The God of Meeting People Where They Are
Privilege is super wily.
It can skillfully drape itself in righteous speech, all the while really cloaking its comfortable and contented status.
But privilege also cunningly hides, even from the people of privilege themselves, death-dealing anxious determination about maintaining societal advantages.
So with that said, and as a shining example, I bristle, truly I do, when I hear rostered leaders talk about needing to “meet my people where they are.”
I just heard it in a couple of private and distinct conversations the other day, as a matter of fact.
“I’ve gotta meet my people where they are.”
That’s the phrase, right there.
Now it -sounds- good.
It sounds righteous even.
It certainly sounds pastoral.
It definitely sounds like what a leader of a specific community is called to do, namely meet their people where they are.
And I do believe that for the most part, rostered leaders mean well when they say it.
But I’ve come to decide that there’s a decent shot that actually, it’s -not- always good, righteous, pastoral, or what at leader in a community is called to do.
Thing is, when we decide to “meet ‘our’ people where they are,” we can’t help but simultaneously (albeit cloaked in that wily-privileged way) leave -other- people, the very people who need the -rest- of us to move from where -we- are, well…we can’t help but leave them where -they- are.
So when we hear the phrase “I need to meet my people where they are,” I think what we should actually hear, especially these days, is less even-the-best-of-intentioned pastoral move, and more the hidden message—hidden even to the leader, I do believe—that we’re supposed to be ok with that, down with it, content with it, because those are not ‘our people,’ they are not ‘us.’
They are ‘other.’
The wretched thing of it is, -nobody- is where they are supposed to be.
Moreover, the white rostered tendency to want to meet people of privilege where they are is precisely what keeps the status quo, which is precisely that which keeps everybody where they aren’t supposed to be.
I will say again and again and again that the pastoral is the prophetic, and the prophetic is the pastoral.
Insular preaching and teaching, that which is offered to meet privileged congregants and congregations where they are, protects White Lives from knowing about and caring about Black Lives.
It shields White Lives from knowing about and caring about -and- -rejecting- -in- -the- -name- -of- -the- -Gospel- the White System of Privilege which contributes to the injustice, poverty, inequity that Black Lives endure.
It buffers White Lives from knowing and caring about the names of people who have died at the hands of their White Privilege, that which congregations and congregants, under the rubric of meeting them where they are, have been led to believe affords them the luxury of not knowing, because the time is “just not right.”
“They’re just not ready for that yet.”
“We have to meet them where they are.”
In the complicated book of Hosea, Israel had forsaken God by falling into a cycle of normalized lying, and murder, and violence, such that even the land and sea and the creatures upon and in it suffered.
After a long enough period of waiting for this situation to turn around, God’s response, albeit conveyed in troubling metaphor, was finally to call Israel Lo-ammi: not my people.
Remember, of course, that we hear God say, “I am your God, and you shall be my people” in any number of texts, like Exodus 6:7; Leviticus 26:12, and Isaiah 5:15-16.
But no longer, says God.
What you have done, God says, is enough.
The relationship is severed.
And what had Israel done?
Among other sins, Israel had opted to align themselves not with God, but with Baalistic culture, which included a nasty habit of placing economic success for the few at the expense of the many, and of the land.
So God abandoned Israel to its enemies, and to the consequences of their unfaithfulness.
Note that it was -they- and -their- actions which terminated the relationship; -not- God.
God did not decide against them.
The ones formerly known as the people of God decided -against- God, and -for- other gods.
It’s possible that in the same way, now, in our streets we are seeing the consequences of -our- unfaithfulness.
We have, of course, tolerated a corrupt, malicious, and weak-spirited president, and political leaders who abide, aid, and abet him, and the agendas which they push at the expense of others.
Some Christians have even voted for them.
But we have also aligned ourselves with other gods, including those in the headlines of recent days, most especially that of White Privilege.
And we as rostered leaders have all too often opted to align ourselves with the god of Meeting People Where They Are, which has enabled and unleashed many an evil thing at the now normalized expense of People Who Are Not Where They Should Be.
So back to Hosea, it turns out that God’s disassociation from Israel was temporary—not inconsequential, but not permanent.
God opted, and even in the very next verse of this judgment, to make us God’s people again.
The message of Hosea is of judgment, but judgment that sends us into a way of repentance -and- -then- -restoration.-
The ironic thing is that the same phrase which has allowed rostered leaders to dance around dicey subjects can in fact throw them right into the whirl of it all:
Meet your people where they are.
If you’re the leader of a white congregation, that’d generally be a life of white privilege at the expense of black lives which do, in fact, matter.
So go ahead.
Meet them where they are.
And when you do, meeting them where they -really- are as opposed to where they -think- they are, you help lead your people into repentance, you announce the possibility of restoration to -all- the People of God, and you help bring -all- the People of God to where everyone ought to be.