Later this month will mark the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico as its 3.3 million residents still reeled from the impact of the often forgotten Hurricane Irma which hit the island just two weeks before.
As I type these words, I whisper the name Raúl Pagán, my father’s cousin—que en paz descanse (the blessing Puerto Ricans say when we recall someone that has died). He did not survive Hurricane Maria.
Thousands have died as a result of the inadequate and inefficient relief efforts of the United States and the outright apathetic mindset towards its own citizens that make up the Puerto Rican people living on the island. How do you prove you are worth saving to those that decide with no sense of alliance or accountability? See you as a dispensable burden?
In this midst of trying to rebuild after this catastrophic event, many are denied access to FEMA because they cannot “prove” that they owned their property. When the waters and the winds have taken it all, how can you find that one bit of proof?
This year marked the 120 anniversary of the US invasion of Puerto Rico. Learn a bit, here.
And it is from this colonial frame that I am reading the call of Abram today.
Read the story, again, here.
I have preached on Abram’s faithfulness; his yes. I continue to be inspired by it.
I have preached on hope and God’s promise. I stand on them, still.
Read a commentary on this promise, here.
But today, MY resounding yes to God comes as a direct no to colonialism.
Because in a time when racism and white supremacy show up as patriotism and nationalism we are called to decolonize our understanding of the call to “go from your country…to the land that I will show you… to your offspring, I will give this land.”
And today, my reading of God’s promise is one that reclaims that ingrained in our collective call as God’s people is a responsibility to assert our human connection and a determination to live with mutual care and accountability.
Because when communities are being disappeared, families separated, too many enslaved under the system of mass incarceration and women and children are being trafficked on a daily basis—we are called to decolonize our reading of “the persons whom they had acquired” and “the pitching of tents” on land belonging to another people.
The story of Abram and Sarai is also about risk-taking and leaving the familiar behind.
Sometimes before we can get to hope and promise we have to be willing to engage in risky conversations with the text and with one another. We have to risk asking the difficult questions and face many hard truths. Those in positions of privilege and comfort must be willing to let go of the familiar and reframe the story from the perspective of the dispossessed and those who are still living under the curse of colonization and marginalization.
Will the solutions be obvious and the answers come quickly?
NO! Because reconciliation, transformation, healing, and growth require persistence and perseverance.
Is Sunday worship the time and place for such conversation?
YES! Because what better place to work out our calling than in the church, among others seeking to be faithful? And what better time than when we have gathered to pray and to praise together?
Is it worth it?
YES! Because a new world is possible and available to us all.
Is the church up to the challenge?
Of course—because we are indeed “blessed to be a blessing.”
I would love to hear your thoughts on how we read with new eyes and lead with renewed hearts. Share your comments freely and blessings in your preparations and leadership.
Rev. Dr. Marilyn Pagán-Banks is a queer womanist freedom fighter, minister, teacher, and learner committed to the liberation of oppressed peoples, building power and creating community. She lives in Chicago with her spouse, three children and eight grandchildren (!) and currently serves as executive director of A Just Harvest, pastor at San Lucas UCC and Namasté UCC, and adjunct professor at McCormick Theological Seminary.
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