By Jan Wood
I HAVE HAD GOD OPEN MY EYES to new awareness that led to change many times. In fact, I count on that grace in my life! Perhaps the most iconic opening came years ago…
My sense of myself at that time was that I was a generous, happy, nice person. I considered myself kind and compassionate. I was hurt and dismissive of any feedback that might challenge those notions. But one day God’s Spirit started moving in my mind and heart. While I went about the normal activities of my day, there was a profound inward experience unfolding. I was shown all the ways that my words, phrases, and jokes reflected a deep space of envy and bitterness inside of me. I could hear the phrases that popped out of my mouth without my hearing or examining them. This dredging up of thoughts, words and actions that I had been blind to continued throughout the day. I was horrified! How could I be that kind of person? It was around 4 o’clock in the afternoon when I finally blurted out in anguish to God, “Oh God, I don’t want to be this way!” And to my surprise that inward voice of God answered in such a gentle and kindly tone. “I know, Jan. That is why we are talking about it.” I melted into the kindness of God’s gentle forgiveness and healing. That kindness moved me from seeing and feeling guilty to authentic and joyful change in my being and in my relationships with others.
We are at this same kind of crossroads in our national, American life. No longer can we think that our national political life is separate from our spirit life of faithfulness. The political and spiritual are deeply and observably entwined. And in this moment, the Spirit has given us as Americans grace-filled moments to drop out inner illusions and see parts of ourselves as they are. Like me, the dominant culture has thought of ourselves as kind, generous, open hearted, basically good people. We knew that we weren’t perfect and that horrible things were lying in our history; but that wasn’t “us.” That was “them.” We could continue to wear our virtues as our “real” character and dismiss those horrors as footnotes in our national life.
Eddie Glaude, professor of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University, recently said it this way.
“America is not unique in its sins as a country. We are not unique in our evils.… Where we might be singular is our refusal to acknowledge them—and the legends and myths we tell about our inherent goodness to hide and cover and conceal so we can maintain a kind of willful ignorance that protects our innocence.”
Or as God says through prophet Jeremiah:
“But I, God, search the heart and examine the mind.
I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things.
I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be.”
—Jeremiah 17:10, The Message
The grace in this moment is that the sinful underbelly of our American culture and experience is strutting across our consciousness every day. It is not hidden. It is not disguised. Like my day of seeing my own deep wells of envy and bitterness, we have the gift of being able to see that which has been submerged. Of having the blindness lifted off our eyes. And in this, we have history altering choices to make. Do we willfully shut our eyes and prop up the myriad of mechanisms we use to stay innocent? Or do we, like me that day years ago, cry out in anguish:
“Oh, God, we don’t want to be this way!” “We want hearts that are authentically shaping to the radical inclusiveness of Jesus’ life, teaching, and the explosive world changing power of that inclusion made real at Pentecost.”
“Oh God, forgive the hidden parts in me that have wittingly or unwittingly cooperated with racism, unmerited privilege that crowds out and disadvantages the other, innumerable violences from the mundane to the unspeakable, the disconnection and disrespect for God’s beloved creation of this earth, the idolatry of being willing to sacrifice all—and excuse all—on the altar of economic security, the glorification of ourselves and our needs at the expense of all others.”
“Oh God, on behalf of my people, I ask forgiveness for those who cannot yet see and speak it for themselves.”
We, in the community of faith, have a unique gift to give to these times. We are the ones who experientially know that power of seeing, repenting and finding new ways forward together. We are the people of repentance. We have a personal and corporate task of having the courage to drop our blind spots, face the whole of our national experience, repent of that which is at such variance with God’s amazing grace, generous inclusion and care for all peoples. We have the sturdiness to listen past the anger and pain into genuine relationships of respect and collaboration. We know that power of repentance to illuminate ways to transform the broken into something new. We know the power of forgiveness that sets us free from cycles of blame, guilt and defensiveness. We know that forgiveness opens the door to new possibilities and paths of energy and creativity.
We, the community of faith, hold in our hands the courage to see and the heart to repent for ourselves and our nation.
Let us be faithful.