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The Beauty of Pentecost: Good Choices

Reflections from Dr. Howell

   Eight days ago, in the sermon, mention was made of a poignant interaction between Elena Richardson, a wealthy white woman (played by Reese Witherspoon) and Mia Warren, a struggling African american woman (played by Kerry Washington) in Little Fires Everywhere. With not very subtle condescension, Elena declares to Mia, “A good mother makes good choices.” Mia responded with a harsh truth: “You didn’t make good choices! You had good choices!” I can’t get this scene out of my mind.

Some white people are mortified by the idea of white privilege. Others simply see it as a reality: no condemnation, just how things are. I can’t speak for you, only for myself – and for me, privilege plays out in many ways. I grew up in a trailer. My parents never went to college. But I had huge privilege in 7th grade math class. The teacher openly joked that girls aren’t good at math. And then, when the school integrated, she fretted mightily that now she had a black boy who would be hopeless at math. I lived into her assumptions that I, as a white boy, probably could zip right through algebra.

Now I am someone with mountains of privilege. I need a medical specialist? I know one personally. Someone in my f amily needs legal or accounting assistance, or a leg up getting into anything? I have social capital. Maybe you do too. No condemnation. It’s knowing the truth about ourselves. I could say I’ve worked hard, I’ve made good choices. But I’m not half as shrewd as I may wish to think. I’ve been a lucky dog. People have been kind to me, patient with me. I’ve done as much dumb stuff as anybody else. The stars are well-aligned for me, and maybe for you too. I have good choices.

The stars are not so well-aligned for so many others. One day I heard an energized mom stating how stressful it was for her son trying to decide whether to go to Davidson or Sewanee. He has good choices. Right after that, my wife shared with me that her mentee at Garinger High School wondered aloud if she might actually go to college one day – a dre am that seemed impossible given her f amily’s poverty and lack of education. With no good choices, this girl made some miraculous choices and is heading to college now.

I’ve never been pulled over by a policeman on a hunch or for anything trivial. Most of my black friends have. A clergy friend of mine was pulled by a policeman, who c ame to the window and asked Where’d you get that car? and then pulled him out and frisked him. I’ve never had to make a good or a bad choice in such a situation, but I doubt I’d be entirely gracious if this happened to me.

God doesn’t call us to make great choices to earn admission to the club of good choosers, segregated from the non-good choosers. God calls us to be in this together, humbly to recognize the truth about ourselves, and others, never to judge or bl ame, always to be grateful and exceedingly generous. Gerhard Lohfink, in his great book about Jesus, says it’s so easy to say God is generous, for that doesn’t cost us a thing, and it doesn’t change a thing either. God calls us to be generous, to change things, to use the good choices we have and share that capital with others who are lunging for a miracle. The old Haitian proverb is right: “God gives, but God doesn’t share.”

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