Molly and I occasionally have Table Talk at our evening dinners in our tiny apartment. The pandemic solution at our senior residence is to have wonderful high school students – our dining room wait staff – come with a big paper bag containing our dinners, as ordered, from the dining room. A loud knock alerts us that the food has come. Molly transforms it into a colorful, healthy meal.
We love the friendly young people who carry the bags to probably 200 apartments. They know us and address us by first names.
Our table is at a wide window looking from the second floor into our now lush courtyard, with its brilliant flowers, its green lawns, the lovely little pond, its flitting birds and waddling ducks.
That peaceful scene encourages occasional burst of serious talk. One recently was about prejudice: the prejudging of other people. Molly offered, without blinking, the prejudice she felt I carry. I confessed to several opinions that I want to temper and moderate. I want very much to be fair.
But my growing sense is that “systemic racism” is not true reality. That it leads to glib and sweeping condemnations that are often not balanced and fair. And that it feeds in, all too readily, to a spirit of angry rage that leads inevitably from violent feelings to violent, destructive acts that trample on people and property, dreams and hopes, causing ruin for many businesses built by African Americans and African immigrants.
The protests turned to riots have fed on the spirit of rage, with the self-looming anger and the identification of the “other” as enemy.
All of this directly dismissing Jesus’ good word, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger,” ie: deal with it, and get rid of it. Leave it behind. Learn not to hold grudges.
Looking back on my now long life (91! Yikes!), I realize that forgiveness is one of the hardest things for Christians to undertake: to offer, and to receive. It is even written there in our church liturgies, but we have trouble “getting it.” Because, in this fallen world EGO rises, with help from the insinuations of the Devil, to make us want, of all things, to be right. We resist the humbling exercise of saying, “Sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.”
I live with (for 70 years) an independent, quietly outspoken, deep-thinking wife, whose eyes can flare and her voice rise, BUT who never holds a grudge. She lets it go, as Jesus taught her. And, as she teaches me.
When God called us to Rwanda to speak love into the wounded lives of people who had killed a million of their neighbors, friends, family members, and even fellow Christians out of hatred born of the other tribe’s privilege and disparagements of them, Molly listened to God when He said, “I have brought you here to ask THEIR forgiveness for what you, and your people of the West did to divided them from each other.”
She didn’t even know that history, but, in church service after church service, and retreat after retreat, she went to her knees and begged forgiveness of the Rwandans.
They said they’d never seen anything like that. Time after time, they went to this little old American white lady, and laid hands on her and prayed for her forgiveness. And so she visibly taught all of our Pilgrim Center teams to go first of all “ASKING THEIR FORGIVENESS.” Taught us authenticity, and humility.
It is very different from the path of rage. Very different from venting anger. It moves into the sphere of the Spirit. Of the miraculous given by Jesus. It changed us. It changed Rwandans (and Burundians and Congolese, and South Sudanese, and Ugandans. Even Kenyans).
It is of an entirely different realm. It touches the heart. It changes lives. It tracks down all kinds of attitudes that we carry around.
My father grew up an only child of a single mom in Omaha. She cleaned houses and later kept rooming houses. For railroad men, pick and shovel workers, down by the stockyard. As a 17-year-ol boy – and long before – my father worked as a City building inspector, sang in the Presbyterian Church choir, went to the YMCA and became a champion weight-lifter. He went to Central High School.
Many times he bemoaned to his own four children that he was never required at Central High, to write a paper. In his very different career as a New England preacher, he struggled in the writing of sermons and books. “I want my children to go to schools where they teach you to write,” he said. And, though he was later on the School Board of Portsmouth, NH, he found ways to send each of his children to the finest prep school he could find, so we’d learn to write.
I was sent away to be a scholarship student for four years at such an “elite” school. Lonely for me. My brother came in my second year. We sang, played sports, led the school government. My sisters went to fine private girls’ schools.
I didn’t know what “elite” was at the time. I went under my hard-working father’s guidance. I learned much. I was an idealist in student leadership and was nearly crushed by it in my final year. I failed my college boards. I finally got into college on the good word of my headmaster.
Of course, that schooling was high privilege for me. When I went to theological seminary in New York, I worked a year with young people in East Harlem. Bright, eager, black kids. Oh, I learned from them, and from the East Harlem Protestant Parish where I served. You can get knocked around in all that. And so it went, through life – My last 25 years of life (as a volunteer) after 32 years leading a midwest suburban church in Minneapolis, with a semi-city church in Boston – bringing black and white teenagers together, among other things, all beginning with five years in a country church in “The Berkshires” of Massachusetts, where little old widow ladies, with their Bibles open beside their favorite chairs, taught me how to pray and be a pastor. I couldn’t leave without a prayer. Even there, kids of all kinds from Harlem came for time with us “in the country” all summer.
You take what comes. You learn what’s thrust upon you. You learn to love the people. All of them. Even at the suburban church there were a couple of black young people in my confirmation classes. A young black hard-working woman comes from the northside to sit with a quiet, gracious woman, whose son, another “old confo kid” is now the President of a major company. She is humble and affectionate, in loving this young woman.
And for a couple of decades, there was Wanda. Friends on the north side, she told us in her testimony in church on Martin Luther King Sunday, asked her, “Why do you go all that way to be in that white suburban church, and sing in the choir?” “I told them,” she said, “I go there to learn not to hate white people.”
She’s gone to glory now, but told the truth along the way, and she lived and was loved. And I believe she forgave. Because she and we, recognized the face of God in each other. (“He made them in His own image.”)
It’s a loving thing, this dealing with our opinions of each other. A breaking down thing. And oh, always, a weeping thing – which are, in the soul, love’s tears. Jesus’ tears. From the cross. We can build on that. We surely can.
Love to you.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES