Lenten Book Discussion (Chapter 1): The Very Rev. Robert S. Cristobal
March 08, 2017
On Wednesdays in Lent, diocesan leaders will guide an online book discussion of "Living into God's Dream: Dismantling Racism in America," a collection of essays edited by Dr. Catherine Meeks. Each week our guest facilitators will post a reflection on a chapter (or chapters) that can be found on the diocesan website and in the enews. On Wednesdays from 7 - 8 pm they will also host a Facebook conversation about the chapter and their reflection. All are invited to participate. Those who do not have Facebook accounts may still view the conversation, but will not be able to comment. See the full schedule of chapters and facilitators.
Our reflection for Chapter 1 comes from the Very Rev. Robert Cristobal, vicar of St. George & Matthias Episcopal Church in Chicago and dean of the South Chicago Deanery. The March 8 discussion will be facilitated by Cristobal, and take place on Facebook from 7 - 8pm. Join the conversation on Facebook.
“Does racism exist in the United States?” This chapter opens up with that question, and the answer is an emphatic “Yes.” Talking about matters of race, and especially racism, seems to strike a nerve with many people. It has been said that polite people do not talk about politics or religion at the dinner table, no doubt, to steer clear of any heated discussion. Talking about racism can also be tricky, especially as such discussions can connect on matters of politics and religion. Thankfully, Chapter 1 by the Rev. Dr. Luther E. Smith, Jr., provides a means to look at racism, and explores how we can productively engage it.
The challenge of overcoming racism is an integral part of our Christian Faith. It is rooted in living into “God’s dream of Beloved Community” – something passionately preached about by our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry. Bishop Curry and the Episcopal Church have committed themselves to two priorities of evangelism and racial reconciliation. Chapter 1 provides some of the theological framework for our commitment to opposing and overcoming racism, including the contributions of the theologian Howard Thurman. This is most powerfully laid out in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s Gospel, in the call to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). This call to love of neighbor is also found in the vows we take in our Baptismal Covenant (BCP 305).
As a priest and as a person of color, I believe that this chapter provides a gateway for myself and others to not only discuss, but also to engage, the reality of racism in the world we live in. This discussion is much needed and very timely, in our current political climate. However, if we commit ourselves to this work, we also recognize that this is a lifelong endeavor, and part of what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ. As Smith points out, “This is not a matter of completing what needs to be done in a series of workshops or Lenten study group sessions” (page 11). Yes, there are no quick solutions, but our reading and reflections on combating racism are an important step forward in the right direction.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us that, as Christians, we are called to be “prisoners of hope” (https://sojo.net/magazine/february-1985/prisoner-hope). Sometimes, when encountering seemingly insurmountable struggles, I like to remind myself and others that, as Christians, we believe in a dead man (Jesus) that came back to life. That is to say, that the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection connects to our own experiences of loss and pain, and through God’s grace, leads to healing and new life. Yes, racism cannot be overcome in the course of a Lenten book study, but in re-claiming our Christian commitment to eradicate racism, we renew our hearts and our institutions, and in doing so, we come closer to living into God’s dream of Beloved Community.