Sunday, July 26, 2015

The point of privilege

My article for the Parish Notes for 07/23/07 (posted late - sorry! :)

In her book, Meditations from A Simple Path, Mother Theresa offers this prayer: “Dear Lord, the Great Healer, I kneel before You,
since every perfect gift must come from You. I pray, give skill to my hands, clear vision to my mind, kindness and meekness to my heart. Give me singleness of purpose, strength to lift up part of the burden of my suffering fellow man, and a true realization of the privilege that is mine. Take from my heart all guile and worldliness, that with the simple faith of a child, I may rely on you.”

This prayer is a call for an inward change: meekness of heart and a true realization of our privilege… that has an outward effect: strength to lift up the part of the burden suffered by others that we can.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary: privilege is “a right or immunity granted, and it is specifically attached to a position or office.” We who are richly blessed with wealth, power, position, the socially acceptable race, gender, or sexual orientation, are called to open our eyes to a ‘true realization of the privilege that is ours’ then imitate God by acting to restore right relationships.

Old Testament theologian Bruce Birch reminds us that prophets like Amos caution us about the cost of privilege: “those who enjoy the fruits of wealth and luxury without regard to the plight of the poor and needy are as guilty as those who actively exploit them.” (“Let Justice Roll Down, The Old Testament, Ethics, and Christian Life,” 263) Jesus restates this idea in a familiar phrase in Mark’s gospel: “many who are first will be last and the last will be first.” (Mk 10:31)

Most of us are already actively working to make things better in our world. Here at Redeemer we serve the hungry every Wednesday by offering a hot meal and food pantry. From the start of this ministry, however, we have been committed to serving friendship as well as food, to offering our time, attention, and a compassionate ear to hear the burdens of those we serve, then do what we can to relieve those burdens.

Most of the time that means finding a couple of dollars for medications they can’t afford, i.e., blood pressure, heart meds, antibiotics. Other times it means connecting them with local service agencies or going with them to report below standard living conditions at their rental homes. You might be surprised (we still are) how our presence with them , or our making the connection for them, changes the way they’re treated and motivates action on their behalf.

That’s how our privilege can be used to lift the burden of those who don’t have it.

We aren’t called to give up our privilege but to own it and use it to build bridges and relieve the burdens of those who suffer. We can use our white privilege to foster racial reconciliation responding to the very loud cries for that (for those with ears to hear) right now. Men can use their privilege to acknowledge and close the gender gap in wages and employment opportunities for women. Heterosexuals can speak out and act in solidarity with homosexuals who put their jobs at risk if they claim their legal right to marry.

The point of having privilege is to use it to eliminate injustice. May God give us the courage to acknowledge our privilege, the strength and will to use it to relieve the burden of our suffering neighbors and establish justice, and the wisdom to look beyond the immediate reactions the world might have, focusing instead on the eternal rewards Jesus has promised us. Amen.

By The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherre, Rector

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