My sister’s cookies arrived today! She mailed them on the 31st of December and she lives in Boston. We’ve spent the last several weeks complaining about the US Postal Service. What I discovered when I looked at the package, though, is that we should be grateful to the USPS for finding me because she had put my CT zip code on the package. Thanks to the postal workers who managed to, at last, get my cookies to me! They still taste delicious and extend the Christmas season for me.
How often are we prone to blaming others when something doesn’t go the way we wanted it to go? By finding someone to blame for our mistakes, we are relieved from having to take any responsibility for what we have done. How quickly my sister and I went to blaming the postal system when it turns out that they rectified her mistake.
The Hebrews had a great solution to this problem. As part of the ceremonies of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, two kid goats were brought before the priest. One goat was sacrificed but the other kid was designated for removal and cast out into the desert. Before being cast out, though, the priest would lay upon the poor goat all the iniquities of the people of Israel.
“Then, Aaron, shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task” (Leviticus 16:21-22).
While this may be a good visual aid for the rite of atonement, it is not a healthy way to behave in human situations. Family therapists are often working with families where one person, usually one of the children, is presented as the “problem” child. What becomes apparent in the work with the family, however, is that usually this child has become the scapegoat for problems in the marriage. Everyone can blame this one family member instead of looking at what is actually the issue that underlies the bad behavior of this scapegoated child.
René Girard, French philosopher and anthropologist, has written extensively on the topic of scapegoats. His mimetic theory of desire is an explanation of human behavior. This desire, he theorizes, leads to natural rivalry and eventually to scapegoating. His belief is that Jesus Christ is the ultimate scapegoat. As he spoke truth to power, it was easier to blame Jesus for all the ills and sins of the society around him, and so he was crucified to expiate the sins for which others needed to atone.
We have been witness to some of this behavior in the past several weeks. Those who were part of the insurrection on 6 January placed the blame for their unhappiness and anger on the “government” and believed that only Donald Trump could save us from the mess in which we find ourselves. Now, those on the right want to blame the violence on Antifa or the Democrats. While I don’t believe that either party is free of imperfect behavior, how will we find our way out of blaming others? When will we hear truth being spoken? When will those who want to find their opponents guilty instead of facing their own sins be held accountable?
One example of the unjust behavior of our justice system haunts my thoughts. Kalief Browder, a teenager from the Bronx, was held at Riker’s Island for three years, without trial, for allegedly stealing a backpack. Two of those years he spent in solitary confinement. Two years after his release, he hanged himself in his parent’s home. Compare that to the story of Riley June Williams who has been charged with helping to steal Nancy Pelosi’s laptop in the terrorist invasion of the Capitol Building. She is also accused of plotting to sell this laptop to Russia. She has been released on bail into her mother’s keeping.
Who do we scapegoat in this society? We are so quick to blame Black young men for the ills that belong to all of us in this society and yet we are reluctant to believe that a young white girl could be part of a terrorist invasion - or that she wouldn’t run away after her court hearing.
What discussions must we be having about our collusion in assigning blame to the scapegoats?
This is a difficult column to write and I understand that it might be upsetting to some of you. If we are to move ahead as a nation and as a church, these are the questions we must ask ourselves.
Perhaps we need a national Day of Atonement.
Peace and grace to you all,
Sunday School for grades 1-5 meets every Sunday before worship, from 9:30-10:00 am. If you do not have the Zoom link and wish to be added, contact Jo Fisher at 617-839-0865.
Sunday School for youth grades 6-12 meets every 2nd and 4th Sunday during worship at the start of the children's sermon. A zoom link is shared at that time in the worship zoom chat, and is also emailed in advance to the group. Contact Matt at email@example.com if you wish to be added.
Sunday Worship 1/24 @ 10am via Zoom
Welcome to online worship with PPC! Please note the new Zoom link for 2021.
By phone: call (646) 558-8656 and enter meeting ID 817 8173 3351
Click on the image below to open/download the worship bulletin and hymns.
While we are unable to pass the offering plate during worship, we hope you will continue to support the mission and ministry of the church if and as you are able—online, through your bank's bill payment system, or with a check mailed to the church (500 Hope Street, Providence, RI 02906). All offerings are gratefully received. Thank you!
We invite you to stay online after worship for our virtual coffee hour.
Transcripts and audio recordings of recent sermons can be found on our website here. Audio recordings of older sermons are available here.
Join us at 5:30 on Tuesday evenings as we read about and discuss "The Challenges to U.S. Democracy," a four week study developed by The Thoughtful Christian. Let Pastor Deb know you are interested (firstname.lastname@example.org) and she will email you the reading and Zoom link.
The next book group gathering will be on Saturday, January 30, from 10:30am-12noon. We’ll discuss President Joe Biden’s inauguration speech.