Life in the Upside Down
CrossOver reflection for Week 35 • Beginning August 4, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 48
Rev. Jeremy Smith
Like many preachers, I usually start my discernment for a week’s worship service and sermon message with the Lectionary: that decades-ago discerned calendar for preaching and teaching. I don’t always stick to it, but I begin with it because it is remarkable how often the Lectionary readings match the text of our lives that week.
The same is true for this CrossOver year book We Make The Road By Walking. This week’s Chapter 48 is about demons and what happens when a spirit seems to take hold of a people causing them to do things completely out of their character. McLaren outlines what happens when ordinarily decent people act badly and cause great harm that they wouldn’t normally do.
In a way, “demon-possessed” basically describes every week of the past few years in this current American administration. The incredible rise in the number of racist attacks and rhetoric, of immigration policies locking children in cages, of women’s stories being dismissed—no matter who you voted for, these stories ought to disturb us and spur us into action. As McLaren outlines the Gospel and Pauline accounts, it’s like they are demon-possessed or at least living into states of abject racism, classism, and sexism, amongst others. Things seem completely upside down.
But that’s my view as a privileged straight white male. In truth, marginalized communities have known this violence all along. There have always been people abusing those who present as a minority ethnicity. There have always been #MeToo and #ChurchToo violations at all levels. And there have been heinous overreaches of law and immigration enforcement against marginalized persons before. What’s different? Now we know more about it and some stories are being shared more openly and technology allows previously disparate movements to coalesce across the Internet and act more boldly.
These days, I wonder if we have things backward. We used to think those who acted in abjectly racist ways were triggered to act outside their nature. But we know now what racist structures of society can look like, what patriarchy looks like in insidious forms, and what white nationalism looks like in every corner of American society, including the Church.
UM Theologian Marjorie Suchocki says that sins that we were born into—accepted or benefitted from without acknowledgment—are “original sins” that infect us without our knowledge and must be named, unlearned, and blotted out by the power of Jesus Christ. We are all infected or at least benefit from these unfair structures.
Maybe life in the Upside Down means that we are called to look for those who are Spirit-possessed, who live and act in ways that are in nonconformity with the expectations of society. We look to those stories that inspire us to rise above our stations, to self-examine and purge ourselves of our uncontested -isms. And we seek to spark or trigger those moments within our own communities such that the powers and principalities start to lose ground, and a new reign of peace and justice starts to take hold again. To allow Wesleyan prevenient grace to germinate without contention.
May we live each week in this CrossOver year and quadrennium looking for those who are Spirit-possessed, who name that which is sin-sick in themselves and in others, and lift them up and emulate them. And may each of us through study and service cause ourselves to be more easily infected by this Spirit. The choice is yours.