I grew up in a Lutheran church. We professed our faith by saying confessions and creeds. I am a Presbyterian now. We profess our faith through confessions and creeds too.
I am also a professor. What do I profess as one who teaches in higher education?
The word “profess” comes from the Latin professus and means to declare openly or make a public statement. It means to speak, say, or tell.
In these days of protests and proclamations, what do I as a white Christian profess? What do those of us in “professing” traditions profess about racism and God’s justice and mercy?
What do I–what do those of us in “professing” vocations–profess about educational systems and practices and racial justice? What do we declare openly?
Some years ago, I visited my mother’s predominantly white Lutheran church. We sat that Sunday in a pew behind two young girls. One was four and the other 6 years old. I knew right away they were going to annoy me. They had Barbie dolls with them that they kept bouncing across their pew–loudly. And the pencils their mamas gave them? I’ve never heard such enthusiastic scratching on paper.
“Well,” I thought, “those children won’t get a thing out of worship today. And I won’t either. They aren’t paying one bit of attention.”
The service began in a familiar way for me–with the “Order of Confession and Forgiveness.” After a call and response portion, the gathered community confesses together with these words:
Most merciful God, we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart: we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen
The two girls in front of me kept playing with their dolls.
AND they both spoke the communal confession word for word.
The same thing happened when the time came for us to speak together The Apostles’ Creed. The girls spoke every word. From memory.
I don’t know why I was surprised. I spoke the words that day from memory too. Confessing and professing words became a familiar part of my churchly DNA when I was a child and repeated them each Sunday in worship. The words settled down inside of me at an early age and became a part of the dust from which I am formed.
Those two young girls came to my mind yesterday as I read the morning news headlines.
I didn’t know those girls when I worshiped with them. I don’t know them today. I don’t even know their names. They are young adults now. I wonder where they are. I wonder what professions they are making and living. I wonder what they are professing today.
As a divinity school professor, I profess in classrooms. As a Christian, I profess my faith in worship.
Do I profess faith–do I profess Gospel wisdom and truths–in my bones? At the grocery store and in restaurants? At dinner tables and in coffee shops? Do the beliefs that I declare openly in worship dwell in the deep places of my soul and cause me to speak the Gospel through my daily actions?
Those two young girls learned to profess their faith from memory. Did they also learn it by heart? Did they learn how to carry Gospel truths in their bones?
These questions matter to me because what we are teaching our children in worship matters to me. Are we teaching our children (and our adult selves) to profess the truth that black lives matter? Will they and we carry a radical Gospel Word in our bones? I hope so. I pray so.
lives are at stake
Our black and brown sisters and brothers carry too many wounding words and actions in their bodies and bones. Our black and brown sisters and brothers also carry beauty and courage, grace and wisdom, in their bodies and bones.
Can we profess this truth–all of it? Declare it publicly?
Our responsibility as white Christians is to profess–declare, announce, proclaim–that black lives matter. That black and brown bodies are beloved.
But as we profess, we should beware.
One of the meanings of “to profess” is “to pretend.” What does that mean for those of us who professing black lives matter in these days?
And the most urgent responsibility we have is to profess that belief–the belief that black lives matter–in our bones. In our actions. In our everyday lives.