As I mentioned in my last post, I spent this week in Bermuda with my partner and Purity, a very good friend from Kenya. I’m going to share more photos and stories from the trip in a later post; for now, here’s one of the three of us at Cooper’s Island.
The week provided time for enjoyment, wonder, and conversations that are impossible in the normal hustle of life. After this photo was taken the three of us drove our scooters to Pizza House for traditional Bermudian fish sandwiches and a particularly powerful conversation about the cross-cultural nature of oppression.
Although our experiences of oppression were incredibly varied given our diversity of race, ethnicity, class and gender, there was a common thread that ran through our experiences and cultures: humans have always created systems to differentiate between who is right and who is wrong, who was “in” and who was ‘out,” who is valued and who is shunned, who has access and who is denied.
Anglican theologian Francis Spufford refers to this tendency to disrupt God’s dream for us to live in right-relationship as “the human propensity to f**k things up.”
This eternal struggle shows up in our reading for today: the people of the Way are forming beliefs that limit the gospel’s reach to only only the most deserving. This institution of merit is especially surprising in this situation because the community of the Way is founded on the grace of Jesus. By “grace” Paul is referring to the idea that all people have the capacity to comprehend and intimately know the love of God.
Paul is infuriated that people are placing bounds and limits on that which was never theirs to mediate. He responds: there is no other gospel than grace.
This plea of Paul’s, to stop creating systems that lay claim to what was never ours, is one we would do well to heed today. Although I would love to be proven wrong, it is unlikely we will ever stop creating systems of oppression. They are part of our very being.
However, the good news is that the love and grace of God abound in equal measure to our propensity to f**k things up. And if we can come to truly know this grace, a gift that we never earned and to which we can only respond to with abundant thanks, maybe then we will stop holding tightly to what we consider ours and work ardently to secure access for all people.
Prayer: Forgive our tendency to divide.
Reflection: Where are systems of merit or value present in my world? How do I benefit from them?
Art: Grace Remains by Makoto Fujimura