On a recent trip to Alexandria, Nick and I ushered at Signature Theatre for A Little Night Music. I will confess I did not know the show nor did I know that a particular song was from the show—I just thought it was all Judy Collins.
It is a delightful play and the cast is fabulous. There is humor and wisdom on stage. Longing and pent-up frustration also appear. Fredrik and Anne have been married for eleven months and she is still a virgin—the reality of which accounts for some of the humor and pent-up frustration. Fredrik takes Anne to the theatre to see a play staring Desiree Armfeldt. Fredrik and Desiree, once lovers, find their paths crossing again. A backstage tryst leads to an invitation to spend the weekend in the country. After a somewhat disastrous dinner party, Desiree ascends to her bedroom to mend the hem of her torn gown. Fredrik finds her and in one of the more poignant scenes deep love and longing is expressed. It is in this setting that Desiree sings—“Isn’t it rich? Are we a pair?…” She pours her heart into the words and Fredrik watches with intensity. And before she sings the last verse, Fredrik says “Desiree, I’m sorry. I never should have come. To flirt with rescue when one has no intention of being saved…Do try to forgive me.”
As Fredrik left the stage, I leaned over to Nick and repeated the line “To flirt with rescue when one has no intention of being saved…that’ll preach.”
And the next day, it was—preached that is.
While Nick and Sassy are still living in Alexandria, that is also home. And so, when I’m home with them, I usually worship with Nick. He is a member of the most awesome Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church. The Sunday after seeing “Night Music”, Fr. Tim preached. Drawing on Jeremiah 20:7 – 9 and Matthew 16:21 – 27, he challenged those in the sanctuary to fully embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. “We have domesticated the gospel,” he said “wanting it to be something that makes us feel good and gives us comfort.” And yet, if we are serious about being disciples of Jesus, he went on to say, we have to recognize that the gospel demands much from us—a way of life that is counter cultural. And then he addressed DACA and Charlottesville and the necessity for white people to have serious and intentional conversations about race, conversations that lead to systemic change. We cannot, he said, think talking about these things is enough. We have to act. And the line came back to me—to flirt with rescue when one has no intention of being saved.
The events of Charlottesville and the aftermath continue to hold my attention—and rightly so. As I read the newspaper and listen to the radio, scroll through my Facebook feed and talk with friends, it seems to me there is some flirtation going on. Yes, we can remove statues of Confederate soldiers and rename streets. But if we do not have serious conversation about how we got here and why this happened and what to do next, we are flirting with rescue.
Flirtation is surface; salvation requires a deep dive. Pulling down statues is surface. Coming to terms with white privilege requires a deep dive. Renaming streets is surface. Dismantling systemic racism requires a deep dive.
As a part of my new work as General Presbyter for the Presbytery of the Western Reserve, I am getting to know my new city and surrounding areas. I learned of, applied for, and was accepted into the Neighborhood Leadership Development Program. This program seeks to develop diverse leadership abilities of Clevelanders who are committed to creating a city and region that works for everyone. Their vision is to foster leadership that is committed to creating progressive change.
This is not flirting; this is deep dive. And it got real deep real quick this past Saturday when we ventured into the arena of character based leadership. One example we considered was the Reverend Robert Wright Lee IV. If you haven’t read his story, you can read it here. As we discussed his actions and what it said about his character, one person in the room said, “Anybody white willing to speak out against racism is going to lose something.”
Changing this part of our life together is more than mere flirtation. This requires time, energy, courage, vulnerability. This requires a confession of fear and moving forward anyway. To dismantle the racism that exists is going to be a long haul and at times I wonder if we’re more comfortable with flittering—I know I am. Am I willing to lose something? Am I willing to be changed? Am I willing to be uncomfortable and challenged so that all people who call this country home are given respect and dignity? Am I willing to risk my privilege so that all people who call this country home can sleep safely at night and during the day live full and unencumbered lives? God, I hope so. And even as I write this, I am aware there may be much in the preceding questions that are cause for naiveté—and so I ask for correction and insight.
In the end, all is well for Fredrik and Desiree. The flirtation gives way; salvation seems possible. I’m hoping the truth on the stage will impose itself into my daily living.
Image: A favorite picture hanging the office which is only flirtation without action