Who will face Joanna the Myrrhbearer for the Golden Halo? That's the question of the day, following Joanna's victory over Martin de Porres 58% to 42%, as Chief Seattle faces Jonathan Daniels.
In case you missed the last in-season episode of Monday Madness, you can watch it here.
The Episcopal Diocese of New York, where I serve, held an official “Service of Apology for the Endurance of Slavery” a little over two weeks ago. This liturgy and institutional apology came about after years of work by our Diocesan Reparations Committee and many difficult conversations within parishes all over the diocese.
Reactions were, as you might imagine, mixed. Many were moved by the service; by the effort at institutional responsibility for the spiritual injury of racism. Others felt it didn’t go far enough, that a white male bishop apologized in the midst of a mostly white church hierarchy that remained seemingly unchallenged and unchanged. And still others thought the whole thing was unnecessary; nothing but more talk and self-flagellation about troubles of the past.
By now we’ve all heard countless references to a “racial reckoning” over the last few years in the United States but let’s face it…we’re always having a racial reckoning in the United States. From its founding until now, my country – and because of that, my church – has been locked in a struggle around race and racism. I don’t have the word count to do justice to the harms done to black people by a white supremacist power structure and by white people; nor to sufficiently acknowledge the incredible labor done by black leaders and their allies to move all of us forward; or the degree to which we do not yet have a free society “with liberty and justice for all.”
Within the Episcopal Church, I have been in both majority-white and majority-black spaces (and a few more integrated rooms) where people have had brave and open conversations about their personal biases and the legacy of white supremacy in the church. And I have been in all-white rooms where leaders have said, “this isn’t P.C, but…” We succeed and we fail, and over and over again we doubt one another’s motives and sincerity and struggle with our own defensiveness and pride. And we are the church! Disciples of Jesus Christ who is himself our peace and has through his very body made the two into one and torn down the dividing wall – we could and should be better at this.
I think Jonathan Daniels would understand all this. He grasped the difficulty and necessity of this whole enterprise. In his writing, no one was defined by their race, or defined by their hate; and he doesn’t seem to have subscribed to the myth of a color-blind society that makes so many people want to brush all of this under the rug in favor of some general niceness. Jonathan understood as Christians we have to thread a difficult needle; both refusing to compromise on the dignity of every human being and refusing to write off people who are mired in bigotry. He knew we have to somehow, some way, bring them along to the Kingdom.
Because the Kingdom was Jonathan’s goal. He and his friends plunged into the midst of a complex and dangerous social conflict much like Jesus commissioned the 72; they went out like lambs into the midst of wolves, speaking peace and staying wherever they were welcomed. But he never wiped the dust off his feet. He shed illusions of his own perfection and self-righteousness and became braver and more loving, and he was not afraid to take note of that inward journey; of how much he had changed and how much further he had to go to grow in the knowledge and love of God. And he knew ultimately that journey was shared.
Jonathan Daniels is a mighty witness. He lived and died by our Baptismal covenant and laid down his life for his friends. And enough of him remains with us that he feels real and alive, like the words of that old hymn really are true, that “the saints of God are just folk like me, and I want to be one too.”
I live on Osceola Avenue. Osceola was a Seminole leader who resisted the United States’ forced migration of him and his people from Florida. He was betrayed by the United States government after coming to them under a white flag for peace negotiations. He died in prison.
Osceola Avenue is a small residential street in Saint Paul. Saint Paul was established on the ancestral homeland of the Dakota. Saint Paul is located in Ramsey County, in honor of Alexander Ramsey, the first territorial governor of Minnesota. Ramsey mobilized a volunteer army and militia against a collection of Dakota tribes, culminating in the largest mass execution in United States history (approved by the great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln) when 38 Dakota natives were hung in Mankato. Their land had been taken from them and they had been defrauded of millions of dollars by corrupt bureaucrats, so they fought back. We kept records of the white settlers and soldiers killed in the conflict. We have no idea how many Dakota lives were lost (nor how many had starved and died of various diseases after being forced onto a reservation that could not sustain them).
Stories such as these reverberate throughout the history of the United States, even to the present day.
Chief Sealth was forced to agree to a treaty that would not be honored, his people exiled from a land they had long inhabited. His famous speech (found here) offers a brief theological reflection that should give us pause:
The white man’s God cannot love our people or He would protect them. They seem to be orphans who can look nowhere for help. . . If we have a common Heavenly Father He must be partial . . .
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more perfect articulation of James Cone’s notion of white theology, a theology that justifies oppression and divinely sanctions egregious acts against those who are marginalized.
Sealth is a challenging saint for me to reckon with. His words and witness force me to confront my own apathy and grapple with the messy intertwined histories of colonialism and Christianity. He boldly spoke truth to power and advocated for those who were being crushed under the inexorable advance of the “manifest destiny.” Foreseeing the human and environmental devastation, he reminded the colonizing powers of the cost. It was to no avail.
Winning the Golden Halo in this absurd and beautiful competition will not rectify the wrongs. But maybe it can remind us of God’s own self-revelation as an emptied and broken human being, one who was crushed by a cruel and unforgiving empire, only to be raised on the third day as promise that one day God would make right the many horrors suffered by people like him. If that hope is not Lenten madness, I don’t know what is.