Pastoral Reflections By James Lamkin “Symptoms, Systems, and Spirituality…a Reflection on Charlottesville”
God! I’m using the word God as a prayer, not an expletive. In fact, God, is a complete sentence. In saying God, I am confessing…as in, “God is God and I am not.” I am beseeching…as in, “God do something!” And, I am questioning…as in, “God, are you paying attention?”
These are all prayers; but none are original with me. I plagiarized them…right out of The Psalms. These ancient psalmists poetically wrestled God, worshipped God, walked with God, whined to God, and wondered about God.
Though Charlottesville is nowhere near Babylon…the biblical writers experienced the same kind of acute cruelty, chronic racism, and senseless death that visited that city last weekend. The psalmists, too, were taunted. “Sing a song of Zion, sing a song of Zion,” they heard from their captors (Psalm 137). It sounded like, “Jews will not replace us.” And all hung their harps and wept.
Plenty has been said about the Charlottesville tragedy. Need there be more, you ask?
For me, reaction is easy; and silence is even easier. But spiritual reflection is hard. Maybe it is more like refraction…like a prism separating light into its component pieces.
In my opinion, Charlottesville is a symptom. It’s like walking into the doctor’s office saying, “Doc, I’m jaundiced! Can you give me some lotion to rub on my skin?” I may be wanting the doc to try a drugstore shelf full of ointments and creams. But, this approach is only topical. Any doc worth her or his salt, would also check my liver. Without treating the liver’s systemic failure, no salve on my skin will save me.
What I’m saying is: racism is more than skin deep. It goes to the bone. Our racial identity informs our relationships; and our culture informs our racial identity. That is the system. For me, this system requires confession, repentance, forgiveness, patience, and practice. And love. It takes a lot of loving and looking to acknowledge the glass walls and ceilings that centuries of sin have polished.
As long as there will be human beings, I believe there will be racism. It seems to be a seminal piece of the human story. But, not only that, it particularly is true of the American story. The early Explorers’ ships brought back effusive tales of discovery. And, sadly, slave ships quickly followed the same maps.
I greatly grieve Charlottesville. But, I try to think beyond this case study, symptom, and local outcropping of racism. I want to keep working on the big picture.
If you want to read further about this, here are two offerings from two authors I admire. Jim Wallis wrote: America’s Original Sin. And Robert Jones (a former NDBC member) wrote The End of White Christian America.
I suspect these books may be frightening; but they may also help us see the invisible glass. And more than that, they may help us see the resourcefulness of our relentless God. And after all, God! is a complete sentence.