Friendly reminder

A brief refresher for myself, and for others who share this problem with me:

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbours house [,parsonage committee, garden, first floor master bedroom, refinanced mortgage, solar panels, or geothermal heat], thou shalt not covet thy neighbours wife [,husband, boyfriend, or monastery], nor his manservant, nor his maidservant [even though servants sound nice…], nor his ox, nor his ass [,thighs, abs, hair, hairlessness, or complexion], nor any thing that is thy neighbours [including, but not limited to, thy neighbours pregnancy, children, childlessness, plane tickets, skiing ability, sense of humor, ordination, career, book contract, singing voice, creativity, sense of style, lack of pet allergies, patience, confidence, babysitter list, height, shoes, school district, education, music collection, perfect eyesight, or yarn.  No, not even their yarn.]  – Exodus 20:17 (KJV, for starters)

To which I respond, with Paul:

Oh, wretched [wo]man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

Jesus Land, again

Since having read Jesus Land and posted about it – twice – there have been a couple of interesting developments.  The professor who asked me to read and comment on the book, Dr. Amy Laura Hall, forwarded on my entries to two other professors that I also have great respect for – Dr. Willie Jennings and Dr. J. Kameron Carter.  And I read Dr. Carter’s own blog entry on the subject.  And my family’s adoption profile went live at the agency we have been working with.

The last development might not seem particularly relevant, unless you have read the book – which is, in addition to all of the other things I wrote about, a story about cross-racial adoption.

Oh, did I neglect to mention race in my first two entries?  Yep, I did.

Puzzling out that one – why I had focused on the fundamentalism thread, and not even touched on the race thread – had been troubling me ever since reading Carter’s own insightful essay on the book.  Of course, there is lots that I didn’t comment on in the book, and that I still won’t touch on in this third post – I would have to write eight or ten or more entries! – but race was such a big part of the book that failing to mention it is almost like writing a review of Huck Finn and not mentioning that Jim was a runaway slave.  Scheeres, in writing the book, was carrying on a project of her brother David’s – which was explicitly an account of growing up black in a family of white fundamentalists.

As I drew nearer to the time when birthfamilies might be contacting me and my husband to discern if we were a good match, it became more clear to me what was going on.  I couldn’t talk about it because it was hitting too close to home.  Reading about a family that singled out their adopted children – their adopted children of another race – for stricter punishment – for physical abuse – was horrifying to me.  About a month after having discussed with the social worker how offensive we had found the very question of whether we could love an adopted child as much as our biological child, here I was reading about parents that could feel self-righteous, even downright martyrly – for having adopted an African American child, even as they beat that child, then washed their hands of him when he ended up in reform school.  Some of the saddest parts of the book for me were when the teenaged David looked forward eagerly to reuniting with his parents, as his sister hid from him their parents’ ugly feelings – they didn’t consider him part of the family any more.  How could they?! Adoption is forever!  You don’t tell a child you are their mother and then take it back!  It made me ill.

Julia later remembered that her parents had desired to adopt a particular white child – and when she was not available but a young African American boy was, they took him because of Christian guilt – they would be bad Christians to say no.  What of myself and my husband?  Were we open to children of other races only because we felt there was only one right answer – only one Christian thing to do?  Were we worried about how Christian (or not) we would appear to our friends if we showed up at church with a white baby?  Were we using the life of a flesh and blood child to make a point about ourselves to the world around?

But when I thought back on the many late night conversations with my husband, I was reassured – there was one right answer for us because of our upbringing in desegregated schools, and because of our personal convictions, our own ideas about humanity and God’s grace and the cultural construction of race, about giving space for any child we have – biological or adopted – to be different from ourselves (and are! and they will be!), and about love driving us to learn about whatever we need to learn about to care for the child God gives us.

I am not blind to the realities of the world around us.  Okay, I am.  Yes, I am.  But my husband and I believe that that which we do not ourselves experience still exists – in this case different treatment for people who look differently from ourselves.  And we will do our best to prepare our next child to face the world that will not embrace them as we ourselves embrace them.  We are doing the same already for our white daughter – the world has myriad nefarious ways for undermining a person’s belief in God’s love for them – they may not be old enough or young enough or pretty enough or the right gender or stoic enough or expressive enough or smart enough – or have the right color skin, the right texture of hair, the right shaped eyes.  And all of these things have very real consequences.  We must raise children who can exist in the world – but at the same time own that they are not of it.

So no matter who the baby ends up looking like (looking at the statistics at our agency, even with our openness to adopting a child of any heritage, we have about a 50% chance of ending up with a child whose birthparents both self-identify as white) we will definitely be reading the Bible, going to church, and… watching Dinosaur Train.  “…we’re all creatures!  All dinosaurs have different features!”

Serving the “undeserving”

Just before Christmas, I shared a clip from the Colbert Report on Facebook.  You have probably seen it – it is the one where Colbert’s identity as Sunday school teacher basically overcomes his character, and he really lets us have it about what Jesus is all about.  Soon after posting it, my friend Scott wrote to me that he had first seen it when his pastor posted it the week before – she had suggested that it would make a great Christmas Eve sermon.

This message led to a great conversation about the Christian obligation to base our loving response upon need and not upon a person’s “deserving” – based in large part upon our understanding that we have received abundantly more than anyone could ever hope to deserve.  However, Scott and I were not in agreement about the extent to which government should be a part of that loving response.  This does not much trouble me, these days – my overall political philosophy has not changed too much in the past 18 years or so, but my ability to see the other guy’s point has.

Thoughtful Christians who believe that government should certainly have a role in protecting and nurturing “the least, the last, and the lost” may believe (as I do) that to trust individuals to do this without the carrot and stick that government provides is to be naive about the fall – about the inevitability of the job not getting done unless someone makes those with the most power and wealth surrender some of what they have for the have nots.  Thoughtful Christians (such as Scott) who believe that caring for all those in need can and should in fact be done without doing it through government may believe that I and my cohort are being naive about the fall – about the inevitability of corruption and graft preventing much good from getting done, and so diverting much needed resources to pork projects, not to mention the money lost to lobbying, and salaries of various undersecretaries of dubious value to the commonweal, and on and on.  And it may well be that, in his assertion that “The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus was conceding both of our points.  The fall is pervasive – and we will not be the ones to architect the demise of the “not yet,” and with our “cunning plan” singlehandedly hasten the kingdom’s coming.  Alas, we are still – all of us – seeing in a glass dimly.

It has come to be that, for me, the more important measure of how much I am going to be renewed by my time with a person is not whether we voted for the same folks, but whether we worship the same Jesus – who loves us all more than we deserve, and so inspires us to love and care for and act on behalf of others without hesitating merely because “they got themselves into this mess.”  We may disagree on the best way to go about serving the poor, the lost, and the lonely, but I hope that we can agree that we are called to serve them – whomever and wherever they are.

Who is there to judge but Christ Jesus?  The one who died for us – when we were yet sinners!