Struggling in the Presence of Hate

         Sometimes, I find myself apologizing to God.

My mother drilled into us that Jesus said  we are supposed to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” She was being Biblical. We all know the Great Commandment that appears in both the Hebrew scriptures and is quoted by Jesus: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

            It is one of what I call the “ridiculous” and distasteful commands we are supposed to know and follow. It is as problematic for human beings as is the command to forgive. If we do not forgive those who hurt us, God will not forgive us, we are told, but everyone knows that forgiving those who have caused our souls mortal pain is not only distasteful but extremely difficult.

            The first theologian in my life, my mother, was the one who drilled into me and my siblings “what Jesus said” to do. She said it as we watched images on television of firemen spray children and women with their firehoses and police officers used dogs to attack people who were peacefully protesting against the practice of segregation. “Jesus said you have to love them and forgive them!” my mother called out to us from the kitchen.

            Even as a child I wrestled with what my mother said Jesus commanded, and I wondered if the white folks who were putting vicious dogs on innocent people had to forgive and love everyone, too? As I got older and began to study the history of racism in this country, I wondered even more.

            And I still do.

            Because white people are desperate to hold onto their whiteness, they are acting in desperation, doing all they can to “preserve” the status of their race because they are afraid of this country becoming too brown. The reports that indicate that by 2034 white people will no longer be the majority in this country has them mortified, and so they are working as hard as they can to establish a minority-run government – a government not like that of South Africa. 

            They believe in apartheid. 

            There are people who, no doubt, would say that I am being hyperbolic, but I am not concerned about their rants. What I am concerned about is my own struggle to do what Jesus said for us to do as I watch them run roughshod over this country that Black, brown, Asian, poor, and Native American people built. 

            They have always done that. There are a fair amount of white people who will openly admit that they believe that this country was “built for white people by white people,” and others who gasp and protest at such a suggestion.

            But it is true, and it is also true that far too many white people, even while they are declaring that they are not racist, live in the comfort of being white and do not think much about how white supremacy has poisoned the world. Kehinde Andrews, in his book The New Age of Empire, says that this country “is the most extreme expression of the racist world order.” He also says that America’s “entire existence is based on the logic of Western empire,” and that it became “a Garden of Eden for Europeans looking for wealth and opportunity.” Finally, he says this country “likes to present itself as a victim of British colonialism which freed itself from tyranny and now looks to do the same for the rest of the world.” This, he says, “is a delusional fantasy.”

            But because America lives in the myth of its own moral superiority, it cannot, has not, and will not admit its racism. The powers that be continue to try to keep the truth of this country’s heinous history of racism away from white children, who grow up to unaware white adults.

            And as they continue to walk over Black, brown, Asian, Native American, Muslims…and so many other groups, they perpetrate and engage in behaviors and make policies that hurt and hold back people whom they do not believe are fully human and thus worthy of being treated as such.

            Those are the people we are supposed to love and forgive, even as they refuse to love us back. If they must think of forgiving us, I suppose they would think that they have to forgive us for encroaching upon their privilege.

            Here is the struggle, though. I don’t want to love them. And I am struggling to forgive them for all of the pain they have caused so many. I am angry at them for their lack of concern at what they do to non-white people, and for their arrogance that comes from knowing they can do pretty much what they want to non-white people and get away with it. I don’t want to love and forgive the people who participated in the January 6 insurrection. I don’t want to love and forgive the people who have made wearing a mask to help keep other people from getting COVID-19 a political issue. I don’t want to love and forgive lawmakers who have shown they have no spine or strength, and who are helping to usher this country ruination. I just don’t want to do it.

            The human part of all of us wants “justice.” When we are wronged we want the wronged person to “get his” or “hers.” We want them to suffer as they have made us suffer. If we try to follow the dictates of the Bible, we know that we are supposed to let God do the “getting.” 

            But God moves too slowly. And too often, God seems to be on the side of the oppressor. God has allowed white people to oppress people in this country for over 400 years, and has allowed them to attack Black and brown people for literally generations. In the name of God, white Christians have massacred people of color and taken their land from them here and globally. In this country, they slaughtered Native Americans and took their land, unafraid of divine repercussions because they believed God had commissioned them to do so.

            White people, filled with hate and their God, have committed acts of violence against people in this country from the beginning. Sam Bowers, once the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who was convicted of murdering Vernon Dahmer because he dared help register Black people to vote,, believed that he had been called by God to save white people and white supremacy. He would lead his “soldiers” in fasting and praying before they went out to terrorize and slaughter Black people. White preachers and pastors have taught that racism is of and from God.

            We are supposed to love and forgive people who have been absolutely evil in our lives, and I, for one, struggle with that. I struggle because it’s difficult and I also struggle because I wonder what good it does in the end. I struggle because I am fairly sure that those who would kill and terrorize others don’t give loving and forgiving others a milli-second of thought. These people will never change.

            Years ago, I wrote a book entitled, Forgive Who? The Struggle to Obey God’s Awful Command. I think I need to do a second edition. Maybe, through writing out my frustrations with God I can move from frustration to freedom from my frustration and do what God commands, even as I continue to push for the freedom, justice, and dignity for all people, even those who flout their racially-based hatred and work for the demise of me and people like me who they have decided are not fully human and therefore not worthy of equity.

            It is most distasteful, and a horrific struggle …

            A candid observation…

On Forgiveness

Some years ago, I wrote a book entitled, Forgive WHO?  The book dealt with the difficulty of forgiving the people who have hurt us most, based on the directives by God to do so – not just once, but over and over. It was and is a dastardly “ask,” frankly, and yet God demands it. At the end of the day, we help ourselves when we forgive those who have ripped our very souls to shreds. Holding onto the anger and hurt at having been done wrong does nothing good for us. The need to be “right” seems to, be physically, emotionally and spiritually damaging.

So it is with interest that I have been watching the Paula Deen debacle. She has apologized…and is asking forgiveness from those whom she offended.  The ball has been thrown into the court of the offended. What they do with it will determine their souls’ lives, not Paula’s.

I am offended by the “n” word; I do not for a moment believe that many white people have used it in public to refer to African-Americans because that word was a big part of American history. It was so much a part of our history that black people called themselves the “n” word, and continue to do so today. It is absolutely maddening to me to hear it used by anyone; kids saying to me to lighten up because it doesn’t mean anything makes me even madder. It is a horrible word and it came from a horrible place of hatred, arrogance and a false sense of superiority of one group over another.

So, I don’t really believe Paula or anyone who says he or she has “never” used that word at some point in their lives.

Some have said that Paula is not sincere in her apology; she is “sorry” only because she was found out, but isn’t that the case with most of us? When we do wrong, we hope we will get away with it. If we get caught, aren’t most of us first “sorry” because we got caught, and only after that “sorry” that we may have offended someone?  So if that’s the case with Paula, she’s not all that out of the norm. And if she’s sorry because she is, as Today Show host Matt Lauer suggested, “bleeding financially, that’s understandable too.

But at the end of the day, Paula apologized, and that ought to be enough. For God-fearing, Christ– following people, none of whom are perfect, her apology ought to be enough. We ought to be able to forgive her because …she made a mistake. We all do. We ought to be willing to forgive her because …God demands that we do.

The “n” word is a horrible word; I wish it would go away. Worse, I wish it had never come into being, with all of the negative attachments it has. Nobody had the right to cast black people into such a despicable place, and brand them as less than human. But it was done…and the bleeding from that would has not stopped. We keep pretending that racism is gone, or that the tentacles that racism spawned have disappeared. They have not. The old thoughts, words and attitudes linger; they are like pus that will not stop bubbling beneath our wounds.

Paula Deen is not a bad lady. She is a product of how she grew up, as we all are. It would be good to get this pesky word completely erased from our history and from our present-day, but it is not likely to disappear soon. For what it’s worth, Paula Deen, I forgive you. It’s easier for me if I do. There’s too much work to do to stay stuck on what you said in a deposition. I forgive you and I believe you’re sorry.

Time to move on.

A candid observation …