[Revised from previous post]
I cringe every time when I hear those words because those words are used to describe my “rural” parish. Those words are used to describe my congregation. Those words are used as labels to describe my community.
However, not all rural folks are “White”, “uneducated”, “racists”, “low income”, or “arrogant”, but I can easily identify who they might be in my community. It is too easy. I can identify them at the gas stations, public trash dumps, grocery stores, or even in front of my front door. And, it is too easy to put them down. And, they are just angry all the time.
On some days, I can relate to the “rural” anger too. I am angry at the lack of jobs, failing education, rise in food and common goods, rise in working hours, and cut in benefits.
But, I stop to relate when that anger is pointed somewhere else. I stop to relate when this anger and frustration is resolved by blaming someone else. I often hear the phrases like, “It is those Chinese who took away our jobs.” Or “It is those illegal immigrants using our tax dollars,” or “Blacks are using the system to get what they want.”
One thing about this anger is that it exposes us. We become brutally honest with ourselves. Anger reveals our true human nature. This anger trumps over reasoning, our convictions, and our beliefs. This anger blinds us to the values we promised ourselves to uphold. Likewise, the rural communities choose to abandon the “Christian Values” because they are lost in this anger.
Observing these raw emotions, the public interprets the anger simply as raging racism. Then, dismisses that anger and condemns the rural communities. The public goes out of our ways to rebuke racism, and be appalled by rural folks forgetting the “Christian values”.
I can relate with the public’s condemnation as well. We should dismantle racism, and we should not let go of our Christian values when we are facing tough times, but embody the hard teachings of Jesus. I realize that it is easy to resolve our anger by blaming our predicament on someone else rather than taking time to do the hardest thing: careful self-examination.
But, Scripture is clear. In the hardest moments, we are still to keep the faith and be transformed by the love of our Triune God. Following Jesus has to transform our lives: letting go of our anger through fervent prayers. The “dark moments” in our lives should not overwhelm our faith to the point where we dismiss the presence of God.
But, I stop to relate when these rebukes are made without love.
In the end, I somehow find myself as an unwanted reconciler. I somehow find myself in intense loneliness.
Unwanted from both sides.
Rejected from both sides.
Invisible from both sides.
I had a conversation with one of my secret heroes. (I have a lot of secret heroes) Honestly, I was sick and tired of racism in every form. Plain racism, institutional racism, systemic racism, you can fill the list. Filled with hurt and anger, I thoughtlessly asked her, “Do I still play this game? When do I walk away?”
I didn’t have to explain the situation or my thoughts, but she knew what I was talking about. And she wisely responded to my question with a question, “What is your calling? I know it is easy for me to just “zap” a group of people about racism, is that your calling? Or, is your calling about fighting inch by inch, working with the people who you love with sweat, tears, agony, and blood?”
I don’t know what it is, but I do love my rural parish, its warts and all.
And this love drives me to fight inch by inch with them, transforming their dark places with God’s love, one moment at a time. I guess, that is my prayer, that is my hope, that is my life. I have to somehow reconcile myself as being an unwanted reconciler.
And this task, of being the unwanted reconciler begins not with a fistfight or a debate. But, this task of being an unwanted reconciler begins by washing my rural parish’s feet.
As Jesus said, “Do you know what I’ve done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’, and you speak correctly, because I am. If I, your ‘Lord’ and ‘Teacher’, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do.”
Today, this unwanted reconciler gives into this mysterious love. I will put aside the rebukes, let go of my own anger and frustrations, kneel to the ground, pour water into the basin, and wash the feet of my parishioners.
Washing the feet of my parishioners knowing that these feet can hurt me with their anger and with their pain in the future. But, these are the people who desperately need to feel the love of God. That’s all that matters.
As Jesus reminds us… “By this is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”