Where We Go From Here

We move toward our true self or we betray it. I cannot get there without you. And you cannot get there without me.

People change, whether we like it or not. We grow or we decay. We move toward our true self or we betray it. That goes for individuals as well as communities. And an indispensable part of becoming who we aspire to be is facing who we actually are.

That’s one of the lessons of the story of Jesus’s baptism. And that lesson was starkly underscored by the seditious assault on the United States Capitol last Wednesday. Let’s start with a brief review of events and then turn to what Jesus teaches us about where we go from here.

A large, ragged mob stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of a valid presidential election. Incited by the President and deluded by conspiracy theories from the likes of QAnon, they broke through police barricades and invaded the halls of the Legislature.

By turns stunned, anxious, and angry, I heard voices say, “This is not America.”

Our highest ideals are freedom and equality. We agree to respect our democratic processes and institutions precisely in order to defend and preserve those values.

Other voices said, “This is America.”

America is stained by white supremacy. Banners, flags, and sweatshirt logos announced its presence. The mob was overwhelmingly white. And we are left to wonder at the strikingly inadequate measures taken to protect the joint session of congress. Last year, a phalanx of heavily armed police guarded the steps of congress in preparation for Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

Both observations are true. And in order to move toward a healthier and holier place, we need to come to terms with them both.

This is not America. It is not who we aspire to be. Our founding and abiding vision is to be a community that nurtures and guards the infinite worth of each individual regardless of race, creed, gender, language, sexual orientation, social standing, or economic means.

And yet, this is America. It is who we actually are.

Already in 1619 whites were enslaving blacks on these shores. Our Constitution made allowances for the Southern slave-dependent economies.

The Confederacy seceded from the Union in order to continue the practice of chattel slavery. Jim Crow laws evolved to ensure the power and status of whites after the Civil War.

Moreover, the land we all live upon was taken by force from indigenous people. Since the arrival of Europeans in 1492, the indigenous population has declined through violence and disease by 90%. That’s roughly 55 million people. White supremacy has been with us from the beginning.

Facing this reality is difficult. But it’s a necessary step in healing. In order to become who we yearn to be, we need to face who we are right now. And as I mentioned above, that’s one of the key lessons we can draw from the story of Jesus’s baptism.

John had offered a baptism of repentance as preparation for the coming of the Messiah. He wasn’t telling people to clean up their act in order to present their tidiest selves to Jesus in hopes of avoiding damnation.

Instead, he urged them to take an honest look at their lives in order to experience a crucial epiphany. Right in the midst of the beauty and goodness we treasure there’s pain and cruelty. Affection dwells alongside contempt and indifference. Extravagant wealth and agonizing want reside next door to each other.

This is not who we long to be. Not really. When Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves, he wan’t telling to do something alien to our nature. He was reminding us who we most truly are. The image of the loving God. But we can’t get there from here. Not on our own.

And this is precisely the epiphany John hoped his listeners would have: Christ is offering us the transforming love we need to grow into our true selves. In our individual life and our common life.

Repentance is an honesty about ourselves. That honesty prepares us for what God’s transforming love has in store for us. That love propels us toward who we were created to be in the first place.

That is really where we want to go from here. We want to grow toward our true self. And the key is to acknowledge that we are all in this together. I cannot get there without you. And you cannot get there without me.

11 Comments

  1. As always thank you for you message of hope in the mist of the events of this week. I believe many knew something was coming but I doubt what came is what was expected. My fear is that somehow he will become a martyr to those who supported him rather that someone who fed them into believing his lies. I am one who believes that there are consequences for ones action good or bad just as it can be in cases no action. So my hope is that everyone evolves pays some kind of price. It is not up to me to chose the price only that there is one showing that no one is above the law of the land including the president. Democracy has won and as angry as I am to the threat of it, I still want to be part of the healing and hope as every Christian is call to do by loving our neighbors.

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  2. I’m sorry you are not equipped with all the proper facts. I’m as much of a Christian as you are, but you are being deceived. Stay tuned because those who believe in abortion and infanticide are now our leaders. They are fueled and bank rolled by a malicious wealthy whose plan is to dissolve the middle class and rule with an iron fist. Only God can heal. This country is too divided. You are listening to the Greatest Liar. You cannot follow Marxist theology and believe the Word. I have no allegiance to Trump, I didn’t even vote for him in 2016, but I know the evil of Biden and I remember the misery he has caused Black people and many of them today see exactly the plan for destroying God’s creation including the teaching that even little children should have sex changes. Love comes with surrender to God’s will. Hang on because you are sure to know it soon. I can guarantee you need to kneel to God. If you’re mind is already set in the trap of Satan I can’t help you except to say I’m praying you see the light soon. We got where we are by the evil of those who again in power will take us further down the road of destruction.

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  3. The rioters looked ‘ragged’ for sure but seem to include people such as professors, off-duty police, military and realtors. Also, an observation from this kiwi .. USA really *needs* a proportional voting system!

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  4. I appreciate your thoughtful discussion of what you can see and certainly expected would be a controversial issue. I agree with almost all of what you said, but take issue with your overly simplistic view that the lightly armed Capitol Police presence was due to racism. On what basis did you come to that conclusion? I lament that you immediately jumped from coincidence to causation without any factual basis for that conclusion. Yes, it is true that the Capitol Police were not prepared for the time of assault that took place and investigations are ongoing to try to figure out the reasons why? Implicit racism may well have figured into the initial calculations made by the leadership of the Capitol Police, but I think you are wrong at this point to assume that it was the sole or even primary motivating factor. On-going discussion now reveal the bureaucratic problems associated with policing the Capitol and the jurisdictional entanglements involved in getting reinforcements. Many people complained about the overly militarized police presence with respect to the Black Lives Matter protests? Are you now suggesting that there should be a similarly overly militarized presence for all demonstrations? As for the individual Capitol Police officers, there were a few instances of officers that seem to support an/or assist the protestors, but from what I could see, most officers did the best they could against overwhelming odds to slow down the rioters so that their colleagues could protect the members of Congress–many of them were injured and one died. It would have been easy under those circumstances to use their weapons and they would have been fully justified in doing so. Let me be clear about where I stand. I believe that we have a problem with racism in our country. There are plenty of cases in which it is easy to see that is the reason that certain actions were taken. I think it is premature to made the sweeping and simplistic assertion that you made in judging that racism was the reason why the Capitol Police were not prepared for what happened.

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    1. Thanks for your response, Mike. I recognize that the police officers on the ground on Wednesday did not make decisions about how many people to deploy and in what way. Additionally, I admire the courage those men and women showed in a dangerous situation. They did their duty with exemplary honor and valor. There might have been a couple of exceptions, but that in no way diminishes the respect due the vast majority of the force.

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      1. Being a little opportunistic, I think you both see if I chip in here. When I first saw events unfold I was aghast the mob could get into the Capitol and couldn’t believe forces weren’t prepared! I was *stunned*. A confederate flag was marched through the building. Plastic handcuffs, gallows/noose outside. Bombs. Yesterday Nigel had a small job in a seaside town and I had the day off with him. A relief to be away from news. Back home last night I felt angry: in NZ we know the devastation one white supremacist caused – over 50 deaths plus others injured in the Christchurch mosques. Yet the US has tacitly encouraged these types and allowed them to gain power. They were yelling “this is our country”, “this is our house”. The symbolism of this performance in your Capitol is terrible. The “optics” couldn’t be worse. The USA’s let the rest of the free world down. This emboldens white supremacists everywhere and puts many of us at risk – women, any colour skin other than white, anyone including white who don’t subscribe to their agenda (look how they turned on Pence). I fear you’re on a path to civil war. Of course I hope not, but take care both of you. I hope you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy.

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        1. ps. re black police officers involved – in Buzzfeed. I’ve slightly edited the swearing, “I sat down with one of my buddies, another Black guy, and tears just started streaming down my face,” he said. “I said, ‘what the f**k, man? Is this America? What the f**k just happened? I’m so sick and tired of this s**t.’” — and I just can’t get over that these black officers had so little support! Here’s the article: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/emmanuelfelton/black-capitol-police-racism-mob

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