Your Words Defile You, Jesus Said

Charlottesville 2
Words Said In Charlottesville

Pride and Anger: Foundational Sins of the Alt White

It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles . . . . what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles . For out of the mouth come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. – Jesus, according to Matthew (15: 11, 19)

The real irony of this bit of gospel belonging to next Sunday is that we have to read it in the week when all manner of evil words were shouted out of the mouths of righteous marchers in the streets of Charlottesville.

Charlottesville. Where a young woman was murdered by an even younger man who weaponized his car, using it for mass destruction against people who dared to publicly disagree with his white supremacist ideas and his movement’s intention of ‘taking back’ this nation.

‘Taking back’ has always to be in quotes because, for God’s sake, there has never been a day when this nation has been white.

For starters, a huge number of non-white nations who have been lumped under the name ‘Natives’ were already here and long established before any whites arrived.

And the US, this so-called white nation, was established as a slave-holding people in a Constitution written to fulfill the Declaration of Independence, which asserts that “all men (sic) are created equal.” In deference to that principle, the Constitution wrote down the fiction that slaves were only three-quarters human.

So we have been immersed in this defilement since we began.

And we are nowhere near finished with it yet.

As the story of Charlottesville emerges, bit by bit, we have learned that the defiling mouths of the White Unity Marchers cursed Jews also, and that many of the marchers wore swastikas, as well as Trump MAGA caps.

And, they zeig-heiled President Trump. With stiffly extended arms.

And, they proudly identify as Aryans. And, they held a torch-lit rally on Friday night, reminiscent in every way of the KKK rallies of old.

Their uniform, white polo shirts and baggy khakis, echoes the whiteness of the Klan and also copies the golfing outfit of their President, Donald Trump, whom they consider their hero.

In the 21st century, just as in the 1st century, people are preoccupied with righteous eating, seeking in it a way to resurrection in this life, if not in the next. The same scrupulous attention is paid to theories of what will make you thin, happy, even cleanse you and bring you peace. And the same angry righteousness argues that, to be a real man, you eat meat and lots of it.  On the liberal side of American life, food practices are the piety of righteousness most often practiced. On the conservative side of American life, ritual repetition of traditional food is also a form of righteousness.

Jesus spent his ministry opposing prescriptions for pious living. Purity of tribe, of race, of lifestyle, of family purity, of obedience to dietary laws and attendance at public worship, were things he rejected. He disdained them. He denied them any power to confer holiness.

Only with the heart can anyone see rightly, he proclaimed, and this was more than nineteen centuries before The Little Prince was written!  Jesus often asked his hearers if they had eyes to see, ears to hear, what he was proclaiming.

Matthew places Jesus’ teaching about defilement in a chapter which ends with a foreign born, non-Jewish woman beseeching Jesus to heal her daughter.

And Jesus is caught flat-footed by her request. He responds to her, perhaps dismissively, that his ministry is for the people of Israel, not for foreigners who happen to be living in Israel.

But she will not be deterred. Her love for her daughter is greater than her pride. And so she begs him: Help me. And he again demurs, saying it would not be fair for him to take the food for the children of Israel and throw it to the dogs.

Wow! He’s anti-immigrant. Or at least, having a moment of resistance, though it will soon end..

She will not be deterred, she loves her child fiercely. And she says to this rude man, Jesus, even the Israelites dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall  from their tables. Can you not give to my daughter the crumbs, to heal her?

And immediately Jesus proclaims the greatness of her faith. In that moment, Matthew tells us, her daughter is healed. And she will not be the last non-Jew, nor the last non-Israelite to whom Jesus offers blessing.

Meanwhile, across the nation, the White Right is denigrating the young woman who died from the terrorist car melee. Tweets insulting her are appearing on racist sites, as if to dismiss her humanity, because she was childless, because she was fat, but mostly because she was marching with black people.

There needs to be a conversation of length about race in this country, and about what it means to be in transition from a white majority nation to a white minority.

There needs to be a reckoning about how to transform hearts and minds, and an honest telling of our history rather than a re-writing of history to make it unfair to shift the population balance.

There needs to be an opening for cultural change as well. The country was, after all, a destination for Europeans because here you could indeed change the culture, from whatever oppression you left behind to more acceptance for you and yours.  And in a world where Moslems are swiftly gaining in numbers and Christians are aging and diminishing, the morphing that needs to happen in the culture is to become more comfortable and open to Moslems.

Theologically, there needs to be an understanding that all creation, including all the people and all their faiths and cultures, are God’s, and that, like the shifting tides, the changing weather, the reshaping coastlines, nations, too, must accept the ebb and flow of time, as in the Bible Israel does, sometimes with tears and sometimes with joy but always with the understanding that God does not abandon them.

Here we have no continuing city, Jesus said, speaking of the rise and fall of empires and cultures.

Christ did not ordain us to be white, or even to be Christian. He ordains us to be God’s, and to accept our death and our defeats as well as our life and its sweetness.

It will be a while before Charlottesville again finds sweetness in its living. A long while before the ravages of white supremacist pride and anger are washed from the blood-stained streets. A long while before we can right the political shipwreck that has brought us here.

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Image: White Supremacy. This image is listed on Google as coming from a post by Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin. I have been unable to find a listed photographer or owner for it, and so am using it and crediting Rep. Raskin for a personal photo, and hope this is right.

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