Rich White America

I’m from Rich White America, the human race’s one percent.

I’m from daily dinners with Dad and Mom,

cul-de-sac calm and patio parties

and nothing but failure to fear.

I’m from baby books, photo books

children’s books, classic books –

books that they would read to me so I would ace the SAT.

I’m from big grass yards and imaginary friends;

all the wars I fought were sticks and pirate ships.

I’m from homework help and holidays,

spring break trips and soccer games.

I’m from homemade meals and fresh fruit in the fridge.

I’m from innocence and warmth,

crystallized on Christmas with five presents just for me.

I’m from self-inflicted issues with a satisfied stomach

and a sheltered safe haven from violence;

even sickness was sorry to disturb the peace.

I’m from landlocked tears and

and keeping one’s emotions in one’s room.

 

I’m from everything you didn’t have.

Does it help if shame and loneliness are familiar faces in this fairy tale?

If anxiety and depression are the starlets on this silver screen?

Rich White America is the strangest of normals,

and I’m not saying that it’s fair.

So please tell me instead, where you’re from?

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O My People

O my people
         Perdida mi gente
What’s happening to us?
                    ¿Qué pasa por aquí?
Insight escapes me
                    La luz se me va
But know that I love you
                    Me muero por ti

O my bloodline
                    La sangre nuestra
Do you still feel the pulsing?
                    Palpitante en el barrio
The rhythm is slipping
                    Vestida en rojita
We’re skipping some beats
                    Se derrama en el suelo

O family! children!
                    Los niños y padres
Are we happy, so far?
                    ¿Así lo haremos?
I’m carrying your faces
                    Me tienen abrumada
The distance destroys me
                    Por la culpa que tenemos

O people! O loved ones!
                    ¡Dios mío! ¡Mi gente!
The money and autonomy
                    La locura que buscamos
Are nothing and nowhere
                    Nos esquiva para siempre
Let’s just go home together
                    A la casa ya nos vamos

meditations on exile (3): community is crucial

And [an angel] called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons… For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.” Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins…” Revelation 18:2-4

Babylon. John, the author of Revelation, used it as a code word for Rome, the superpower of his time. In today’s world, “we” – the United States – are the superpower of the world, the economic, cultural, and political giant among the nations. Drunkenness? Sexual immorality? Luxury? Sound familiar?

The command to “come out of her” is an explicit sexual reference intended to make us blush. “Quit fornicating with the ways of the world,” God says. Without a euphemism.

We must ask, therefore: how do we, as citizens of God’s heaven and disciples of Jesus, live as we sojourn in Babylon? How is it that we “come out of” the ways of the world? The ways of America?

As always, it is helpful to look to biblical history for guidance. The actual city of Babylon was once the superpower of its age, promulgating paganism, trade, and tyranny across its empire. The prophets tell us that it was because of divine decree that the Babylonian empire included Israel. Nebuchadnezzar, the emperor of Babylon, ordered in the sixth century B.C. that all but the poor of Judea be exiled to Babylon.

That meant: God’s people, in Babylon, in the heart of the empire. The question the Jews were asking themselves at that time is the same kind of question we must ask ourselves today. For them, it was, “How do we practice the Torah, God’s law for us, in a pagan city, away from the promised land and the temple?”

The book of Daniel deals with this question, especially in chapters 1, 3, and 6.

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank… Daniel 1:8

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego… said to the king… “Be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18

When Daniel knew that the document [banning for a month the worship of any god besides the king of Babylon] had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Daniel 6:10

In each case, faithful Jews took their lives in their hands by maintaining the practice of their Israelite identity under the watchful eye of a dictatorial, pagan regime. And amazingly, in each case, the pagan king ended up baffled and in awe of the true God.

And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of [Daniel and his friends], he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. Daniel 1:20

Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.” Daniel 3:28

Then King Darius wrote… “I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever…” Daniel 6:26-27

We make a difference when we stand out, not when we blend in.

For exiled Jews wishing to the live the Torah, from the sixth century B.C. to the present day, the necessity of living together in groups has been obvious. The laws of the Torah assume a context of community. A kosher diet alone requires a kosher farmer, a kosher butcher, and a kosher vendor. One cannot practice Orthodox Judaism in isolation.

Likewise, the commands of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament assume a context of community as the setting for the practice of the Christian life. By my pastor’s count, there are 49 “one another” commands in the New Testament: be at peace with one another, submit to one another, encourage one another, pray for each other, etc. And that doesn’t include the 10 repetitions of the command to “love one another” in John’s writings alone.

Exiled Jews needed each other to maintain their ritual purity and their commitment to monotheism. Sojourning Christians need each other to exhort one another in the gospel and to be the body of Christ to the world.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 27

By the Holy Spirit of Jesus in us, the church is Christ to the world. You may be an eye, I may be a hand, but either way, we cannot function without each other. Close-knit, interdependent, mutually submissive, mutually confessional, mutually accountable community is crucial.

The biblical mindset is not “us against the world,” but us, in the world, different from the world, and therefore helpful to the world. Jesus said,

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

As it was for the Jewish exiles 2,600 years ago, it is our differences from the world around us that make us attractive and amazing to outsiders. Why be impressed at more of the same? More pettiness, more egoism, more infighting, more ignorance. We cannot be light by imitating darkness. We cannot be Jerusalem by participating in Babylon.

And Jerusalem is what we are: God’s city, God’s house, God’s children.

Your sister church here in Babylon sends you greetings… 1 Peter 5:13 (NLT)

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:35