The Son of This Slave Woman

The Son of This Slave Woman

Rev. Dave Fekete, Ph.D.

June 21, 2020

Genesis 21:8-21                                  Matthew 10:24-39                                           Psalm 86

            The readings from this week’s lectionary are extremely timely.  Well, they were written thousands of years ago.  But they are current, timely.  I write this talk conscious of the upheaval going on in the US.  But I am a Canadian Permanent Resident, and I write also conscious of my Canadian home.  The issue of these readings is privilege.  When Sarah says, “the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac,” she is claiming privilege for her son.  Hagar’s son Ishmael was of a different race from Sarah’s son Isaac.  Ishmael was Arab, Isaac was an Israelite.  Further, Ishmael was the son of a slave.  Isaac was the son of a free Israelite.  Sarah doesn’t want her slave’s son to share in the prosperity of her privileged son.

The parallels with the racial issues surfacing in the US are clear.  Protesters are talking about systemic racism.  And a primary indicator of systemic racism is the wage disparity between white Americans and Americans of color.  Another salient issue is the disparity in policing between white Americans and Americans of color.  The murders of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and Breonna Taylor by police are but three examples of countless cases that people of color know about in their day to day lives.  A newscaster on TV brought up the fact that an African-American senator had been pulled over by the police seven times in the past year.  A US senator!  Then the newscaster looked straight into the camera and asked, “How many times were you pulled over last year?”  I haven’t been pulled over for about seven years.  And that time was because the Canadian police didn’t have a record of my US driver’s license before I got a Canadian license.  But this US senator had been pulled over seven times in one year for no other reason, apparently, than the color of his skin.

I suspect that I may be losing my Canadian friends at this point as I am talking about the US.  For Canada, our reading from Matthew seems more appropriate.  In Canada, we aren’t seeing protests but that doesn’t mean we’re insulated from racial injustice.  I think the line from Matthew 10:26 applies to life here, “for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.”  We don’t see racism in Canada because we are in the majority, what would be called privileged.  But even here, downstairs in this very church, we had a Muslim woman speaker who said some disturbing words.  She said people here in Edmonton tell her to go home, just because of the color of her skin and her religion.  And she was born in Canada.  Go home means stay in Canada!  She told us that she is scared for the wellbeing of her son, because of the color of his skin and his religion.  Carol’s own hairdresser, a Canadian of East-Indian decent, told her that when he and his friends went into a diner in Red Dear, the whole white crowd of customers were staring at him and his friends.  They left without ordering.

And in Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began in 2007.  That’s one year after I got here.  The Truth and reconciliation Commission was established to repair the damage from the Residential Schools.  The Residential Schools were set up to systematically destroy the Indigenous culture and spirituality.  To eradicate every vestige of Native life and to replace it with the culture of white Christianity.  Practically every Christian denomination was involved in the systematic obliteration of First Nations.  Children of children of the Residential Schools are still suffering the effects of the schools.  Their parents, who were interred in the schools didn’t grow up in families.  They grew up in huge dormitories with little sanitary facilities.  The Residential Schools largely succeeded.  Many spirits of First Nations individuals have been crushed.  Hence, their parenting skills are often diminished.  Life on reservations is often impoverished, some even lack adequate drinking water.  I’ve heard Canadians tell me that the government sends plenty of money to the reservations but the chiefs keep it all for themselves.  I know a chief who told me he made $30,000 when he was serving his Nation.  When I toured Blue Quills University in Saddle Lake, I noticed a stack of fliers that read, “Do you know anyone who has been murdered, or have you heard of anyone who was murdered?”  Then there was a number to call and an office set up to deal with these murders.  The fliers were just sitting there on the table.  Have you yourself ever in your life seen a flier asking you if you know someone who was murdered?  Then giving you a number to call?  What does that say?

These issues I have been discussing are our symbolic father.  They are the culture we have inherited.  They are the society that has given us birth and these issues are the issues we have been brought up in.  It is for this reason that Jesus says,

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

The voices that are rising up in the US are the sword of truth.  In Swedenborg’s system of symbolism, a sword stands for truth.  Jesus does not bring peace when there are festering wounds infecting society.  Then Jesus calls us to set ourselves against our father, mother, and household when that family is diseased with injustice.

In Canada, we have issues of racial injustice, but no mass protests.  It was a brave teen-aged girl who used her smart phone to record the murder of George Floyd that set off the powder keg in the US.  We don’t have something like that smart phone recording here in Canada.  Though the power of privilege and racial injustices are rampant under the peaceful surface of Canadian society.

“Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  That sword of truth is intended to cut through the peaceful surface of unjust social structures.  And we need to be swordsmen and women.  It is our duty to seek out the truth and to become informed.  I think it’s easy to go with what we’ve always heard.  It’s easy to go with opinions about issues that may not be true.  I personally know people in Canada who think that Muslim women like Salima are trying to overturn the Canadian legal system and replace it with Sharia Law.  They think this especially about refugees from war torn middle eastern countries.  It is opinions like this that need to be measured against the sword of truth.  One truth about this very issue is, “Which Sharia Law?”  There are at least four schools of Muslim tradition, much the same way we have Catholics, Lutherans, and Swedenborgians.  Each of the more than four schools of Muslim tradition have their own style of Sharia Law.  So the whole opinion that Muslims are trying to replace the Canadian legal system with Sharia Law falls apart when we ask which Muslim sect is trying to do this with what Sharia Law.

Swedenborg teaches that the religious life is characterized by a love for truth.  In fact, faith itself is called a cohering arrangement of many truths.  An incoherent mash of opinions is not faith.  As Christians, it is incumbent on us to search for truth.  As Christians, it is incumbent on us to measure our opinions against the sharp sword of truth.

And finally, Swedenborg teaches that the sword of truth must be wielded by a loving hand.  It was Gandhi who said, “When you have a truth to tell, it must be given with love, or the message and the messenger will be rejected.”  The riots and looting in the US got the attention of the world several weeks ago.  But I suspect that the subsequent weeks of peaceful protests will do more to make lasting structural change in the US.

Well, this is supposed to be a Fathers’ Day sermon.  I’ve gone all-in Swedenborgian, though, and spoken about father as our inherited evils.  Not personal evils, but collective social evils.  We Swedenborgians have an advantage in all this.  Repentance, reformation, and regeneration are central doctrines in our theology.  And never in my lifetime, has the call for repentance been louder.  And our world is in dire need of reformation.  And regeneration means re-birth.  If we are zealous about our repentance, and dedicated to reformation, we will see a rebirth in society.  We need to be aware of our privilege.  And being of the privileged race, it is especially important for us to educate ourselves.  And some of us may even be moved to wield the sword of truth to cut through centuries of oppression and social injustice.  And the children of enslaved persons will finally find their rightful share in the prosperity we take for granted.

 

The Soul of America

I am worried.  I had this feeling in 2016.  I had a feeling in my gut that it was possible that Trump could be elected.  The polls all had him down significantly.  But I watched what he did in the debates.  And I knew the people he was speaking to, reaching.  And in my gut I had a feeling he could win the presidential election.  I have not as strong a feeling now, but I see he’s up to his old tricks.  The question–and it’s a vital question–is how many people are with him this time?

So much of the US now has witnessed him in action.  We know what he’s all about.  These days we see mass protests all over the world about racial injustice in the US–particularly in regard to police brutality.  Trump is not with this movement.  Trump has ducked out of the COVID-19 pandemic because he embarrassed himself so disgracefully publicly.  But the pandemic rages on anyway.  Racial injustice in the US rages on.  And Trump is fleeing these problems like an ostrich with it’s head in the sand, even as he hid in his bunker at the White house while the voice of America’s conscience rose up en masse.  It is not my intention to list the wrongs I perceive in Trump–they are abundantly clear.  We know who Trump is.  But the question remains, “How many Americans are with him?”

I am an American.  I was born in the US.  I was brought up and educated in the US.  I live in Canada, now, a country that is not favorable to the US; I know this because they tell me this almost daily.  But I never disguise my American heritage.  I love my country.

I do not like what I see Trump standing up for.  I can easily dismiss this man, and say to myself that he does not represent the America I know and love.  However, it’s a different matter if a majority of the American people reelect him.  Then it’s a statement of what the country stands for, not just one man.  That concerns me deeply.  I would be very disappointed in America if the majority of the country sides with Trump and what Trump stands for.  I am putting this all in print.  So I must choose my words carefully.  But I am willing to say this: if Trump is reelected by a majority of the American people, I will have to seriously reconsider my citizenship in the country I was born in, educated in, and still proudly call my homeland.

NEURO-TRANSMITTERS, THEY THINK

Electric brain synapses neuro-transmitters

Opted me out of ordinary life, consensual truth, opts me out

Sleeping through the whole week-end

Paralysis of will, the psychiatrists call it

Soporific medicines sleepy pills slow my mind

Can’t remember the first Chen Tai-Chi form after five years

My disability doesn’t count

When employers, publishers, governments seek demographic statistics:

Gender, race, orientation, not my disability

But I’m opted out of social norms, structures

By motivation, mood, mentation, medication

CONFESSION:

Try though I do, my career interruptus

Staggering through the world as best I can

As best I have to because despite my disability

No one takes care of you

A DOWN AND OUT OLD, WHITE MAN

They say I’m from a privileged race

You’d think that gives some special grace

My job dried up; hope turns to doubt

This old, white man is down and out

 

I can’t find work, now, white or not

My age and race the world’s forgot

No one’s singing, “Lean on Me”

An old, white man’s lone as can be

 

It’s hard to keep my spirits up

Not drinking from this bitter cup

Cash or no, bill follows bill

This old, white man’s down and out still

The Blues Musician Plays

The blues musician plays out of dejection

Racial rejection

Keeping the beat

The rhythm of the street

The blues musician plays

Making the groove

The dancers move

Another city, a ride in the van

In a world that doesn’t accept the man

The blues musician plays

The dominant race hears

Unconcerned with his bitter, choked tears

And now new beats reject him again

The audiences age and wane

The blues musician plays

A world of rejection, of dejection

The blues musician plays