Friday, August 31, 2012

James 1:17-27

Pentecost +14 - Year B

An introduction of Mitt Romney by Grant Bennett at the 2012 Republican Convention included two scripture quotes. 

The first from Matthew 25,  “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” [emphasis in original] My ear was struck by the cadenced and tonal emphasis placed upon the word “one”. In the context of the focus on individualism throughout the convention, this confirmed a perspective that simple kindness to folks is only done in a context of one-on-one. In this setting it continues a denial of our working together to express simple kindness to a whole class of people. And so food stamps become an illegitimate expression of, “I was hungry and you fed me”?

The second was from the pericope from James we are dealing with this week. Grant reported: “In our early morning calls, Mitt didn’t discuss questions of theology. He found the definition of religion given by James in the New Testament to be a practical guide: ‘Pure religion … is to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction....’”

This continues a theme of individual actors who are “doers” of “a perfect law, the law of liberty”. In current Republican parlance, liberty means my liberty. These individual actors claim “they built that” — their salvation. Here it is actors, one-by-one, who see themselves as modeling G*D that are key. these individual actors make up a “religion” only through their individual action.

If we back up a bit there is an image of seeing G*D as though looking in a mirror to see ourself and what we find is that G*D’s face becomes indistinguishable from our Neighbor’s face as well as our own. Everywhere we look we see G*D revealed, not just in any good deeds done.

What was left out of the quote was keeping “oneself unstained by the world”. The Republican convention seems to want to keep itself unstained by only dealing with individuals, never working in concert to see the original “us” in our main creation story [“let us make humanity in our image”]. This gets implemented here by never working together through our corporate decision-making processes of government to care for whole groups of people, orphans and widows and any others discriminated against. These would not be named if death and circumstance simply happened. It is that we have structured inequalities, based on any number of criteria, into our societies. This means we have to deal with structural matters structurally as well as individually. It is not that one is an orphan but that we have decided that such a happenstance defines one as less than blessed and someone who can be ignored.

We are all stained by our discriminatory mores. We don’t keep ourselves unstained but in lifting the stain of discrimination from others we find our own life less diminished. This happens in both individual and collective action. We are always discussing “questions of theology”. Let’s not avoid this — the water is fine, jump in and play. 

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