Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
July 24, 2016
“Keep Raising Difficult Justice Over Easy Blame”
Psalm 33: 10-12, 16-22
10 The Lord overrules what the nations plan;
God frustrates what the peoples intend to do.
11 But the Lord’s plan stands forever;
what God intends to do lasts from one generation to the next.
16 Kings aren’t saved by the strength of their armies;
warriors aren’t rescued by how much power they have.
17 A warhorse is a bad bet for victory;
it can’t save despite its great strength.
18 But look here: the Lord’s eyes watch all who honor God,
all who wait for God’s faithful love,
19 to deliver their lives from death
and keep them alive during a famine.
20 We put our hope in the Lord.
God is our help and our shield.
21 Our heart rejoices in God
because we trust God’s holy name.
22 Lord, let your faithful love surround us
because we wait for you.
The king stood on his balcony eating honey on rice cakes with his top advisor. As they ate, they gazed down on the bucolic street scene below. The king was in a good mood that day and as he laughed, a drop of honey fell from his rice cake onto the railing.
“Sir, you’ve spilled a drop of honey. Here, let me wipe it up for you.”
“Oh, pay it no mind,” said the king. “It’s not our concern. Let the servants will clean it up later. I don’t want to be disturbed right now.”
They went on eating and talking. But as the drop of honey warmed in the sun it slowly began to drip down from the rail until it was finally on the street below.
Attracted by the sweet smell, a fly landed on it and began to eat.
“Your highness, that drop of honey has landed on the street and is attracting flies. Perhaps we should call someone to clean it up.”
“Pay it no mind,” said the king. “It’s not our concern.”
Suddenly a gecko sprang out from under its hiding place and ate the fly in one gulp which attracted a cat that pounced on the gecko. While the cat played with its fresh food in the street, a dog ran over and attacked it.
“Sir, there’s a cat and dog fighting in the street. We should call someone to stop it.”
“Oh, pay it no mind,” said the king. “Here come their owners. They’ll put a stop to it. We don’t need to get involved.”
The two continued to eat their honey and rice cakes, watching the spectacle play out on the street below them.
But the spectacle had turned into the cat’s owner beating the dog and the dog’s owner beating the cat. And soon beating each other.
The king’s good mood turned to anger as he watched the scene below. “I’ll have no fighting on my streets,” he bellowed. “Call in the guards and put an end to this unrest at once.”
The palace guards were summoned. But by this time the fight had grown into friends of cat owner and friends the dog owner taking sides. Soon it was an all-out brawl. The guards tried breaking it up but that only attracted more people. And the fight erupted into a civil war. Houses were burned and the palace itself was set afire and completely destroyed.
The kingdom came to an end and was never rebuilt. But new wisdom was gained among the people. Small problems if unattended grow into larger ones. And a whole kingdom can be lost from a drop of honey.
I love this story, but after such a good story as this, sometimes I have to wonder, what else should I say? Take care of little problems before they become big problems. Amen. Before the drip from the ceiling becomes a “whoosh” onto the dining room table below – take care of it. Amen. Before the socks and towels on the floor becomes a nasty name that you call your husband or wife and launches into a laundry list of previous indiscretions that haven’t been fully addressed… Take care of it. Amen. Let’s go home.
After all, you get the point, right? We could all cite examples. I could go around the room and most of us could probably tell stories that unnecessarily end poorly. It’s a good story that makes total sense. So why do we so often ignore its wisdom? Why do we deflect? Why do we spend so much time and energy denying when simply telling the truth is much more efficient?
I watched way too much coverage of the convention in Cleveland. But the first night proved my point. Melania Trump’s speech contained two virtually identical paragraphs from Michelle Obama’s speech as the wife of the candidate eight years ago. After it was discovered, Chris Matthews said “Just admit it and fire the speechwriter. It will all blow over in the morning.” Instead the campaign angrily denied it, defended it, and dug itself into a hole. To me it wasn’t really that big a deal. No need to make of it more than it was. A drop of honey. But not surprisingly, it unnecessarily turned into three days of distraction until the truth was revealed.
Hillary’s use of her personal email server strikes me the same way. Just admit it was unwise and a reasonable cause for concern. Don’t deny it. It’s not surprising that such lack of candor unnecessarily escalated to chants of “Lock her up.” A drop of honey becoming a street brawl.
Instead of denying there’s any racism among police officers, admit that there is and hold each other accountable. That will build the basis for trust. Police each other to stop acts of terrorism against the Black community or any community of color. At the same time, we must admit how hard it must be to be an officer today, the danger they face, and the truly disturbing language they encounter from those calling for cops to be killed. Like officers, isolate the few from the vast majority and hold each other accountable.
Did you hear about the barbeque in Wichita this week? An event organized by the police chief and local organizers meant to get to know each other. The power of face to face discussion. I love the images of the event. And the pictures went viral because we all long for such expressions too often lacking today. But even the police chief said that’s not enough. He admitted we also need the “formation of a civilian review board, the use of an outside prosecutor to review officer-involved shootings and a commitment to increase the amount of cultural competency training for officers.” It’s at least a start.
But in many ways, the police are only symptomatic of the racial prejudice and privilege they are hired to protect – enforcing the laws of those in power. They are often caught in-between. Like judges who are at the mercy of lawmakers. And lawmakers are at the mercy of people who whip the population into fear, anger, and blame. And the angriest wins.
But it only gets worse when the rest of the country brushes it off, like the king in the story who kept saying “Pay it no mind” or “I don’t want to be disturbed” or “It’s not our concern” or “We don’t need to get involved” – all very common phrases in the vernacular of the American people. It only gets worse when we don’t admit that clearly some lives are expendable.
Instead of saying “It’s not our concern” we must admit that our country not only has racists but is set up to benefit them – from the founding Constitution where African Americans were considered 3/5’s of a person to a prison system that incarcerates people of color at rates wildly disproportionate to the population.
Instead of saying “We don’t need to get involved,” we must admit that this system of privilege sentences people of color to prison for minor offenses, even death at a traffic stop, but lets those who caused the economic collapse of our country to get off with no penalty.
Instead of saying “I don’t want to be disturbed. It’s not our concern” we must recognize and address that this dysfunction which has left drips of honey unattended and threatens to spiral us out of control. Some would claim we are now nearly at a civil war – that was certainly the message of this past week. But the blame is misdirected. Intentionally.
Jim Wallis of Sojourners described it like this: “The anger, fear, and visceral reactions of many Americans — overwhelmingly white Americans — come from deep feelings about how “their” country is changing. Anger and fear leads to blame and even hatred for those they are told to hold responsible: the first black president, immigrants, refugees, criminals, terrorists, people mistreated by police, a whole world religion of Islam, and all “the others.” Blaming others is less complicated than blaming the systems and decisions responsible for what are some legitimate grievances. But the strategy instead to fuel racial and religious bigotry works well for a constituency made angrier and angrier because they’ve been handed someone to blame.”
Blaming others is easier than taking personal accountability and the work of difficult justice.
The story of a drop of honey speaks to our country at this moment in time. And it speaks to our personal struggles and stories – the things we avoid. I have a few things I could admit. You have a few things you could admit. We all have a something we could admit before it becomes a problem. To take responsibility now for an action before it becomes a list of actions that has taken on a life of its own. At home, how is this true for you? With a spouse, with a friend, with a neighbor. At work, how is this true? With a colleague, with a boss, with an entire team. Times when we can simply say, “I did this. I’m sorry.” “I hear you. I forgive you.” We’re all eligible because we’re all human.
So what stops us? Is it pride? Fear? The fear of someone’s anger directed toward us? The fear of someone’s disappointment in us? The fear of being rejected? I’ll admit to you I’m absolutely terrible at confronting conflict. I am an avid avoider. And I’ve paid the price. And I haven’t always learned my lesson. How about you?
But as I reminded someone this week, and therefore myself, in the context of our faith, with all those fears of disappointment and rejection in us, and all that anger around us, there is something else. There is grace. In the context of our faith, right after the prayer of confession, there is the assurance of grace. God even offers grace to the most egregious – after confession. And therefore, there is hope.
So instead of thinking it only makes sense that I address a small problem like a drop of honey before it becomes a brawl, God fills in the space between my fear and the resolution we often avoid with grace. Grace calls us to act. That grace allows us the space to deal with our faults and failing as well as those who are fearful and angry. I can listen and not take it personally. We are all hurting.
We need that grace toward each other. We need that grace for ourselves. And believe me: in the days to come we are going to need even more of that good grace because in this climate of fear it is our calling as people of faith to keep raising love over hate. It is our calling to keep raising inclusion over division. It is in the name of Christ and by the grace of God that we must keep raising difficult justice over easy blame.
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My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Travelling around the world