She asked that today as I was about to drive three women from our Open Table ministry at a church to the Salvation Army for their night’s stay. Nickea, with her stunning short and punked blue hair and dark skin and hot body, (from being on our New Orleans streets all day), was just sliding into the front seat of my little Scion xB when she saw that the other two ladies behind her happened to be Caucasian.
It is not 1940 or 1950 or 1960. It is July of 2017, in America, and Nickea still reflexively asked, “Do you want me to sit in the back?” I was stunned for several seconds. I drew close to her face and asked, “Do you really think I would do that?” She responded, “Well?”
Oh, (I had almost forgotten), a group of mostly white and privileged males did try really hard again today to get enough votes in the Senate of the “United” States of America to take healthcare assistance away from 20-30 million of us, because the economy needs our money. My wife and I have been on Affordable Healthcare for a year, along with about 24 million other Americans who need assistance to afford healthcare in America. Many of us who need this assistance are not Caucasians, and it seems the primary agenda of the past seven months for the “leaders” of our “United” States has been to find some way to save America by taking away our healthcare coverage.
Maybe Nickea has reason to think a woman of color is still supposed to sit in the back seat.
“Are you really okay with homosexuals in your church?”
I was at a coffee shop for my first get-acquainted visit with a lesbian woman who was new to the United Methodist church I was pastoring. She had attended worship several times with her partner. I had greeted them with hugs and invited them to assist in serving the weekly communion. Sure, I seemed like I was being open with them, but Amanda was having trouble believing it could be true.
She asked the question with fear and trepidation, as though I could have a secret plan to get them into the church for a few weeks before I suddenly hammered them with some kind of judgmental harassment, or attempts to covert them from their “immoral” ways, or could be setting them up for an embarrassing public rejection. Who knows what she was imagining, but she thought she better ask the question outright before they got too comfortable.
At first I laughed. (Not the most pastoral response). I thought she was kidding. I reached across the little coffee shop table for a quick hug and said, “Do I really seem like that kind of guy?”
When it hit me that she was serious, that this was no joke, I felt so very sad. This is not 1940, etc. In the twenty-first century a woman still has to ask if she and her partner are really welcome in a church, the same church which says we follow that guy who said, “When you do it to them, you do it to me.” She might as well have asked, “Do you want me to sit in the back?”
Oh, (I had almost forgotten), a white man was just elected Vice-President of the “United” States who supports “conversion therapy,” counselors trying to convert gay people into being straight. Could straight people be converted into being gay? Really? And I had almost forgotten that religious denominations still split apart over whether to treat the LGBTQ community as equals who can marry and become clergy like everyone else. I guess it is no wonder that Amanda had to ask if she should “sit in the back” of the church.
Sometimes contemplatives get mad and sad over the current state of things in the “United” States, just like others do. We feel what others feel. We react like others react. We become distressed when people still have to ask if they can just be treated as equals. And right there in the middle of our distress we really need our primary spiritual practice: opening our hearts to the Presence of the Source of Love, and holding the suffering of our beloved sisters and brothers in that inner Presence of the heart. We simply follow the Path in the middle of our sadness and anger, the Path of the One who said to “love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength, and to love your neighbors as yourselves.”
No, Nickea, and no, Amanda, neither of you have to sit in the back. Not in my car, or in my church. Not in God’s house either, which is this whole world. Listen closely now, both of you: you are the very beloved of God, as beloved as any of us. And how do I know? She just whispered it in my ear today!