Yes, I know the heavy-hitting headline above is a gulp of gargantuan words you might not ever string together. “Myopia” is a vision condition known as being shortsighted or nearsighted. “Utopian” worlds are fictional places or fantastical illusions of preferred states of perfection.
Our current American society is rooted in a Christian religion shaped and formed long ago by those who wanted a place of perfection at the expense of excluding those who did not look, did not believe and did not live according to their whitewashed religious rules. The universe of religious white America has fallen into the rabbit hole of a Walt Disney utopian world where almost everyone has the same genetic condition: a vision impairment passed down from generation to generation called myopia.
White America has been measuring progress with Mary Poppins measuring tape, believing in the myth the world is “practically perfect in every way.” Then the pandemic came, cracking the delusion. Then the protesting came, shattering the illusion. Pandemic and the protests have illuminated an ancient truth: those who have the hardest time seeing needed change are the ones benefiting most from the current system.
The United States today is full of Peter Pan people filling the pews of churches and refusing to grow up with the rest of the lost boys from Neverland. Never mind Tinker Bell’s fairy dust, the white Christian instead should follow the flight path of another Peter — Peter the apostle, who once was hooked on so much liberal religious zeal that he found himself drowning in deep waters. It wasn’t until the monstrous croc-like scales were removed from his eyes that he could see God’s vision for all people.
“White America has been measuring progress with Mary Poppins measuring tape, believing in the myth the world is ‘practically perfect in every way.’”
And this brings us to a bigger obstacle: religious myopia. This is a spiritual condition that keeps our faith communities from seeing a way out and has caused a lack of imagination and a lack of action.
But the still deeper, more dangerous issue is not that religious folks are shortsighted but that many prefer not to see reality at all. Since the sneaky snake of sin entered the world by means of a poisonous apple, a curse was placed over God’s people that created a sleepy state of apathy — the curse of obliviousness.
In her book Places of Redemption: Theology for a Worldly Church, Mary McClintock Fulkerson defines obliviousness as “a form of not-seeing that is not primarily intentional but reflexive” and that “occurs on an experiential continuum ranging from benign to a subconscious or repressed protection of power.”
Those with the most power, those at the top of society, are often the most oblivious. The church, mainly the white religious people of our day, hold the power in our society, swinging the country from both the left and the right of the political aisle. But both conservative and liberal religious zealots prefer to be oblivious. Oblivious to bias, oblivious to prejudice and, dare I say, oblivious to sinfulness.
This is the ‘Disneyness’ of obliviousness. It makes people feel like princes and princesses or, better yet, jedis and superheroes.
But these religious folks have forgotten that Mary Poppin’s spoon full of sugar has got nothing on Mary the Mother of Jesus, who spoon feeds fools with a harsh reality check proclaiming in Luke’s Gospel: “God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; God has brought down the mighty from their thrones.” Mary, the Middle eastern Jewish teen, takes a bold step toward obliterating the curse of obliviousness with one brave act that gives birth to a movement that benefits all people.
Obliterating blindness is an act of peering into our past and pointing out not only the redemptive moments but the sinful actions as well. These are the ugly parts of history perpetuated by people of faith who chose not to see. For if we choose not to see the past with eyes wide open, how can we ever recover from our present state of myopia that keeps us bound to what is instead of what could be.
“Out of a desire to keep our history books in a state of Disney perfectionism, we keep our hearts oblivious to how history was whitewashed but never redeemed.”
It is often out of a desire to keep our history books in a state of Disney perfectionism that we keep our hearts oblivious to how history was not only whitewashed but never redeemed.
I often wonder if Jesus would go to Disney World. Better yet, if Christ created a roller coaster at Epcot, perhaps it would be a ride that required passengers to wear blindfolds. According to Mark’s Gospel, all the disciples following Jesus around on the ride of their lives were blind, often choosing not to see where Jesus was leading them. It’s not until the ride ends at Pentecost that the blindfolds come off.
People of faith, the ride has ended. Let’s take off our blindfolds. Open your eyes. Quit pretending. Stop playing dress up with false ideologies rooted in sinful, narcissistic stances that pigeonhole people into binary positions. Let us return to the real world where God is inviting us into the hard work of redeeming racism — racism that is not limited to one political party, one part of the country, one type of person.
Redeeming racism requires a posture, not a position — a posture of humility that opens our hearts and our eyes to see that the way of Christ calls us all to carry our crosses together.
Erica Whitaker serves as senior pastor of Buechel Park Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. She is an avid reader of science, religion and God-knows-what and also enjoys writing fantasy novels. Erica is currently working on a Ph.D. through the International Baptist Theological Studies Centre at the Free University of Amsterdam. She and her husband, Josh, live in Louisville with their two four-legged children, Fred and Lucy.