Media frenzies and spikes of righteous indignation in the American public consciousness are incredibly short-lived. So much more so the same that flies around the internet–my personal “beat.” But we have a duty as Christians and as Americans and humans of goodwill not to let the terrorism that spiked so recently in the murders at Emanuel AME Church slip by as we refocus on new concerns: celebrations and tragedies alike.
Therefore, I am linking to this article from Jim Wallis of Sojourners that came out a week ago. We cannot allow this to feel like old news, just because there is “new news” in front of our eyes. We cannot allow this to happen again–not before we dig in and take some action.
I was raised in a Virginia family. In Virginia, you can’t take a walk without tripping over a Civil War battlefield. By the time I was 6 or 7, I could list off a number of ancestors that had been Confederate Generals, not to mention the names of the major players and battles. But I was lucky to have been born to a family that held a respect for history without longing for it or imagining it to be better than it was (to the best of our ability). And I was luckier still to have more recent ancestors that had quietly but actively opposed the institutional racism we were surrounded by. Still, without being taught it specifically, I can remember feeling aggrieved in an abstract sense that “we” had lost the war, even while I cried as a little boy when I learned that our ancestors had owned human beings as slaves.
What I mean is that to grow up in the South is to be inundated with conflicting stories of history, and to feel attached to it. It makes you who you are in a way few other regions of the country really understand. This continues to be misunderstood and mocked, which does little for the real cause of ending the injustice in this place. I didn’t feel any attachment to the Confederate Flag that happily is coming down, but I grew up with SO many who did. Most of the kids I grew up with who sported the flags on their trucks or flew them from their homes were not consciously racist (some of them were, but even then I do not blame most of them–by the 90’s racism had become a way for some teenagers to rebel, a kind of rebellion that was half-acceptable, winked at by the adults: you could get away with it). They really didn’t understand the explicitly racist nature of the symbol, which was by design. Institutional racism is in the air, intentionally so from the beginning. The powerful have used racism not only to oppress and suppress the African-Americans who live here, but also as a means to control and confuse opposition from the less powerful whites. Give them a target for their rage, and some will forget who they were angry at in the first place.
That confusion of place and identity and history with a narrative of hate has to end now, because this is what it leads to–violence and more violence. It has to end not just because of the violence (though that is reason enough). It has to end because it is poisoning ALL of us. I think it was listening to Mitri Raheb speaking of the occupation in Palestine that first crystallized what I already knew to be true: hate is damaging to the soul of the hater, as well as to the hated. And if you are white in America (that’s South and North, East and West), then you are one of the haters–perhaps against your will, but nevertheless, you have been drafted into an army of hate. It is time we saw through that conflicting narrative, and to demand that the powerful no longer use human lives of any skin color in their twisted game of control. And for those of us who claim to follow the Way of Christ, it is time we were Followers first, and anything else (Virginian, Southern, American, even Christian) far behind that.
As Wallis writes of the slain in Charleston:
“Each of these was a child of God, created in the image of God, whose life on this earth was exterminated by the explicit sin of white supremacy. Millions of other African Americans who are also the children of God created in the image of God still have their lives regularly interrupted, undermined, and assaulted by the implicit sins of white privilege as the legacy of white supremacy. And the idol of “whiteness” continues to separate many white Christians from God and their souls need to be set free.”
Repentance means acknowledging wrong, and making amends. But what is not said enough is that it is freeing. Hatred is a great burden. So great in this country that it will take work to really let it go. But we can let it go. And that unburdening will finally give us that freedom we can’t stop talking about because we long for its sweet air so badly.
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” is not a phrase to terrify as it has so often been used. It may be the most joyful, soul-saving sentence I’ve ever read. The Kingdom of Heaven, a Kingdom free of hate and fear, is at hand: so near we can feel it brushing up against us. It is just beyond the shadow of the life we have now; we have only to reach out and grasp it. It will be hard, but after it is done, we will find that it was the easiest thing we ever did.