Monday, July 15, 2013

All too familiar

Today we make the transition to the Book of Exodus and we see a story that is thousands of years old and yet contemporary—Two groups of people, the Egyptians and the Hebrews. The Hebrews had come to Egypt because life where they were was impossible. The Egyptians were happy to have the labor until they looked up one day and saw
"the people of the children of Israel are growing, more so than we ourselves!"
Suddenly the Hebrews were perceived as a threat. They might out number the Egyptians. And so a decision is made
"let us deal shrewdly with them"
Now we may look at ourselves and say we would never do anything so barbaric as what the Egyptians did to the Hebrews, but let us not forget our history. We all remember slavery, but do we remember the German immigrants at the very founding of the country and how we even banned the printing of books in German. Have we forgotten how we treated the Japanese when with World War II like Pharaoh we decided
"in time of war they too may join our enemies to fight against us, and so leave our country”?
The latest group to add to the list are Hispanics. Already in the Catholic Church in the US in many places they have reached parity and the day is soon when they will outnumber the "white" Catholics. And white America is feeling threatened.
The sad part is that we are responding by following Pharaoh's play book. We aren't for the most part engaging in overt racism and oppression. As Pharaoh said "we must deal shrewdly with them." And in fact we know how to be extremely shrewd about our racism, so shrewd we even fool ourselves.
Is there anyone in America who believes that if a grown black man had followed a white teenage boy walking home, gotten out of his car with gun, and it had ended in an altercation in which the white boy was shot, the black man would have gone free?
Yes, the jury followed the law. But Florida like many states does not require that you actually be in danger to shoot someone but you merely have to "believe" you are in danger. It is based on feelings and perceptions.
The truth is we will never be color-blind. It appears that the most primitive parts of the brain are wired to spot who is my people and who is other. And the primitive part of us is always on the look out for danger,real or perceived. It is the same the world over. But as Christian we cannot be primitive.
This past Sunday's gospel reminded me that they are all my neighbor no matter what the most primitive parts of my brain perceive. How do we move beyond?
The answer to the problem is also found in the first reading. The reading opens with the words,
"A new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt."
The previous Pharaoh did not feel threatened because he actually knew the Hebrews. The new pharaoh was ignorant. Ignorance leads to fear, and fear leads to sin.
We don't like the word ignorant. But why? After all, you are either a know-it-all or ignorant, at least about some things. Why not admit your ignorance? The truth is that as a human being the number of things about which I am ignorant far outnumbers the things about which I am knowledgeable. It's one of the many ways in which we need one another.
When I see a person on the street who is different, and the primitive part of the brain kicks in and makes me nervous, can I in that moment name my ignorance? Can I admit, "I don't know that person."
What I do know is they are created in the image and likeness of God; they are my neighbor. That much I know because it has been revealed by God. As a Christian that must be my starting point with every person or group. Then we must let the perfect love that is God cast out our fear. Then we will not fall into the sins that so divide our country and our world.