…. But I have no faith myself
I refuse it even the smallest entry.
People wonder why other people are so hateful. We witness a group of young white men march on streets of a wealthy, college Virginia town. They wield guns. They shout anti Semitic, racist statements. They are incensed by counter-protesters who arrive in greater numbers. Consequently a reckless, young white domestic terrorist from Kentucky now living in Ohio chooses to drive his car into the crowd. He kills one woman and injures 19 other people. The person occupying the Office of the Presidency of the United States quickly identifies Radical Muslim Terrorist activities. He neglects to call out radical white terrorism. Shameful and not surprising.
Such racially-drive violence has happened in our nation since slavery’s first days. President Lyndon B. Johnson is quoted as saying: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” The problem with this past weekend’s events is that many of the white supremacists were not poor. They were led by men who graduated from the University of Virginia. @Yes,You’reRacist identified participants who are college students and gainfully employed men who flew from across the country to ‘protect Western civilization’ and seek ‘peaceful ethnic cleansing.’ If this had been a Black Lives Matter protest many participants would be convicted of violent crimes and awaiting trial. Almost all of Saturday’s White Supremacists got into their cars or boarded airplanes and went home – pistols, rifles, guns, Nazi flags, and KKK symbols all intact.
Yesterday, many faithful clergy and laity denounced the violence and racism that occurred in Charlottesville. The Diocese of Central Pennsylvania’s Bishop issued a public message. Bishop Audrey Scanlan wrote: “Pray for the dead and injured and their families, pray for those who witnessed the viciousness, pray in thanksgiving for those who came to control the chaos, and pray for the perpetrators. And then, commit to work in your own sphere of influence for change.”
Yes, what can we do within our own spheres of influence. As Amy Walter said yesterday on Meet the Press: ” What I really worry about is that we are going to move from this conversation very quickly because some shiny object is going to get thrown in front of us and we’re going to miss the opportunity to have this conversation. There are very few people who are leading this conversation beyond just the violent piece of this. And I just fear that by Monday, we’re going to be moving on to something else.”
Human beings, including me, despise admitting to our shame. We rationalize why bad things happen to good people so as to negate any role that we might play in allowing tragedies to happen. The harsh fact is that everyone who is an American citizen who is white male, straight, gay, bi, or otherwise sexually orientated inherently possesses large amounts of social capital and cultural benefits because we are male and white. This is true for economically poor, middle class, and wealthy white guys. We rarely if ever pay the same costs for committing the same crimes as our black and brown brothers do.
And, feeling guilty about these benefits really doesn’t change much. What changes the culture and changes me is doing something righteous, courageous, and loving because of my faith. My faith is not some simplistic recitation of a creed on Sunday mornings. My faith isn’t just about claiming Christianity as my tribe. If I’m to live as a follower of Jesus, I must get out of the boat as Peter did. I sure as heck don’t have St. Paul’s courage and I can’t just nod my head when he writes that there is no distinctions between Jews and Gentiles. The same Lord is Lord of All and generous to all who seek God. (Romans 10: 12-13)
In seminary, I recall that there is little value in shaming or blaming anyone about what is taking place around us. What creates conditions for spiritual and social change is advocating on behalf of oppressed and marginalized persons. Those of us who are fortunate to live in this nation who possess educations, jobs, families, good health, and white skin need to step back from time to time and consider how we may best serve the people around us – beyond our usual boundaries.
Take some time this week and listen to Patrisse Cullors and Robert Ross as they explain OnBeing the “Spiritual Work of Black Lives Matter.” Dr. Ross , of the California Endowment, invites all of us to actualize our faith when he says: “This is powerfully spiritual, important work upon which the future of this nation rests, and I think it calls upon us to bring the best of the total experience of our best selves to the table. It’s not — we can’t mail it in on addressing inequality in this nation. Each of us is going to have to bring the best of ourselves to the equation. Not just the best of ourselves, but the best of ourselves in unity and in coalition.” (Robert Ross, May 25, 2017)
As an Anglican Christian, I most realize my faith in actions on life’s common grounds. That is, I treat the young African American girl at the communion altar in front of me with special respect. I meekly speak in my elementary Spanish to the Hispanic server at the Mexican restaurant I enjoy. These are but small kindnesses. The more profound baptismal work happens when we observe evil and do not avoid or become paralyzed by it. Rather we exercise compassion as Jesus did. We go out each and every day and allow God to transform sin into good through our lives. Our meditations, words, and actions radiate the story of God’s reconciling work around us. (Brother Aidan, Order of The Holy Cross, <OHC>, A Prayer for Charlottesville, August 13, 2017)
Christianity is more than a spectator sport. Today’s world requires Christians to profess to more than the job of offering next-world salvation to other people. This world requires plenty of healing now – especially as such redemptive work applies to racial and cultural tribalism. The deeply wounded, racially biased white supremacists around us require prayers for repentance and wisdom. Thank God for the people who stood up to them non-violently in Charlottesville. Now, on Monday, truly religious work begins on the streets where we live, the community centers where we learn and play, and especially in our churches where we profess to love a God whose merciful and eternal love knows no boundaries. We will convert minds and win hearts through acts of justice, kindness, and abiding love as God presents such opportunities to us nearby.
Blessings along The Way