Like many of you, I was shocked at the images from the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA yesterday. Never in my lifetime have I witnessed such a display of gross hatred, contempt, and unplaced pride in being a bigot. It was disgusting to watch, and I was equally disgusted to realize how little our nation has progressed, even in 2017.
What scared me more than the violence and hatred that I saw burning off my television screen were the words of our President, and everything he did not say:
For the leader of the free world, and of our great nation to not clearly call out and condemn the white nationalists, the neo-Nazis, and the bigots who are lucky enough to live in a country that allows them to dwell in the darkness of their own depraved minds was egregious. President Trump will not condemn this base of hate that he thinks will keep him in power. He will not call out the darkness that is so evident to all of us, and, in fact, he will equate those who stand against darkness with the darkness itself.
These are dark days for our country. America has forgotten her narrative as an open place of opportunity for all people, and we as a nation are going through an existential crisis to determine what new story will fill the void. Older stories, darker stories from our past have returned with new potency and new disturbing strength.
We cannot escape our history.
The American Civil War ended in 1865, and while I'm no historian, it seems we, as a nation, continue to fight that war, wrestling with the competing narratives - the primacy of whiteness vs. the primacy of freedom and opportunity. Our nation was torn apart and the trauma of it has been passed down from generation to generation.
It's like a body buried beneath a shed that we know our family had something to do with. We don't know all the details or where all the blame goes, but we know that someone is buried beneath the shed because of what our family did. We see the building every day and think about what lies beneath. Are we haunted by guilt? Do we think about the lives cut down by slavery, held back by our institutions? But the body is still dead, isn't it? Yes...the body has to be dead.
"Yes", we tell ourselves. "We settled that debt long ago. Or, we weren't a part of that time. We had nothing to do with that. What happened back then can no longer hurt us." Then we begin to hear sounds underneath the floorboards, and we know the horrible truth. Whatever is beneath the shed is still living, and like Abel's blood it calls out from the ground for justice. We cannot escape the sins of our fathers and mothers. We have to bring them out into the light. We have to dig up the body and see what it is we have done. Trump is right on one point; this has been going on for a long, long time.
The United States of America is at a crossroads. We look to our leaders for help and guidance, to be our moral compass and light in the darkness. This is a very human thing, and we rely on it to form our sense of order and safety. It helps us get by.
We have never healed from the Civil War because in my opinion, we lost the only man who could lead us through the whole process. President Lincoln's assassination meant that the nation never had the funeral we needed to have, so instead, we buried the body under the shed. We've never gotten closure for the sins of our fathers, and so we carry them with us, and we continue to see things like Charlottesville even in 2017. We want to justify unjustifiable things. We want to convince ourselves that we and our people are right, and the other (whoever that may be) is wrong. We want a simple world.
I'm convinced that Donald Trump does not have the spiritual or moral capacity to lead us to uncover the body that hides beneath the shed of our nation. Unfortunately, I think he sees our trauma and our grief as a valuable tool to keep him in power. America will never be great again until we can face our demons head on, and claim the true narrative of our founding. The leadership and guidance will not come from President Trump, but we must look within ourselves for the courage of what must come next.
It's time to dig under the shed, exhume the corpse that haunts us, and finally put this darkness to rest. It's time to forgive our ancestors, ourselves and ask for forgiveness from those we've hurt, whether personally or by the system we built, whose burdens we can never understand or truly make whole. It's time to bury our bloody past and claim the inheritance and true narrative of our country's founding.
And so, though I have no authority, please hear one white man's desperate cry for repentance as I uncover the undead legacy of my people.
To the native people of this land, our lust and craving for wealth, power and land was wrong. Our rape of this New World, and of your culture was tragic and ungodly. For the violence, disease, and death we brought upon you and your ancestors, have mercy on us.
To the those we captured and brought to this land in slavery, and to the descendants of those we tortured, raped, and worked in the fields, have mercy on us. We forced you to do the work we would not do, and denied you the humanity instilled upon you by your Creator. We had no right to do this, but we did it anyway. We openly espoused our own personhood as proof of God's blessing, but we were white-washed tombs, hypocrites of the most astounding degree for enslaving those who God loves. For Jim Crow, for the Klan, for the uncounted victims of lynching and police brutalities, for agressions both seen and unseen. Have mercy on us.
For the outsider, the immigrant, the one who feels alone and other. To the gay and lesbian, the Jew, Gentile and Muslim, to the female and child. For all those who have been cut down under the white man's hate and the white man's pride. Those who have tasted his boot, felt his wrath, and swallowed his hate, and felt the sting of never being good enough, of never being white enough. Have mercy on us.
There are no words to justify the things my ancestors have done. There are no words to justify the things that I have done, a victim of my own privilege and comfortable security. I openly acknowledge that I have been part of the problem.
Have mercy on me.
I will not continue in my ways. I will turn around. Know that I will not raise my sons to follow the footsteps of my ancestors. I will teach them to serve and love God in both word and deed, and to love all their neighbors as themselves including their enemies. This, I solemnly promise, as long as I have breath in my lungs.
It is not too late to change. It is not too late to make amends. Even now, with all that we have seen, it is not too late to bring the darkness into the light. Now is the time to bury the dead, and take a step towards life. Wherever you are, whoever you are, know that restoration and peace remain an open door for you, if not opened by other people, then always opened by God Almighty. Let's walk through that door, hand in hand and make a better day for our sons and daughters.