How many of us privileged white folks picture ourselves as Mary?
More than one pastor has invited me to “put myself in her shoes” and admire her willingness to take on the precarious position as an unwed mother in Roman-occupied, ancient Palestine. Most often their focus emphasizes Mary’s obedience: ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ We are told that we too can be obedient like Mary… we too can choose to accept the Lord’s calling in our own lives no matter how “disruptive” or “uncomfortable” it might be.
So here’s the thing, my privileged white sisters and brothers, we cannot be like Mary. She is not our model for discipleship, she is not our sister in the struggle of discerning God’s call, and, just to be perfectly clear, Mary does not want us anywhere near her shoes.
Yet Mary does one thing that might help save us.
Mary names us.
We are the proud.
We are the powerful.
We are the rich.
Mary not only names us, she warns us.
"[The Lord] has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty" (Luke 1:51-53).
I know that Mary will not reach most of us. On the day the decision came back not to indict the policeman who choked Eric Garner to death, Scott Woods wrote the following reflection:
Every conversation about this is going to seem so plastic tonight, so pointless. Numbing. If you aren’t numb you haven’t been keeping score. I want to go back onto the Facebook thread where I was debating with an actual police officer about body cams and just say, ‘You know what? I give up. No more essays, no more updates, no more poems. You win.’ But then, he doesn’t need to hear that. He already knows.
He–we–already know. We can keep our power. We can keep our distance. We can keep our silence. We can keep benefiting from our privilege by hiding behind it, by continuing to live our lives as non-white bodies are sacrificed on our idolatrous altars of supremacy.
Yet we do so at our own peril, and I believe we are teetering on the brink of hell.
As Rod Thomas states:
…the events happening in Ferguson are not about the individual Mike Brown versus one isolated bigoted individual. See, White Supremacy exists as a system, a set of rules and myths, roles to be played, a counter-narrative as you will to the Good News. As I have written about White Supremacy as a Religion in the past, it is the Demon that will not be named. Refusing to confess sin (naming it) is a refusal towards taking the first steps of repentance.
As this Advent season draws to a close, let’s dwell, my privileged white sisters and brothers on the reality of our privilege. Let’s sink into the hellish pit of convicting grace and wake up to the realization that our sin runs deep. Let’s take a close look in the mirror that the world is holding up for us right now through the numerous protests in the streets and on social media — what would it mean for us to live in a world where #blacklivesmatter? …and where #CrimingWhileWhite does not? We won’t get there without acknowledging the sin first, that is the first step. Repentance without it is meaningless and leads to faith in someone or something other than the God whom we know through the person of Jesus Christ. If you are just starting on this intensely painful yet ultimately salvific journey towards repentance, I recommend you read this, this, this, and this.
Through such examination and conviction we hopefully can avoid the false, cheap, empty repentance that characterizes the lip service that passes as faith in the Lord we are anticipating in less than a week. We can do this work as our mother Mary invites us to do through her indictment of our sin… or we can choose to face the consequences of our denial—either in this world or the next. We are the ones in a precarious position, not Mary, and she knows it.
Kelly West Figueroa-Ray, M.Div. is a United Methodist layperson, a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary, and a current graduate student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia.