Let's call the whole thing off! : Sermon on January 20

Beyond Tolerance: Let’s call the whole thing off

Rev. Lucy Waechter Webb

January 20, 2013

Luke 14:12-14

[Sile’s monologue: an inner dialogue of a person who walks into a room of strangers]


Our scripture this morning invites us to consider our own.

How they influence the way we behave,

paying attention to those feelings in our guts and

those thoughts flying around in our head.

The example given talks specifically about how to consider your invitations for a meal, a dinner party, saying invite those who you do not think can repay the favor. Do not go into the gesture expecting to be repaid.

Expectations. When you begin to examine your own, you tap into that inner dialogue.

The kind that happen inside each of us when we walk into a room of strangers.

When we sit in a small group and consider when to speak or what to speak about.

The murmuring in our brain that warns us not to be too outspoken, not to let others take over the conversation, not to be rude or impolite, not to expose ourselves too much.

And most of us rely on certain social expectations just to be safe. Which usually means, being polite.

What do you expect when you walk into Summit Church?

[solicit responses]

We often expect people to be polite. To be nice, to offer hospitality. But I want to know what happens if we make our expectations bigger. What happens when we make them deeper?

Do you expect that we can change each other?

Do you expect to grow from each other?

Do you expect that the people in this room can transform your life?

Do you expect that you can offer wisdom and perspective and hope to other people in this room?

And the hardest of all: Do you expect that the people in this room can and will love you?

If not – then why are we here? Let’s just call the whole thing off.

See, here’s what I think.

I believe that people in this church actually love each other.

I believe that people in this church actually want to know each other.

I also believe – that we get stuck knowing how to do it sometimes.

I believe that people look across the room and are curious about another person, but they run into barriers that are between them.

That’s what this whole month is about. Those barriers. And there are many! We are a very diverse  congregation, some of us black, some white, or yellow, some Indigenous, some Asian, and bi-racial, male, female, trans, and intersex, old, young, young adilt and middle aged, with kids and without, student, worker, and not working, wealthy, poor, and middle class, bi-sexual, straight, and lesbian. We can’t dig into them all in one month, so we’ve picked one to highlight. Just one, because this is a jumping off point.  January is just the beginning of our work together this year.

Pastor April and Robert have set us up well for today. April talked about the ways in which we are called to unity, and how the church in a unique place to do that. She also talked about how this church is uniquely prepared to do that well. Then Robert introduced some of the systems that our realities for us. The rules that come along with you if you are black or white or lesbian or bi-sexual or wealthy or poor. And he demonstrated a picture of what happens when we sit down at the table together and try to place the same game with different rules. The barriers that arise when attempt to work together.

Today we begin to name the barriers, and we are going to focus on one. The one we look over the most. The one that doesn’t get discussed, not even very often in the college classroom. See, nowadays it’s almost fashionable to talk about race or gender, we know because when we say diversity that’s what we imagine a diverse community to be, one of different colors. But we are terrified of class.

Social Class.

Now first of all – let’s be clear that class doesn’t just mean the amount of money you have. Class is not just wealthy or poor, it’s not just the dollar amount in your bank account. It is a group that defines us in a particular way.

Technically the definition is: It is a set, a collection or a group containing members regarded as having the same attributes or traits in common.

Biology uses class to talk about different life forms on the planet – we belong to the mammal class, and all mammals have their body covered in hair.

In prison you are classified as a security threat minimum, close, medium, max and supermax, those at the top level all being deemed too dangerous to even have interpersonal contact and so are in their  own room for 23 hours a day. Class.

So our social class is connected to the money in our pockets, but that is not all of it. Our social class describes us and how we relate to everything else in life. The way that we understand language, education, family and even food is shaped by our social class. Let me give you another example. Ruby Payne is a scholar who has desgined a framework to help people understand the differences in how class shapes the way we see the world. [Let me offer a caveat that her work is criticized for relying too much on stereotypes, and I don’t know enough about it to really comment – and I do think the example is a helpful starting place for us to get on the same page and grasp this concept.] So here it is:

She gives the example of people in different classes view several categories, and I’m going to give you two: food and education.

Poverty Middle Class Wealth
Education Valued and Revered as abstract but not as reality Crucial for climbing success ladder  and making money Necessary tradition for making and maintaining connections
Food Key Question:Did you have enough? Quantity is important Key Question:Did you like it? Quality is important Key Question:Was is presented well? Presentation is important

[1] Source: Ruby Payne, A Framework for Understanding Poverty. Highlands, TX: Process, Inc., 1996, pp. 42 - 43

Now, what happens if they all sit down at the table together for supper? What is running through their head? What are their expectations of the food? Of each other?

With the American dream – we often are mistaken and think we live in a “class free” society. Anyone can rise to the top right? We don’t have a caste system or a rules and law about who is considered untouchable in our society. We are the leaders of the free world. Just walking into Summit will tell you that’s not true. We do live in a country where class matters. Where over 13 million children, about 1 in 5, are in poverty in our country.[1] They come to the table wondering if there is enough, dreaming of an education that feels abstract and distant.

Now when you sit down at that table with each other, your job is not to know the answer to all of this. Not to be able to predict everyone’s understanding of life, or their expectations. Your job is be aware of it. To pay attention to your expectations and to others. And most importantly – to talk about them with each other.

Tomorrow is the national holiday when we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr, it is helpful to look at his legacy. MLK shifted his focus at the end of his life toward social class. He began the Poor People’s Campaign as the next chapter in the struggle for equality in our country. And even King, an amazing and beloved leader at this point lost support from his closest supporters, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. They thought it was too ambitious and that he should stay on course. They were caught between the voice of the Black Nationalist crowd, where Malcom X was at the helm and the dominate culture of American society and government, where institutionalized racism was at the helm. And here is what King said about the Poor People’s Campaign, “Let’s find something that is so possible, so achievable, so pure, so simple that even the backlash can’t do much to deny it. And yet something so non-token and so basic to life that even the black nationalists can’t disagree with it that much.”[2]

Friends this is where it starts. Something so possible, so achievable, so pure, so simple. Something so basic to life. Relationships that cross these boundaries, relationships that smash our false expectations and crush our racist and classist and homophobic and sexist attitudes, relationships that demonstrate love and equality, I ask you, who can argue with that?

In order to do it we must crush the voice that says you have nothing in common. You must ignore the voice that says you have nothing to offer. You must overcome the voice that says you don’t know how to begin, or that you don’t fit in. Say no to the thought that brings impatience, the one that brings uncertainty, that brings doubt, that brings judgment.

Because here it is folks – that’s what it means to be Beyond Tolerance. Beyond polite, beyond even nice.

It means that we dig deep and nurture the voice that says kindness. The one that plays on your curiosity about someone, the one that encourages you to ask questions, to ask for help, to learn, to be patient, to have hope that these people, this place, can change you and can change the world.

Next week you’re going to have an opportunity to do just that. To sit down together for most of worship and talk with one another. And you will sit at a table together, and before we leave, break bread together.

Until then, I invite you to pay attention to your expectations. To listen to that inner dialogue. And remember, that not trusting is a root of anxiety. Not trusting ourselves to be able, not trusting others to be open, not trusting that God is with us in it.  So I as you again this morning.

Do you believe that you can change each other?

Do you believe you can grow from each other?

Do you believe that the people in this room can transform your life?

Do you believe that you can offer wisdom and perspective and hope to other people in this room?

Do you believe that the people in this room can love you?

Let’s get to it!

[1] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/social-issues/poor-kids/by-the-numbers-childhood-poverty-in-the-u-s/

[2] http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_poor_peoples_campaign/