Where do We go from Here: Confession
I just finished reading a book by Martin Luther King Jr (his last one) by the title of "Where do we go from here: Chaos and Community". It's simply fascinating to see how MLK saw things in the year immediately following the The Voting Rights Act of 1965 - what is considered to be the height of the Civil Rights Movement. It was a celebratory event, the accumulation of all the work and sacrifices many had made for a decade leading up to that monumental year. MLK, however, was not basking in the glory of this achievement. He gets away from it all for few months, in a solitary retreat by himself, and reflects on what has been, is, and will be in the coming years (not knowing, of course, he would be killed the very next year). Again, it's simply fascinating, how he saw things in those years, and how relevant his perspectives are for our time today - some 50 plus years later. His voice was prophetic, and his heart ever pastoral.
So, where do we go from here? When the dreams MLK had and the years he thought he had in realizing those dreams are still not enough. When the years pass by, the lives get crushed, and your strength collectively as a community gets depressed, where do we go from here? Will it continue to be a flux of chaos or a beginning of new community, what MLK endearingly called "the blessed community."
I have a confession to make. The racisms of our past (and present) is something that I have looked as a third person. Perhaps as the recipients of some personal biases and prejudices geared toward me at times by certain individuals. But, it wasn't something that directly affected my life, at least not all the time. And not conspicuously. I was never a slave, nor my family was. My rights were never taken away forcefully. And I never had to be afraid of seeing police in the public (unless I was speeding). In short, I felt bad for those who were under the constant attack and oppression of the racism in this country (personal or systematic), but it wasn't part of my history.
Nor the history of White Americans. I was never part of the majority in this nation. Never owned a slave, nor my family did. Never used my privilege and the power that comes with it to oppress others (at least not knowingly). So, I saw what was going on, learned the history, and felt some uneasy feelings. But, it wasn't part of my own history.
Until, I read this book by MLK. He is IMPLORING to everyone who would listen (both Black and White), that THIS is our history together. It's not only the Black lives, but all of lives together, and he insists, when the lives of the least of us are cared for, all lives are being cared for.
And to my own heart's conviction, God showed me how the history of the Whites in this country is also my own history. It is not some who were innately evil that committed the treacherous acts of racism toward another group of humans, but it is our humanity (which I'm part of) that fell short of God's glory. Let me be honest here. If I were part of a race that had the privilege and the power that the Whites had in this country for several centuries, I would be doing the same thing. I can't promise you that I would be those rare exceptions of small number of individuals who fought against the forceful wind of the time and saw others as equal - when privilege is irresistible, and the power that comes with that privilege so intoxicating.
So, my confession today: I am part of the history, of this country. And of our humanity. I am the recipients of the sin of racism, but I also take responsibility of it. Because we are all part of God's people. And for us to become his "blessed community" together, we all have to take ownership of our past, present, and future together. We all have to empathize with those who have suffered, and we all have to repent with those who have done the hurting.
One of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen, puts it this way.
To care means first of all to empty our own cup and to allow the other to come close to us. It means to take away the many barriers that prevent us from entering into communion with the other. When we dare to care, then we discover that nothing human is foreign to us, but that all the hatred and love, cruelty and compassion, fear and joy can be found in our own hearts. When we dare to care, we have to confess that when others kill, I could have killed, too. When others torture, I could have done the same. When others heal, I could have healed, too. And when others give life, I could have done the same..
For the first time in my life, I celebrated Juneteenth this year. Because it is part of my history. And on this year's July 4th, I will celebrate with a deeper appreciation of our shared history together. The good and the bad. The celebration and also the repentance. Because I see, as MLK saw 50 some years ago, that we are still on this journey together. The journey toward God's blessed community.