by Tobin Miller Shearer
Matthew 9:9-13 (NRSV) – As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
After Brenda Zook Friesen answered God’s call to take the leadership reins of a national Christian antiracism program, she had to learn – like Matthew – how to daily follow the map that God provides.
She soon discovered that one hindrance to her divine reliance was the color of her skin. She said, “As a white person, I receive power and privilege. My skin color gives me the illusion of being completely self-autonomous. Even for daily things I can fool myself into thinking that I am in control.” Brenda chuckled ruefully and then added, “If I depended on my white privilege alone, someone would have to argue with me pretty hard about why I need God for everyday life.”
Yet, as she challenged the system that gave people like her more resources and power than people of color, she learned anew how much she does need God. While working with universities, national mission agencies and denominational bodies, an essential insight emerged. She said, “Dismantling racism challenges the very things that are supposed to help my life make sense as a white person. When ripping up the maps that help you navigate, you need something else to be your guide. For me, that’s God.”
Dear God, we don’t know what the next years hold. Please make us aware how we can enter new levels of dependence on You. Help us to follow You when the world’s maps show up blank.
Tobin Miller Shearer is an associate professor of History at the University of Montana where he also directs the African-American Studies Program. A prolific author, his most recent book is Daily Demonstrators: The Civil Rights Movement in Mennonite Homes and Sanctuaries (Johns Hopkins: 2010). He is a co-founder of ROJ’s Damascus Road Antiracism Process.