Consider your role in structural sin this Lent

As a Catholic kid growing up Lent mostly sucked. It pretty much took the usual layers of fear and guilt and heightened it even more with obligation. Year after year during my childhood  my vows to “give something up for Lent” failed faster than my pickup lines during my teen years. Eventually I pretty much gave up giving something up and Lent hasn’t bothered me much since.

Thankfully dynamic communities of faith are recalibrating the ancient spiritual traditions that have fallen out of favor because of obligation, fear and drudgery, all things I am convinced suck to God as much as they suck to us.  The purpose of these spiritual calendar events get lost in the translation. Now some, like First Mennonite Church of San Francisco are bringing them back.

But don’t let me tell you, let Pastors Sheri and Joanna invite you:

Lent is a season during which followers of Jesus are traditionally invited to repentance and renunciation of sin — which means, literally, “to miss the mark.” But of what sin are we to repent? Christianity, as we know it today, almost entirely emphasizes personal sin — greed, sloth, lust, lying — with little notion of “structural sin” or “systemic evil.” Yet most of the sin in which we engage is structural or systemic in nature, encoded in unjust power arrangements that form our economic, political and cultural systems.

However, this structural injustice is relatively invisible to many of us. The first task of repentance is to literally see structural sins such as racism and classism. To see the children who do not eat because their farmlands grow our exported strawberries; to see the worker whose low wage keeps the cost of our goods cheap, forcing them to choose between paying for medicine or food; to see the criminalization and mass incarceration of African-American men and the detention of immigrant men, women and children.

Fortunately, the Bible sees structurally and gives us a rich understanding of structural sin. From the Hebrew prophets to Jesus, Scriptures cry out against the “domination system” of that day and proclaim an alternative kingdom based on “upside-down” power arrangements and nonviolent love for all of us enmeshed in these structures.

During Lent, we hope to hone our moral vision, to begin to see structural injustice and to develop a common language and understanding together. Each Sunday will feature a sermon plus two “mini-stories” of how people in our community have experienced structural injustice. Each Sunday will also feature special music and singing that will stir our souls and embolden us to resist injustice.

Adult Education during Lent will delve further into the content of each worship service using case studies, discussion, a “people’s history” tour and other learning tools. In addition, Joanna and Sheri will be sending out a weekly Monday email that will provide additional educational resources to engage the past Sunday’stopic. 

It’s not too late to find genuine spiritual motivation to make the world a better place and live out the Godly vision of unleashing the plan of God here “on Earth as it is in heaven.” For more about FMCSF click here.  Located in the Mission District on 16th street and Dolores, FMCSF meets in Congregation Sha’ar Zahav. Below is schedule for Lenten services.
Feb. 22: Introduction
Sheri will give an introduction to our series. Heidi Gray and Nathan Yergler will share stories.
March 1: Seeing Structural Sin
Sheri will preach on how we begin to see structural violence/sin — the physical, psychological and spiritual harm that certain groups of people experience as a result of unequal distribution of power and privilege. Rachel Stoltzfus and Joel Tarman will share stories.
March 8: Countering Moral Oblivion — the Problem of Privilege
Sheri will preach on the moral oblivion that hides or legitimates structural sin. We’ll look at the problem of privilege — how it blinds those of us with it to the privilege we have within the system, the ways we are diminished, and also the violence and harm experienced by those without it. Nigel Blackwood-Chirchir and Claire Haas will share stories.
March 15: Having Eyes to See
Since structural injustice works by being invisible to those with privilege, developing moral vision means that we need to perceive reality through the stories and experiences of subjugated people. We will wrestle with what it means to be an ally and “do our own work” as people of privilege.  Joanna is preaching; stories TBA.
March 22: “People’s History” Tour
Joanna, Rachel Stoltzfus and Ben Bolanos will lead us on a “People’s History Tour” of our neighborhood around the synagogue. The tour will help us to see some of the structural realities in this neighborhood and challenge us to continue this learning in our many contexts around the Bay. Worship will prepare us for the tour, which will take place during fellowship time and Education Hour. A time to debrief will follow.

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