August 8, 2023

From the Rector…

I think it was the Jerry Springer Show that made the line, “Hit ‘em with a chair!” famous. I never actually watched it, but I knew the basic concept—invite people to the show and surprise them with their worst moments splayed out on television for all the world to see. The darker the theme of the episode, the more violent and aggressive people would become. Most people simply offered verbal abuse though inevitably, someone would pick up a chair and start swinging. Jerry springer wasn’t in town last Saturday night, at least not that I know of, but chairs did start swinging.

If you haven’t heard by now, there was a brawl on the Riverfront Saturday night between a group of white people from Selma and black people coming in from the Harriet II Riverboat cruise. I won’t sugar coat it—it has all the feel and look of racism at its worst. The videos show several white men beating up a black co-captain of the riverboat and then several black people attacking the white people who had attacked the co-captain. The whole thing is horrible, and no one is in the right. The people from Selma certainly seem to instigate the brawl, and their actions are not appropriate. The city and FBI have determined there is not enough evidence to declare it a hate crime, but I wonder about how much race played a role in the incident.

I don’t think any of the people from Selma came to Montgomery looking to attack a black man. But that is exactly what happened. I wonder if they would have thrown a punch at a white man moving the boat or a black woman. They do punch one of the white dock workers who tries to help the black co-captain, but they don’t go after him as he immediately disengages. Whatever the motivating factor for the initial attack, it quickly fuels into a racial issue. Black people see one of their own attacked by several white “thugs” and they are quick to jump to the conclusion of racism—the whole country is. I am not going to minimize the possibility of that truth—a racially motivated attack. But I wonder how much of the co-captain’s race versus the white people’s sense of entitlement was truly at play. Racism is a real problem in this country and in most of the world, but it masks a mindset that is even more disturbing—our sense of entitlement.  

Unfortunately, many of us feel entitled to something. The Declaration of Independence tells us that we are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It promotes an individualistic concept that “I” matter more than “you” and “you” ought to know that. Mix a little (or a lot) of prejudice in it and you have the formula for…a Riverfront brawl. I think entitlement sparked that attack and racism (both white and black) fueled that brawl. Both are unhelpful and both permeate society.

I know many of us, including me, bristle at the thought of being called a racist. I wonder how many of us bristle at the thoughts of our entitlement thinking. To feel entitled is a sneaky little thought that typically presents itself in somewhat harmless ways. We want something so why shouldn’t we have it, especially if we can afford it or have the means by which to acquire it? Expectation is a form of entitlement thinking. We expect to be treated in a particular way. The way in which those expectations are met often determines our experience and impacts our emotional state even to the point of feeling disappointed or wronged by the experience or those involved in it when our expectations are not met.

Saturday night a bunch of folks from Selma came to Montgomery. They had certain expectations and when those were challenged, the feelings of entitlement kicked in and sparked a brawl that would be fueled by racism. All they really had to do was move the boat or apologize to the co-captain for putting him in a bad position in which he had to move the boat. No incident, no brawl, no hollering racism.  

Jesus tells a parable about which seat one might choose when invited to a wedding banquet. He warns us not to choose the place of honor lest we are asked to move to a lower place and are disgraced. Instead, sit at the lower place and if you are invited to move to the higher place, you will be honored. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11) Entitlement thinking sends us to the higher place in which we are invariably knocked down. Humility affords us the opportunity to be honored. We won’t be honored every time, but if we are not acting from a place of entitlement, we won’t mind and we will most likely not get in a brawl.

Light and Life,