A Tale of Two Americas
I go on vacation and all hell breaks loose. Not at Southminster, but in our nation. I want to thank our good friend Mark Mullins for stepping in the past two weeks and beginning to delve into our spiritual theme this month of reconciliation. A theme we need these days.
On Tuesday January 6, Rev. Raphael Warnock was declared the winner — one of two new Senators from the state of Georgia. Warnock is the first Black Senator ever to be elected to national office from a state known for voter suppression. In his victory speech, Warnock, the 11th of 12 children, invoked his mother, now 82, who began life picking other people’s cotton, but lived to pick her youngest son and vote for him as a Senator. “May my story be an inspiration to some young person who is trying to … grab hold of the American dream.” Warnock offered his life as an example. “May my story be an inspiration!” There is much in his story: the truth of racism in our past and in our present. The struggle for liberation by Black Americans and allies and the critical role of the Black church. Progress we have made and hope for the future. His election brought tears to my eyes. And I know that I am not the only one.
A tale of two Americas. The very next day, Wednesday January 7th. In the afternoon. White supremacist mobsters are dispatched to the US Capitol building. We all know about the deadly impact. “How could this happen?” “This isn’t who we are, is it?” America has told us what it is by slavery and apartheid, by Jim Crow and the New Jim Crow, by theft of this land and Japanese internment, by cages on the border and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, by every Black body killed by police—America has been telling us what it is, who it protects and who it has always been designed to benefit.
Unless You Become an American
And now our spiritual theme this month of reconciliation calls us to places we don’t want to go. How do we reconcile with those who have a complete opposite world-view than ours? How do we reconcile these two Americas? When I was a few years out of Seminary, just after the 9-11 attacks, I visited my parents in Pasco Washington. I had watched my Dad change over the preceding decade. He was once a life-long Burlington Railroad Union card carrying Democrat.
But he changed completely— largely attributable, in my view, to Fox News. He even painted his trailer house red, white and blue and claimed that President Bush was the next coming of Christ. Sitting in his living room just after 9-11, we started talking about Muslims and he was adamant that we should kill all Muslims—they were to blame for 9/11. Obviously, I wouldn’t have that and we got into a heated argument, to which he threw me out of the house and never wanted to speak to me again unless “I became an American”!
How do you reconcile that? That was the last day I ever saw my dad and mom until I gave their eulogies for the family and threw their ashes in the Columbia River. Through the years, I wanted to reconcile with my dad, but I knew that it would only make life more miserable for my mom. He was too far gone in his way of thinking. And I realized that even if I were to have a conversation with him, reconciliation could not happen apart from truth-telling.
The Prophet Micah and Reconciliation
The Old Testament offers some examples of great people who were truth-tellers and able to overcome conflict by reconciling themselves to others and being a voice for nation building. For instance, from the book of Micah, we learn that during the eighth century B.C. there was a lying spirit in the land that gripped the hearts of all people—prophet, priest, judge, merchant, and housewife. Values were materialistic, covetousness was rampant, streets were unsafe, and violence was commonplace. A man was well advised not to trust even his own wife in a world where a man’s enemies might often be his own flesh and blood.
Who could stand up to the corrupting forces of such a society? Micah, the prophet, had worked long hours and many years in order to effect a change of heart in this spiritually calloused society. Although his calling was lonely and unpleasant, “Woe is me! What misery is mine!” Micah declares—even so, his ability to remain steadfast to truth while reconciling people to the core of their humanity was astounding and surely a model of love and forgiveness. He was a truth-teller in the midst of a world of lies and deceit. People learned through his testimony and life actions that love was the only way forward for a healthy society. You may remember his most famous words: “What does the Lord require of you? But to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Michah 6:8)
Martin Luther King’s Vision of Love and Forgiveness
The more I have come to understand Martin Luther King Jr., the more I have learned that his vision of a Beloved Community was not just a pipe dream—one that everyone sings kumbaya and is wonderfully connected— his dream called for action and change and truth telling. He often referred to the need for love and forgiveness as being our path forward. But in his words, “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning.”
MLK knew, and now we do too—the fate of the United States and indeed the entire world, hinges on the degree to which we love and forgive one another—the type of love and forgiveness that does not back down from our truth. We are called to create the atmosphere that does not attack others but invites people in and humbly listens to the pain and experience of others— THAT MEANS: NO MORE STEREOTYPES AND LABELS AND TWEETS THAT ONLY SERVE TO DIVIDE AND DIMINISH. For MLK, this kind of non-judgemental act of love and forgiveness will earn us the right to be heard.
How will we Respond?
Preachers are supposed to end with the Good News. Well, here it is. Above all, we must be reminded that God is at work in the universe. As we struggle to defeat the forces of evil, the God of the universe struggles with us. The Rev. Warnock, the Prophet Micah and Dr. King’s hope was rooted in the simple truth that deep rooted love and forgiveness will indeed forge a path forward toward reconciliation.
Now along this path, it won’t be easy, there will be people no matter what we say and do that will never accept our vision for America. My Dad became one of them. Letting go of things you can’t control is oftentimes the hardest part of authentic and non-judgemental love and forgiveness.
But let me encourage you to remember Georgia and what organizing and energy can accomplish. The task is not hopeless—just hard. Yes, we are in a war between two Americas. But for us people of faith, we know that the arc of the universe bends toward justice—all things are possible. We have seen it before. The dream is still alive. We are called to love the hell out of this world in a way like never before. We are called to be truth tellers like never before.
So the question for you and me, will we respond to that call? Having lived through the last two weeks (and the last four years for that matter)—how can we not?