Exodus 1: 8 – 2:10
Dread and Water
Rev. Elizabeth Macaulay
August 24, 2014
I enjoyed a great week of vacation.
My husband Cooper and I camped for two nights and then spent days on end in the company of my children at our cabin. And, we celebrated my birthday, which, according to Cooper is not birth day but a birth month.
Throughout my time away I felt such gratitude for so much.
And I felt such deep pain because a town in Missouri – Ferguson by name – was calling to us as a nation to drop the blinders we have put on. Blinders worn by those of us who walk this earth in skin the color of cauliflower.
I’m talking about racism.
I have ached these past weeks- haven’t you – as those who wanted to cry out against oppression were shot at and muffled and demonized and oh, let us hear this Exodus scripture story of our faith with Ferguson in our hearts.
The Exodus text and our lives must talk to each other.
Because we are sprung, we Jesus followers, our very Genesis as a people of God, is sprung from the same kind of reality and outrage voiced in Ferguson.
Before I read the text it is important to know that our faith ancestors, the Hebrew People, were the victims of incredible oppression. They were powerless. They were slaves in Egypt and they were considered less than human and their value lay in their ability to make Pharaoh and the others in power rich.
The Egyptians used the Hebrew people as slaves. And as the slaves continued to have families, the Egyptians came to dread the slaves.
Those the Egyptians oppressed they also feared. So they sought to contain the Hebrew people through genocide.
Those tasked with helping bring healthy children through a safe birth were told to murder boy children.
But they would not collude with power. The Hebrew midwives would not go along.
So the child who would come to be called Moses was born.
And his mother knew that his racial and ethnic identity made the world unsafe for him.
Can you hear the echoes?
The mother of a precious son had to send him off in a boat on the river and pray that he would be found and be safe in a world made dangerous by dread.
(Read Exodus 1: 8 – 2:10)
Can you imagine a world in which your children’s safety is threatened because of the color of their skin?
Can you imagine knowing that the very existence of your child is somehow a threat to those in power – that your child provokes dread – and so you savor the time you have with him and then, when you can no longer risk having him in your home, you create a boat and give him over to the river?
Praying that someone might find him and shelter him? The Mother of Moses knew that wrench.
And, mothers and fathers in the United States of America know that fear. People of color who love their children know that they are less safe than children whose skin is white.
This is statistically so. I don’t want to believe it is so. I suspect you do not want to believe it is so.
But my brothers and sisters – we who are faith descendants of the oppressed Hebrew People – we must be willing to name the fact that Ferguson has compelled us to once again see.
Racism is real and it is deadly. For Egyptians and Hebrews. For whites and people of other colors. For those in Missouri and those in Rochester.
Racism is real.
A must-read book for us all is a book called “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. Really. Read the book. If you want to talk about it, let’s get a group together to do that.
Alexander looks at how it is mass incarceration of people of color is today’s iteration of Pharaoh’s abuse of power.
I share some statistics not to slam police officers who are working heroically on our behalf. Their jobs are so difficult and our compassion for them ought be strong. I share some statistics because they are real and must be shared:
According to a Council on Crime and Justice Institute on Race and Poverty report in
September 24, 2003:
In Minneapolis, Blacks were stopped 152% more often than expected and once stopped, subjected to discretionary searches 52% more often than expected. 11% of searches of Blacks produced contraband compared to 13% of searches of Whites.
If Minneapolis officers had stopped Blacks at the same rate as other drivers approximately 12,804 fewer Blacks would have been stopped in Minneapolis in 2002. If Blacks stopped in Minneapolis had been subjected to discretionary searches at the same rate as all stopped drivers, 1,053 fewer Blacks would have been searched.
African American people of color are profiled and they are incarcerated at a rate nearly six times that of whites. (The New Jim Crow)
The incidence of drug usage is much higher among people who are of European American descent, but a survey conducted in 1995 asking the following question:
“Would you close your eyes for a second, envision a drug user, and describe that person to me?” The startling results were published in the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education. 95% of respondents pictured a black drug user, while only 5 percent imagined other racial groups.
These results contrast sharply with the reality of drug crime in America. African Americans constituted only 15% of current drug users in 1995 (the date of the survey), and they constitute roughly the same percentage today (in 2010 when the book was written). Whites constituted the vast majority of drug users then (and now), but almost no one pictured a white person when asked to imagine what a drug user looks like.” (The New Jim Crow, pg. 106)
What does this kind of racism look and feel like in the human hearts affected?
I ran across a piece written by a pastor, an man of Asian ancestry, who lives in Seattle. He shared conversation with a man about racism. He shared this story:
“Pastor Eugene, (he said), you speak of injustice and prejudice. Thank you for sharing your story. I wanted to also share my story with you. In fact I feel my “otherness” every single day. Every single day.
You see, I get on the Seattle Metro bus early on its transit up North as it makes its way South to downtown Seattle where I work. As you can assume, the bus gets eventually crowded. In fact, it gets packed. But when I get on the bus, I am always among the first ten passengers and each of us can choose where to sit. And yes, we all choose to sit… alone. But as the bus makes its way from stop to stop. I being to notice something. People are eager to find seats and every single day, every seat is taken…but nearly every single day,,, one seat remains… the last seat taken.
Can you guess what seat that is?
Yes, it is the seat next to me. It is the last seat taken. Nearly every single day.
Do you know why?
Do you know why?
Because I am a dark-skinned Black Man… and people believe I am dangerous.
This is how I begin my day.
Nearly every day.
This is my story.
And rivers save.
By rivers I mean the power of the the river that carried Moses and the power of the river that Jesus waded into for baptism and by river I mean the water that marked you and me as disciples of Jesus Christ and WE ARE WITNESSES to the insistence God places upon our hearts and lives that the legacy of our being as followers of Jesus is that we must hear the pain of our brothers and sisters and know it as our own.
It is our own.
So the pain of racism? As the descendants of the Hebrew people we will name it and begin to acknowledge its soul and life-killing power in order for us to create a world in which mothers and fathers don’t have to live in terror that Pharaoh’s dread will kill their babies.
We can do this work. God is with us in this work. We must be the midwives and the descendants of Moses.
And here is what that work looks like.
There was an article in the Rochester Post Bulletin about Katherine Switzer who is in town for the three-day Mayo Clinic Heathy Human Race Weekend.
Katherine Switzer was a runner before women were supposed to be doing such things. Marathon running was not open to women. She determined that she wanted to run the Boston Marathon. She just wanted to run. So she entered the race.
Two miles into the race she was attacked by a race official who was so incensed that she didn’t know her place in life. He tried to pull her off the course.
Switzer became very frightened and even more determined as she sought to get away from him.
What happened? Male runners moved in to form a protective curtain around Switzer, until the protesting trainer was finally wedged out of the way.
She finished the marathon. She made history. (Rochester Post Bulletin 8/23/14)
Because those who had privilege – the male runners – saw the injustice and worked together to create safety the world was forevermore changed.
And so it is for us each and all. We have so much privilege. Will we allow ourselves to hear the cry of the oppressed and will we know that the legacy of our faith compels us to know it as our own?
It’s our work, brothers and sisters in Christ.
It’s our work.