24 Questions for Advent: Two
"Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them?" - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
There is, and there always has been, horrible injustices in this world. I have spent much of the pandemic reading and taking online classes on racial injustice in our nation’s history. It has left me grief-stricken, especially as I learn about how the Church, in particular, has been actively and complicitly responsible for so much of it.
When facing such wrongs, it’s easy to try to find the bad guys in the story. Individuals to name & blame. But systemic racism is far more intrusive into the very fabric of our culture, in our norms, language, attitudes and beliefs, than to allow such quick & easy answers. The key to awareness, and therefore the beginning of change, is to identify it in ourselves first.
It’s easy to point fingers. I struggle with getting locked into being angry much of the time, not only at our history, but at the present attitudes that I hear every day. Lately, I’ve avoided social media, other than to post about St. Andrew’s House, in order to break away from some of my own reactive patterns. I’m especially sensitive to theologies which can be steeped in the systemic racism that European Protestants were the “chosen people” deemed by God to conquer the New World. Doctrines and practices that justify the enslavement of others and the severe inequities of wealth and opportunity on the basis of the color of one’s skin or ethnic origin. Such beliefs, whether we would admit it today, have shaped much of the Church’s actions and attitudes for hundreds of years. And it’s not over.
The combative cultural wars that have overtaken much of the interactions between us fall easily back into over-simplified and political caricatures of both our past & present selves. I have been guilty of this as well. In our frustration in not finding common ground, it can be easier to make each other seem more extreme and unreasonable that what is actually true.
We are left with the probing question that Gandalf poses to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. We cannot mete out justice by ourselves, with our own limited perspective of the story. We can only submit ourselves to our God’s holy justice, and take responsibility for our part in the solution. I believe it can start by acknowledging that none of us asked for all this, none of us started it, but each of us has a part in making things better for others.