I want to talk about unity.
Last Thursday our church hosted a crowd of about 350 people to hear Dr. Carol Anderson discuss her book on institutional racism, “White Rage.” I thought it was extraordinary for so many reasons. The crowd was incredibly diverse. There was deep respect for the stories and experiences that were shared. In the end, people listened to one another, and for a moment, we all seemed to be on the same side—the side of justice and equality and dignity for every human being.
I left that evening exhausted but hopeful. Dr. Anderson’s encyclopedic knowledge of history, and especially the history of the oppression of black people, was daunting. Sometimes I just wanted to change the subject, to talk about goofy, vacuous, easy things. But Dr. Anderson is not to be deterred, in the best possible way. And I was educated. And it was a blessing.
When there was a fact or historical moment that was obscure but particularly poignant or harsh, there were audible gasps in the crowd. It was impossible to be there and not be moved by the pain and suffering she related, the gross unfairness and mean-spirited choices meant specifically to keep black people from being successful. We looked into each other’s eyes and acknowledged the truth. Again, it was a unifying moment.
And then the shooting in Texas came on Sunday, and we seemed shattered all over again. We heard people yelling about guns, pro and con, waving mental illness around like a pendant, blaming, horrified, wanting action. And so far, nothing has happened to address the root causes of this violence. Frankly I would be happy with anything at this point. If we can’t get rid of the guns, fine, let’s throw some money at research and treatment for mental illness. Anything!
And as I have witnessed people I agree with spiraling toward the harshness of rhetoric I expect from people I do not agree with, I understand that we have to start with ourselves. We have to ask what we are going to do to end the violence that claims the lives of 5 year olds who went to church Sunday morning. The stakes are so high. We have to honor that. So what do we do?
First we admit to the violence in ourselves, our tendencies toward anger and desire for revenge. We admit that we care more about power than we want to say. We want it, and the security that comes with it. And occasionally at least, in the interest of that power, we ourselves are violent, or manipulative, or uncaring or unjust.
Then we listen. We listen to the anti-gun lobby. We listen to gun owners. We listen to the people who have lost loved ones to violence. We look into their eyes. We see their humanity. We love them as they are. We build community with the person most unlike ourselves, lovingly and intentionally, at a personal sacrifice. We understand that for the good we seek, we are going to have to give up something. If it were easy, it would have happened already. And it is in looking into the eyes of our sisters and brothers that we have the courage and conviction to be a living sacrifice.
Conversation leading to conversion is something we are all capable of doing. Where you will begin, I don’t know. How you will compromise, I don’t know. That we all have to have equal investment and sacrifice, I am certain of that. So, where will you begin?