As a young man I always knew it was out there somewhere in the nether regions. I saw it in movies and television shows. Sometimes it plastered the front page of my newspapers. But, it was always in somebody else’s world, not mine. My world was orderly, civil, simple, and pleasant. Neat, uncomplicated, unthreatening, predictable.
I liked my life that way. It gave me a sense of assurance that tomorrow would be just as uneventful as today. Life was unexciting, unchanging, uninvolved, unemotional when it straddled that fence-riding, noncommittal country lane to nowhere. No threats, no worries, no anxieties, no challenges, and certainly no engagement with that demonic something that was out there in the backwoods waiting for an opportunity to destroy and devour my world.
But, it inevitably happened. It came charging out of the woods screaming, “Here I am, you stupid bastard. Your ancestral nightmare is coming out of the shadows of generations past to turn your contrived, serene, peaceful, simple, orderly, civil world into a pile of dung.”
“I am loud. I am cruel. I am vindictive. I am dangerous. I am violent. I am judgmental and I am screaming in your face to destroy your perceived sensibilities. I will make you angry, then depressed, then guilty, then sad, then angry again and I won’t go away because I am that vile, force of darkness which you have denied in your stupid little Pollyanna world. Now, white boy, deal with it.”
The voices of past hatred, intolerance, and bigotry rocked my white man’s world. I felt the pain of those who had been oppressed for so many years. I heard the suffering cries of a black man who was lynched. I smelled the horror of the Jews being turned to ash in the incinerators. I saw the tears in the eyes of the native Americans forced to relinquish their lands to the white invaders. And my ancestors, white men, were responsible. Guilty as charged.
Responsible for the genocide, the murder, the decimation of indigenous peoples, the plight of slaves, the hoarding of earth’s resources, the destruction of nature’s beauty. It was my people who pillaged and plundered everything which God had intended for all mankind to use wisely. It was my people who claimed to be superior to all other races, who believed they had a God-given right to dominate, who believed their God was the only true God. It was my people.
Oh Lord, hear this white man’s cry. Chastise, discipline, punish us as a people for closing our eyes and shutting our ears to the needs of the world’s oppressed minorities. I ask your forgiveness but I also accept your righteous judgment. Grant me the courage to personally right the wrongs which I can and to walk shoulder to shoulder with all brothers and sisters in shoes of equality and compassion.
Once again there are certain of my people who would return us to the horrors of centuries past. Do not let this seething anger which I feel rising today over the words and actions of my misguided white brothers overwhelm the work which needs to be done in active non-violent confrontation. Calm my soul, focus my attention on your faithfulness and righteousness in the days ahead. As they sang it in the 1960s, “We shall overcome.” Hatred, bigotry, intolerance, racism shall be overcome with you, Lord, leading the charge.