On some Sundays (OK, more Sundays than I’d like to admit), after attending the 5 p.m. service, I drive to District Taco for takeout. (After all, the owners are fellow parishioners. It’s a community blessing!)
This past Sunday evening the restaurant was, as usual, packed—packed with families, singletons, couples, teens… Also as usual, these diners were of every gender, style, race, ethnicity, and age. There were South Asian grandmothers, Latino families, Korean hipsters swigging Coronas, a young man with a military haircut, dads corralling little children, a heavily pregnant woman fanning herself with a Loteria card, even a much-older man with tortoiseshell glasses who might have come straight from the Skull-and-Bones era of the CIA.
I’m describing these people so particularly for a reason, and that reason has everything to do with this week’s sermon by Father Andrew. Even if all of the facts and assumptions I’ve made are wholly correct—and they’re probably not—they can’t tell me much about those people. The South Asian grandmothers might just be friends of the children they’re sitting with this evening. The Latino mother and father with two children might be a blended family. Maybe that preppy gentleman is an engineer on holiday from Canberra, nothing at all to do with the government.
We cannot truly know the facts about others unless they tell us those facts themselves—and facts are only the beginning. Father Andrew discussed the story Herod the Tetrarch remembers about the beheading of John the Baptist and reminded us that it is a passage in The Gospel of Mark that is meant to shock, meant to stop us in our tracks and consider how gruesome and wrong it would be to have a wedding interrupted by a severed head on a platter.
He eventually tied this to a recent local meeting about the relocation of Fire Station 8. This historic station on Lee Highway was planned, built, and staffed by African-American Arlingtonians in an era when their community was not served by “regular” fire stations. African-Americans donated the land, the supplies, the labor, and the firefighters who made sure the homes of their families and friends had access to fire safety and emergency services. It was the first African-American fire station south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Now, a County plan to improve response times means that Fire Station 8 might be relocated. During the recent meeting, longtime community members spoke out on how painful and wrong this seemed to them. How shocking it was for them to think about this important reminder of their history, work, and progress being taken away—especially when there is still progress to be made in our country on race relations.
“If you could have been at that meeting and heard the pain in the voices and seen the anguish in the faces of those people, you would better understand how wrong this move is to them,” said Father Andrew.
Our rector’s words made me think hard about how easy it is to see something (people in District Taco) or read about something (a County meeting’s minutes), but not understand it unless you communicate directly with those involved. A small news item stating “Fire Station 8 will be relocated to a new spot on Lee Highway in order to improve response times” means I nod and move on to the next bit of news. A report about how dismayed that relocation makes a retired schoolteacher who used the example of that historic station to encourage her students of color to dream big? That stops me. That makes me think.
Last week I had lunch with my younger daughter, and she told me that she’d argued with a high-school classmate about the use of the Confederate flag in South Carolina. He thought it was a demonstration of free speech; she believes its use is always inappropriate now that we better understand the pain that it causes so many people. “It’s a question of judgment,” she said to me.
Arlington County’s officials must weigh practical considerations about emergency response times against historical and emotional considerations about past sins. As Father Merrow also said in this week’s sermon, the Christian response to wrongs done is not one of erasure, nor is it one of revisionism. “The Christian response to past wrongs is forgiveness,” he preached. We can acknowledge that something existed, that something was wrong, and that it needs to change.
This week’s Gospel doesn’t follow immediately from last week’s, nor does it connect immediately to next week’s—in story, or theme. But Mark and the Holy Spirit knew what they were doing: Shaking us up, reminding us that we shouldn’t just placidly follow the news we know. We need to look behind the scenes sometimes and recall the things that are most shocking so that we may move ahead to the Good News.
- Remember a time where you heard someone’s story that changed the way you viewed them. How has that shaped you?
- Whose story do you need to hear or who do you need to share your story with so that you can understand each other?
- Is there someone whom you need to forgive? How can you forgive them?