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By: Rev. LaTonya Calderon
Pastor and Director of Leadership Excellence & Inclusion
Read: Matthew 5:13-16
I find the season of Lent to be the most challenging season in our Christian year. As Rev. Dr. Michel Lundula stated in his first Sunday of Lent devotional, "It is a season of penitence, praying, fasting, self-denial, and engaging in spiritual disciplines as we reflect on the passion of the Lord." Maybe it's just me, but that does not sound like a good time. I have never been one with pom poms in hand cheering from the mountain tops, "Let's Go, Lent, Let's Go! Let's Go, Lent, Let's Go!" I do, however, believe it is a necessary journey for spiritual growth if we are to be who God has called us to be. Thus, while I never look forward to Lent, Lent has always produced amazing spiritual fruit in my life and this year has not failed to disappoint.
For me, it all started with the conference's invitation, "Remembering Who We Are." This sounds like a very hopeful premise. At first glance, it sounds like an act to look back to the past and reflect upon, recall, and root, into those ideas and beliefs that ground me into what I want to be. When I find myself on shaky or questionable ground or when I am striving to create what the future will hold, then "Remembering Who We Are" can be an act of solace. Looking back at all the good things that happened or even those things that were not so good but somehow, good has come from those bad experiences. I remember how my parents brought me up in church and the things I learned growing up in that Black Baptist Church. The singing and praying, the preaching and shouting. It was wonderful. But I also remember how I was fired from being the "Staff Minister" after the Senior pastor resigned because "a woman" could not serve as an interim. But that released me to seek ministry with the Iowa Annual Conference. Looking back on all these things does provide me with a sense of comfort and purpose.
But what happens when we look back at our past and remember all of it and not just some of it? When we remember the bad (without the good outcomes) with the good and allow all of it to inform not just who we are but who we want to be. This question right here stopped me in my tracks. It caused me also to look back and remember the way society formed and changed me. To see the ways I had been co-opted into a system of racism and sexism and the impacts that had not only on my life but my very being. I remember the times I did not stand up for myself. That I thought I was not good enough or worthy enough to have or be what my counterparts received. So "Remembering Who We Are" for me, has not always brought forth good fruit. But it has helped to focus on what continues to be the fight for "Remembering who we are supposed to be." So maybe it's not a question of who we are but who we are supposed to be.
I thank God for forgiveness and second, third, fourth-chance, after chance, after chance, to be and become the righteousness of God. Humanity has not gotten it right in all of history. At times we do get it right, but it seems all too inconsistent. The Black community continues to cry out, "How long must we suffer at the hands of racism?" In recent history it seems like, after the heightened awareness of racism after the killing of George Floyd, racism has fought against righteousness with laws seeking to silence, hide, and void Black history period, not alone not wanting it to be part of American history. I am reminded that our beloved founder, John Wesley himself, fought against savage acts of slavery in this country calling it a sin and a grave social ill. In spite of his fight against slavery, the church segregated Blacks into their own Central Conference. In 1968, when they abolished the Central Conference, the systems of racism continued to be present. We see glimpses of righteousness but all too soon it fades away. But the call of every follower of Christ, is that we must continue to strive to be who Christ wants, needs, and desires us to be. What does Christ want, need, and desire us to be, I hear you ask? I'm so glad you asked!
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. What if we remembered that we are called to be salt and light? What if we remembered we, followers of Christ, are to be the flavor, the something different in and unlike the world? What if we remembered we are called to be the light in the dark? To reveal God's love and truth in the world. What if we remembered we are called to be reflections of God's righteousness in all and at all times? Or at least when we do get it wrong, we reflect, repent, pray and fast, and engage in acts of self-denial and spiritual disciplines so that we might see a clearer picture of Christ, gain a deeper understanding, and possess a knowledge of what it means to be salt and light. What if we continually strived to be salt and light? Then surely we would be who we are supposed to be!