A couple of weeks ago, as I was preparing for this gathering*, I watched a documentary on racism. It explained, from a scientific perspective, how foolish the idea of multiple human races actually is. Through various ways, they were able to demonstrate how two people of the same “race” are actually more likely to have genetic differences than people of different “races”. Race is a biological fiction, but it is still a terrible social tragedy. A social reality.
We are, science tells us, hard wired to find differences in the world around us. Which is part of how we ended up with the idea of racial categories in the first place. It is a survival mechanism. Difference can equal danger, so quick identification and avoidance of “different” helps us survive all kinds of attacks and things that could harm us. Categorizing the world into harmful and benign experiences has helped humanity survive.
And the fastest possible way of categorizing is “like me” and “not like me”; “like us” and “not like us”. “like us” is safe “not like us” is dangerous, bad, maybe even evil.
I’ve recently started re reading Watership Down; the story that chronicles the journeys of a little warren of rabbits. It is an interesting allegory of human relationships and group dynamics.
This time through I’ve been struck by all the fear; the ways that rabbits react to dangerous things, which is pretty much everything around them. They categorize and name creatures and things based on their danger as determined by how much like or unlike rabbits they are. For example “one of the thousand enemies” of rabbits all fall under one name: Elil. Which also means evil. Or like the very few birds who are not harmful to rabbits which are called “not-hawks”.
Pretty much the entire world is divided up into us-rabbits and the not-us: everything else in the world. The not-us are against us and will hurt us. The not us are all to be feared and avoided at any cost.
This kind of short hand that the Watership Down rabbits and we human beings do for the sake of survival (for we are so like rabbits in this way), like us= good, not like us=bad, leads to a thin life of fear and being at odds with most of God’s good creation. We survive, but at the expense of so much.
God calls us to a better way. Not just a way of tolerance, which means we simply endure, through gritted teeth, that which we do not like—put up with but continue to avoid and hate all that is “not us”. But instead God calls us to a way of love.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female for all are one in Jesus Christ.
There is no longer black or white, northern or southern, eastern or western, Lutheran or Not-Lutheran. God has taken all of God’s children, all the beautiful diverse creation that is humanity and, while still maintaining our differences and cultures and identities, has destroyed the “Not Us” altogether and made humanity into just “us”.
Let us pray: Almighty and gracious God of all creation, we stand before you as your broken children. We hear your words—that we are all one in your Son—but our hearts are still afraid. We are afraid of what looks different, we are afraid of not knowing how to help, we are afraid of feeling helpless, we are afraid of misusing our privilege, we are afraid of change. Give us the courage to confess that we are in bondage to sin, our sin and the sin of those who have come before us. Give us the courage to see systems that enslave and harm. And above all, gracious Lord,give us the wisdom and strength to cultivate and create justice for all people. Amen.
*this brief meditation was for closing worship at a gathering of colleagues