I love to sing…Thankfully, my friends and family love it when I sing too – – – – as long as I am in the shower. And I am really grateful that they encourage me to practice in the car – – – – when I am alone.So if you haven’t guessed by now, I don’t sing so well. Not well at all really. Which creates a certain vocational dilemma for me as a minister: (1) Music is so important to my job and (2) I actually really like to sing but I’m no good at it.

Now what !?!

For a long time, this created a certain frustration in me, until one day, I just gave in to the fact that I am musically challenged. What this has opened up in me is a critical ear to the power of music and how much I really appreciate it’s presence and the spiritual harmony (pun intended) it cultivates in us. And my musical voice has not diminished – it simply changed.
What does any of this have to do with the title?

I have been thinking a lot about the church and it’s calling to cultivate critical ears in 2017. This came to a head in me last week as I had a brief exchange with one a Canada’s most accomplished political scientists who was asking a serious and important question. Why has our national discourse moved from individual attitudes to systemic ones. “Why “systemic racism?” Why not just “racism”?” he asked, somewhat rhetorically I think, even though he said otherwise.

After going around the bend with the question, wanting to speak from the perspective of someone who walks that line – the line between points of view – the line between hopes and fears – the line between needing to sing and not being able to sing – I have come to the conclusion that he is correct by saying that talking about systemic racism is redundant. An “ism” by definition is a world-view put into motion that leads to concrete action.

In other words, once I adopt an “ism” it already is systemic because it changes all my relationships – or rather, it diminishes and stifles them.

For example, at the root of “racism” is the view that “race” is a justifiable reason to see someone as spiritually separate from me. This separation becomes a problem to be overcome – an herein lies the first seed of conflict. Instead, take away the spiritual separation and each relationship has the potential to be source of inspiration, cooperation and energy to overcome other problems – like the separation between rich and poor, for example. If I see someone else as a part of me, I am more likely to act in their best interest and vice versa.
It is the one of our great existential dilemmas – how do I affirm my own way of seeing the world without putting someone else in a box AND still be able to make things work? Isn’t is better if I spend my time negotiating with people who at least see most things like I do – that essentially come from the same culture, speak the same language, etc? Metaphorically, if we want to really be “in with the music”, shouldn’t we all be able to sing?

As I write this, I am already feeling in one sense, that I am hitting some wrong notes, singing off key.

If you are like me, the discussions about race relations around the world are beginning to wear on me. And yet, Amnesty International points to the rise of tension throughout the word (the were on CBC again this morning) and the need for a change at the grass roots level to counter the rise in blame-game discourse (my paraphrase).

So the “bad notes” that I am not going hit here are the ones that belabour points about what constitute negative “isms” where race relations are concerned. There is a universal, important and less sensational truth at play here.

It’s the Amnesty grass roots approach that I want to look at – because time and again Amnesty International will talk about how peaceful witness and things like letter writing campaigns are the most effective way to bring about positive change. Sometimes positive change may mean compromise, sometimes positive change may mean going separate ways and yet still knowing you’re family. Change is never positive if it starts and ends with conflict. That always, always creates more problems than it solves. And usually, there are many more losers than winners.

Church is where we can learn to move beyond sensational talk that leads to negative “isms” becoming systemic. Instead we can learn to harmonize by overcoming our own frustrations with our limitations by embracing each other’s ability to contribute to the greater good. Call it harmony-ism.

So what is this change we are meant to be looking for and what does church have to do with this? (And by church, I am talking about the United Church of Canada – because that’s what I know best – if you are from another denomination, I invite you to initiate action within your own sphere)
In our society, as people increasingly try to out-shout everybody, the church is increasingly called to help people adjust the harmonies we share so that we learn to stop doing this. And the church can help people develop the spiritual stamina it takes to stay the course. I say stamina because learning to see things from another person’s point of view takes energy on the part of both parties – A LOT of energy.

So, let’s start small and work our way up. Let’s start with our own everyday lives.
Amnesty International said this morning that for a free and democratic society to work, it requires that people participate in it. To this I would add, it requires people who are engaged, not with a blind trust, but a deep faith that little things do matter.

If you are rolling your eyes at this point, please be patient with me and yourself. If an agency of the credibility of Amnesty International is calling for this kind of attitude I think we owe it to ourselves to listen.

I can’t think of a better grass roots training ground than a church that promotes open dialogue, fosters an exchange of ideas without confrontation and is willing to evolve with the times. The one constant through all of this is faith in a God that knows no partiality in a world in the words of the Apostle Paul where “there is no Jew or Gentile, no slave or free”.

There is a big difference between saying “don’t do that” and saying “do this”. Back to the music example, if I can’t sing, it doesn’t mean I have nothing to contribute. It means that I am thankful I have a music director who doesn’t treat me with a “lack-of-talent-ism”. Instead, we find a middle ground where the “isms” disappear.

And what happens is pretty cool… My theological outlook improves the musical choices and her musical choices helps my theological outlook evolve. The “society” that is our church adopts the same attitude in other areas and potential conflict is transformed into creative visioning.
I have some ideas about what actual things we can do to serve this need our society has for greater harmony – so that legitimate points of view can be heard objectively and free of “isms”. But that is a longer conversation for another time. (I would be interested in your thoughts)
For now, let’s just be mindful in church that we are all learning to sing better together, even if we are not part of the music in the same way.

If we do this, everybody will be singing.

Rev. Eric Lukacs