“Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” — A Samaritan Woman to Jesus, a Jew, in John chapter 4
Recently, I went to Tractor Supply Co. to think about getting some chicks. Growing up we often had chickens, and it was a constant fight with the predators to keep them alive. We wanted the yummy eggs, and the carnivorous wild animals of Sampson County wanted a nice chicken filet, extra rare. Wanting to have chickens and eggs, willing to struggle against the predators, we were talking with the salesman. “Do you want sexed or unsexed chickens?” he asked us. It costs a little bit more, but if you want to ensure that you have only hens, you can pay a little bit more money. This is central to our consumer culture. We think that with enough resources, we should always get to choose.
The consumer culture does not only affect our individual purchases but also the way we interact with other people, as a nation. In the same way that an individual at Tractor Supply Co may want to buy pre-sexed chickens, the USA as a country wants to allow in pre-raced immigrants. The process of assimilation offers the promise that they might one day be e-raced, that is, without the distinctions with which they came to America, having been completely absorbed. In reality, because America operates with a system of White Supremacy, the implicit promise of America is that, with enough time, your descendents can become accepted more into the culture of Whiteness. At one point in history, the Irish were not considered to be white. The process of separating and applying meaning to different people, based on the idea of race is as American as apple pie.
As Christians, we are called to have an imagination that sees God working in new and creating ways, no matter where we are or what our reality is. Think about how our culture “races” people — sorting them into different groups. Think about how this has historically applied to the Church. We worship in different locations, with different expressions and understandings of God. White and Black and Hispanic and Korean United Methodist Churches all worship God at the same time, within the same state of North Carolina, but our experiences are very different.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well — one of his many transgressions of the first century, Palestinian, social conventions. He is talking with her, and she brings up, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus responds with a cryptic reply, as He often does, saying, “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” What does he mean by this?
Even as we are pre-raced, with some of our identities being threatened with erase, let us remember the words of Jesus. Yes, we worship differently. Yes, we experience the world differently. However, the future of Jesus followers is the same as it has always been. That is to say, true followers of Jesus and worshipers of the Trinity must worship, not from a physical list of separations as the core, but from the spiritual truths that connect us. I don’t want to ignore our differences, because being color-blind always downplays the trauma that difference has caused us. However, I do want for our focus to be, not on what separates, but on what brings us together — the Spirit and Truth of God with us.
Consider: How might my words bring me closer to people who are different than me?
Pray: Lord, please help me to worship you in Spirit and in Truth, and to connect to your broader work, outside of my circles of influence and affluence. Amen.