- Bill Nesbitt
Lenten Reflection: Thursday in the Fourth Week of Lent
I grew up in the 60s and 70s in suburban Baltimore. I was blessed to have the means to attend great schools, live in comfortable homes, and have all of the trappings of white privilege. I witnessed the violence and riots that were a constant presence in the 60s, but always felt as if that was all happening somewhere else and that it didn’t really concern me. After all, I did not directly experience the sting of racial prejudice. By the time I reached young adulthood I felt as if the problem was resolved and just an issue of our collective past that had been taken care of and therefore did not exist anymore.
I have roots in New England all the way back to the Mayflower. Ironically, I have recently discovered that I am a direct descendant of Massasoit, the great Wampanoag chief who was so instrumental in developing peaceful relationships with the early colonists in Plymouth. Those early settlers would eventually reward the Wampanoag people by taking their land, suppressing the tribes and their culture, massacring them, and corralling them into reservations. The white man’s efforts to “civilize” this population in the early 20th century was nothing short of cultural genocide. Some of these actions persisted right up through the 1970s. So – I have now come to the realization that I am, in a very real sense, on both sides of this issue. Since I discovered my biological connection I have become even more acutely aware – because now it’s personal.
The Sacred Circles program really opened my eyes. I had never really peeled the layers of the onion to see how racism in this country had impacted, and most importantly continues to impact, millions of people in this country. The damage done and mistreatment perpetrated on generations of “non-white” peoples in America is deep seeded, persistent, and omnipresent. Things must change, and it starts with me.
The fact is that I, and my ancestors, bear some direct responsibility for the horrible actions perpetrated on other human beings (some of which are also my ancestors!). These attitudes and actions persist right up to the present day. It is an uncomfortable truth. So – how does this connect with my faith? Jesus regularly encouraged his followers to look inward and to uncover, examine, and change – even when to do so meant discomfort, pain, and even death. He encouraged others to face the difficult truths about themselves, discover those truths, and then spread the word – no matter what the consequences. In his case it led to a horrible death and then the glory of his resurrection. Many of his followers, even his Disciples, doubted him and resisted. I have come to understand through participation in this program that I cannot just turn my back and consider systemic racism “resolved” or as a thing of the past. If I am truly to follow Jesus, I must work to be an active part of the solution.
Think about major social, political, pop culture events that happened during your formative years. How did they affect your life? How did they influence your beliefs?