Weekly Devotions for 9/20

Recognizing that my calling had been given by God, James, Peter, and John—the pillars of the church—shook hands with me and Barnabas, assigning us to a ministry to the non-Jews, while they continued to be responsible for reaching out to the Jews. The only additional thing they asked was that we remember the poor, and I was already eager to do that. – Galatians 2:9-10 (The Message)

This past weekend I was at Crossroads for the New Jersey Synod Council retreat. It was the kick-off to the new year for the council, and so along with the business meeting and team-building exercises also had an introduction to some of the programs and resources that the New Jersey Synod provides for our common work. One of the activities was a demonstration by the Transforming White Privilege (TWP) program. The TWP program is a nine-hour curriculum for congregational leaders and members to help better understand what is meant by “white privilege.” As a council they gave us a taste of two short activities.

The first activity is one I have done many times before. Everyone was asked to stand in a line, and then to take steps forward or backwards depending on their experiences. For instance, the first instruction was, “Step forward if you knew from childhood that you were expected to go to college.” Some of the others included “Step forward if you have never lived in a neighborhood where you had to be on high alert for crimes being committed against you when you walked outside,” and “Step back if you grew up with a language other than English as the primary language spoken in your home.” Everyone had some that they moved forward for, some they moved backwards for, and others where they stayed put. As more statements were added, though, the group spread out more and more. The point of the activity was to recognize that before we even begin to make decisions for ourselves we all have experiences, advantages, and disadvantages that shape our perspectives and opportunities. More than that, part of the assignment was to notice who was where. The more experiences that were added the more people ended up being grouped with similar people, especially in terms of characteristics such as race and gender.

While I grew up in an economically depressed area, I grew up in a household with two parents who were both professionals. We were members of the local country club. Having done similar exercises before, I expected that I would have more forward steps than most others. Unsurprisingly, I ended up having the most. What I particularly noticed from this time, though, was how hard it was from that position to see anyone else. Simply looking around I could see a couple of people, but not most. To see the bulk of the group, I had to physically turn around and make an effort to pay attention, even if that meant missing the next instruction. It was so much easier to ignore those who were right next to me. That is the nature of these sorts of advantages: the more you have the harder it is to notice them and the easier it is to ignore others.

God’s calling is inclusive. God comes to us regardless of what privileges we have or don’t have. Yet no matter what position we are in, God calls us to look around. More than that, we are called to stop and turn around to see who is behind us. Having seen who is behind us, we can begin to imagine how

what gifts, talents, treasures, or abilities we have might be shared with them. What we have is a gift from God so that it can be used generously. Generosity is the path to loving diverse inclusion, one of the key aspects of our Live the Love theme. More than that, it is a biblically-rooted principle. When Paul received a calling from God to cross cultural, ethnic, and religious lines in order to minister to Gentiles throughout the Mediterranean region, the leaders of the church were at first perplexed but came to realize that it was indeed God’s will. Peter, James, and John gave their blessing, but with the key instruction that Paul and those he ministered to were to turn around and see who was standing behind them – to remember the poor, as they put it – as an essential characteristic of all who follow Christ. May we courageously turn around as well.

The Transforming White Privilege (TWP) curriculum is designed to support leaders in better identifying, talking productively about, and addressing white privilege and its consequences in their many different spheres of influence.

Four learning opportunities are available, via zoom and in-person, beginning in September

(zoom) Thursdays – September 8, 15, 22 6:30-9:30 PM

(zoom) Saturdays – October 8, 15, 22 9:00 AM – 12:00 Noon

(zoom) Sundays – November 6, 13, 20 2:00-5:00

(In-Person) October 28-29 Retreat from 4:00 PM Friday- 4:00 PM Saturday (cost $40)

Learn more and register now at https://www.njsynod.org/twp