Recognized by our actions

This Sunday many congregations will be meditating on the story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  Jesus journeys with two disciples on the road.  The disciples tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection but do not recognize Jesus as the man walking beside them until, reaching their destination, they sit down to eat together. Jesus breaks bread with them and gives it to them to eat. In this action they recognize him.

I’ve been thinking of this scripture text of love, enacted and recognized, as the media explodes with stories and commentary on Donald Sterling’s racist comments, which have brought increased attention to Sterling’s history of racist actions (see Justice Department Obtains Record $2.725 Million Settlement of Housing Discrimination Lawsuit).  Mychal Denzel Smith, writing for the Huffington Post raises the question (raised by Jay Smooth in his latest Vlog):

“‘Why do racist words bring more accountability than racist practices?’ I believe the answer to that question is that Donald Sterling broke the rules of politeness when it comes to American racism. The lesson that this country has gleaned from centuries of freedom fighting and resistance and pushback to slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, economic exploitation, rape, theft and cultural/historical erasure is that you shouldn’t say mean things about black people. So long as you don’t say mean things, everything else is fine. Everything else, in fact, is necessary, in order that the United States remains a place where white supremacy thrives.” (Read full article here)

The old adage is true: Actions speak louder than words.  The national conversation about racism in the United States often catches the eye of the media when a celebrity or politician says something racist.  The national media is less likely to focus on individuals who consistently do things to contribute to systemic racism. That is more complicated and requires a much deeper examination and questioning of who holds power and privilege in this country. We are called to do more than watch our words.  We are called to act justly to dismantle systems of injustice.

The national coverage of racism in this country seems even less inclined to focus on individuals and organizations who work consistently to dismantle systems of racism.  Preaching on Luke’s story of the road to Emmaus?  Consider lifting up a story of someone whose actions tell the story of hope, whose actions chip away at the power of racism and privilege, whose actions are recognized as love.

Here’s some suggestions:

Rev. William Barber II

Jose Valdez

Sonia Sotomayor

4 thoughts on “Recognized by our actions

  1. Reblogged this on revgeary and commented:
    Why do racist words bring more accountability than racist practices? My colleague Sarah Henkel reflects on a scripture text of love, enacted and recognized, as the media explodes with stories and commentary on Donald Sterling’s racist comments.

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