I imagine there are some people who are sad, angry or indignant that the fourth grade mission project, once a rite of passage for parents of California 4th graders, has gone the way of the dinosaur. I am not one of them. One day, after both our children had moved on from the 4thgrade, I walked down an entire aisle in Michael’s in which one side was devoted to “California Mission Art Projects”. These words formed in my mind as I strolled incredulously down the aisle: “I wish these were available when our kids were in the fourth grade.”
We are parents that for the most part, insisted that student projects were not parent projects. I have seen amazing Mission replicas that were created by certified engineers, and I don’t mean the kind that drives a train. Mission replica projects were a way to divide families into categories: parents that don’t do their kids’ homework, parents that won’t help with their kids’ projects, parents who get how competitive the project is and how much pressure is put on students so they “help” as much as they can, parents who don’t have the money to buy an art project like the ones I saw in Michael’s. I could go on and on, but won’t.
New occasions teach new duties, or so wrote St. Augustine over 1500 years ago. The mission system was not the bucolic, pastoral scene of kind and Christian love which was taught when I was in the 4th grade. We’ve learned just how tragic and cruel it was for the original Californians who had well established communities and economies before the Spanish showed up. The immigrants from Spain were able to subdue and diminish those indigenous Californians because they had more deadly weapons and disease on their side. The other factor is one that sadly continues to this day: seeing other human beings as less than human because they don’t resemble “us”. They don’t talk like us, eat like us, look like us, dress like us, fight like us, worship like us.
When Jesus told the parable of the sheep and goats it was in part about seeing people who are not like us. “When did we see you, Jesus?” When you gave water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, visiting me in prison, clothed me when I was naked. Jesus invites us to see him in people whose life is different from our own, and by extension, to see ourselves.
It is vital that we hear the stories of the people who were and are still marginalized by a culture that seeks to dominate over and diminish others. Those are the stories Jesus saw and listened for during his ministry. Making room for those stories to be told and heard is part of the calling of the church today.