Lenten Reflection: Ash Wednesday
As part of our journey in the Sacred Ground class I had the opportunity to discover the writings of Howard Thurman. I have so much more to learn about this man and frankly I have multiple re-readings of the parts of his book, Jesus and the Disinherited, that we were to read before I can even get close to the notion of “understanding” what he was saying. I am an elementary school librarian and deep thoughts are conveyed to me usually in the form of a 32-page picture book. I’m not underselling picture books and highly encourage all who read this to ponder the world through the lens of some of the great titles being published for a younger audience these days. And yet . . .
Back to Thurman. Jesus and the Disinherited influenced and shaped the civil rights movement. This quote from the back of the book says so much: “Thurman’s work reaches past anger and distrust toward a vision of unity.” Sacred Ground met my learning style in so many ways through video, discussion and engaging readings. Thurman challenged me greatly and for many sessions I was unable to grasp what he was trying to say. There was one week, however, when Thurman and I met on the road and we were able to converse. It was chapter 3 - “Deception.” I actually underlined passages of the book (which I am so reluctant to do - I blame the librarian in me!) Here are the lines that struck me: “Sincerity in human relations is equal to, and the same as, sincerity to God.”
“Instead of a relationship between the weak and the strong there is merely a relationship between human beings. A man is a man, no more, no less. The awareness of this fact marks the supreme moment of human dignity.” And underneath that I wrote “Black lives matter. ‘I can’t breathe!’ ‘Say his name!’ I went into Sacred Ground partially understanding my role in a society that has stacked the deck in favor of people that look like me. As a white man I have power and privilege that are denied to others based on their ethnicity. I didn’t build that system but I benefit from it. And so the question for me is always, “Where is God in this mess? How are we to undo the past and build an inclusive future?” Thurman spoke to me with that word “sincerity.” Equating sincerity to God with my relationships with other human beings challenges me to consider not just my person-to-person relationships but more broadly my relationships with others in the system of human relationships of which I am a part. It is not with great glee that I speak of my role in systemic racism. It is with a sense of sadness and repentance that I own my place in the system and my acknowledgement that I will spend the rest of my life working to dismantle the system and to build relationships with those who have not benefited from the system as I have. I don’t know what the steps after Sacred Ground are but I am keenly aware that my own humanity relies on sincerely building relationships with others through humility and a willingness to acknowledge the dignity of all people and the fact that there is a system in place that wants to deny that dignity to some. I have to say that out loud and pray that as a community in the “Jesus Movement” we can find ways to repair the breach for the sake of all our human dignity.
Imagine what it might look like to “repair the breach” of our nation’s history of racial injustice. How would things be different?