I struggled with what to say after last Wednesday, January 6. Seeing violent protestors crash through doors and windows of the U.S. Capitol shocked my sense of who we are as Americans. I want to respond, “This is not us.” But it is.
Our history is full of violence. Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution condemn slavery. The Trail of Tears (1830-50) forced the relocation of thousands of Native Americans. Many people died on the trip. The Civil War (1860-65) should have been the apex of division. After the war, the country had opportunities to figure out how to be a multi-racial society. Instead, Jim Crow laws picked up the banner of division and enshrined it in legal code.
These divisions continued through the twentieth century. For instance, people rioted and looted in Detroit after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. My mother remembers watching the U.S. Army tanks and helicopters patrol the city. These memories returned to her in 2017. Helicopters circled Charlottesville after right-wing violent protests.
The statement, “This is not us,” isn’t accurate. In its place, we can say, “This is not who we should be,” or, “This is not who we can be.” Our potential still lies ahead of us. What do we need to hear? Words of hope. A thought about overcoming differences. Something about justice. Or, the most appropriate response might be to revisit Jesus’ ethics of love in Matthew 5:38-48.
In Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton writes, “To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that Love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name” (p. 46).
We do not have to live in the past. The sins of the generations before us do not predict our future. We can be a people who strive to find common ground and grow together. Law enforcement officers should arrest those people who committed crimes last week. We can thank God for those officers and the work they are doing to protect us. Also, we can pray for God’s comfort for the family and friends of the officer killed by the insurrectionists.
God made us for something better than we now experience. Love is the reason for our existence. Made in the image of God, we can look ahead with hope. Learning from the past, we can try to build a more just society for the generations that follow us. Complicated and difficult work lies ahead of us. With God’s help, we can live out our calling.
As I wrote this, I tried to answer my own question. I tried to say what I needed to hear. Maybe you needed to hear something else. That’s okay. We are traveling with one another on this path. Share with me what you need to hear. Together, we can go forward into a future that is brighter than our past.