves we aren’t racist while being racist.
Today racism is being disguised as “election integrity” or “antifraud legislation,” but it’s just racism in sheep’s clothing. All of the ways LBJ described systemic racism are STILL being used today and those who invoke those reasons are STILL hiding behind a veneer of “protecting the public” to hide their racism – but protect it from what? Study after study shows that we have one of the most secure systems of democracy in the world so what are we being protected from? Voting was fine as long as they were winning, but when the system doesn’t go their way, racist people all over the country hide behind “election integrity” and other nonsense to justify their racist agenda. They probably even believe it. Because we are really good at hiding racism – even from ourselves. Like the Montana man who tried to form a new “racially inclusive” branch of the KKK. John Abarr said that in his chapter of the Ku Klux Klan people of any race, religion, or sexual orientation could 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 just goes to prove we can convince ourselves of anything.
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. We couch it in pretty words. We even convince ourselves we mean it. We talk about “national security” and “protecting our borders” and “keeping American safe” to hide racist attitudes. And if we’re not careful, we will keep perpetuating this same kind of racist thinking by passing it on to your kids. It says something about us as a nation when Caucasian children think of their ethnicity as “American.” One time when I went on a field trip with Emma’s class, one of the kids asked Emma “where she came from” and Emma said, “Georgia.” And the kid said, “No, I mean like are you Chinese or something?” So Emma answered, “Oh, I’m Japanese, but I have some American Indian and some English and some other stuff, too. What about you?” And I’ll never forget this boy’s response. He said, “I’m American.” I couldn’t stop myself. I said, “Emma’s American, too. So am I. We were all born here.” As if he was unclear, the 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. 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 being our reading today. Hear now the Word of God.
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.” – John 7:45-52
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 version of the 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 and starts shouting the other humans should just go and kill all those dumb apes since this whole thing is their fault, but even when somebody brings up the fact it was a human being who created the plague and a human being who spread 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 human fear that drove them to persecute the apes. Not anything logical or rational or justifiable. Prejudice doesn’t need facts, just fear.
We must always be on our guard for racism dressed up in sheep’s clothing.
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. Using those words is dangerous because it starts to train our minds to thinking of people not as individuals of sacred worth, but 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, he died for justice – and mercy and grace for all.
We have not yet overcome the spectre of racism.
We still have a long way to go. But if we are to remain faithful to Christ, we must never give up this fight. We CAN do it, but it will take a willingness within us to speak out against racism and to see it in ourselves. If we want to live in a Ferris Bueller world where all persons are valued and have sacred worth, we need to do more. How can we as individuals, as a church, and as the people of Christ do more for those experiencing the kind of racial animus happening in the world today? We can start with ourselves. Take time to pray about your own worldviews. Where might be your blindspots? Who are you not treating as a person of sacred worth? And challenge yourself to do better. We can’t change everyone, but if we all worked on ourselves, the world would be a better place.