“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
As the ashes were imposed on my head, I thought not primarily of my own mortality, but on the mortality of those who have suffered under people like me. You see, I am alive and well today, but there are others such as Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and many others who are not. It is their mortality that I sense so strongly today, not my own. And as this Lenten season of repentance begins in the midst of “Black History Month” I cannot help but feel that there is much that my people have to repent of.
I am male. Since the earliest recorded history, my half of the sex has asserted dominance over the other, sometimes even violently. Please have mercy.
I am white. For centuries my people have assumed a position of power and relegated all others to second rate. Please have mercy.
I am an American. Even the initial settling of my country involved driving out native people, murdering them and stealing their land. Over the past hundred years or so my country has occupied other countries, surely with the intention of spreading the good of democracy, but more realistically just assuming its own authority over other countries. Please have mercy.
I am from Texas. For hundreds of years, the south brutally enslaved African American people and fought in the civil war to defend their “right” to it. Even today much of Texas remains rather homogenous and racist. Please have mercy.
I am a Christian. It did not take us long to lose our way and get wrapped up in the power struggles of the Roman Empire or to forget our suffering savior and inflict that suffering on others during the Crusades. And today we are no different when we rally for political parties and heap judgment on others at street corners. Please have mercy.
I represent and stand for a people who have done so much wrong to the world. We have been the oppressors of many. I am the epitome of privilege and yet carry the shame of knowing that many have been pushed out of the way for me to inherit such a privilege. How can I be me and not carry the shame of the oppression my people have and still have upon the world around?
One of the readings for today included Isaiah 58:6-8. God says,
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
justice shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
During this season may we not fast from petty things like chocolate and Facebook and soda, but rather fast from injustice! May we not only repent of personal sin, but also of the brokenness deep within our society! This is a season to repent for the oppression we have been blind to for far too long. This is a season for lamenting the brokenness of the world and repenting for the ways in which we have contributed to that brokenness. My fellow people, we have much to repent of and much more to fight for.
Look with pity, O heavenly Father,
upon the people in this land who live with
as their constant companions.
Have mercy upon us.
Help us to eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors.
Strengthen those who spend their lives
establishing equal protection of the law
and equal opportunities for all.
And grant that every one of us may enjoy
a fair portion of the riches of this land;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.