I have been watching Scene On Radio’s podcast episodes “Seeing White.” They turn the lens 180 degrees from the usual focus on race, “seeing white” instead. Race is a construct rather than a biological thing. Says Suzanne Plihcik from the Racial Equity Institute, “Humans are 99.9% identical genetically. We have less variation in the entire species than occurs in a flock of penguins.” Ibram Kendi, assistant professor of history at the University of Florida says that before 1400 no one saw skin color as indication of a race. He argues that whiteness was invented. It was created as a concept by the European slave trade to justify their activity in Africa. If people with pale skin are superior to people with dark skin, it makes it all right, even Christian, for the former to enslave the latter.
Of course now we’re stuck with race as a social and political reality. The experience of being black or being Native American or being Asian is different from that of being white in America. And we have to work to change that.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus prays tenderly for his disciples. He loves them all very much, and he is about to leave them behind. “They are of you,” he says to his Abba, “and they belong to me. I’m not going to be in the world any more, but they are in the world still. Protect them.”
The world is a dangerous, confusing place. Jesus wants those he loves to be able to see God and experience God’s love, even though they are alone. When he is no longer with them, he hopes they will turn to each other for support and for reminders of the truth of their belonging in the household of God. He hopes the same for us, his disciples of a different age.
We are all beloved servants of God, heirs to the kin-dom of divine love. But we are in a world that does not see this. We ourselves are apt to put belief in societal constructs, family affiliations, and clan-like organizations ahead of neighbor to neighbor caring. Unlearning all that can be dangerous and intimidating.
We have to do it, though. For the sake of our more basic kinship as members of the household of God, we have to de-construct the social and political givens. In this slow time we have because of a virus that is threatening all of humankind, maybe we can open ourselves a little to new ideas and fresh relationships. Take a class online, have a discussion. Dream some possibilities for making things different.
May we pray as tenderly for each other and for ourselves as Jesus prays for us in the Gospel of John. We are helpless against so many things, these days. May we pray for new understanding and deeper compassion. God willing and with God’s help, may we step out of quarantine a bit more knowledgeable and compassionate than we were when we came in.
Image: Jesus, image extracted from The Last Supper by Leonardo de Vinci, found at wikimedia Commons.
Laurie Gudim is a spiritual director, religious iconographer and writer living in Fort Collins, Colorado. For more about her and her work, go HERE.