This past week, our family traveled to Mississippi to visit friends. On the trip we were able to see both the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. While the museums were appropriate for our older child, who has been studying the Civil War and Reconstruction in her Social Studies Class, our younger child was a bit mystified by the museums. She struggled with understanding the concept of history versus modern day, but she especially struggled with why people were hurting and killing each other. She clearly made the connection that Caucasians (or “peach-skinned” people as she called them) were being mean to African-Americans (or “brown-skinned” people), but she could not fathom why. With every video or picture, I was barraged with questions about why people were doing what they were doing, or why someone would kill someone like Martin Luther King, Jr.
Explaining the atrocities of American racial history to a five-year old is one of the most gut-wrenching experiences I have had. I already struggle with the shame of our history and my participation in racism. But to expose my child to the sinfulness and brokenness of our country made the shame deeper. As the museum bombarded me with statistics around racial disparities, as prerecorded voices shouted out awful words that were once shouted out to people of color, and as “Precious Lord,” or “We Shall Overcome,” played overhead, I was reminded of all that we have been through as a country, and how much further we have to go.
In Lent, we do a lot of confessing of our sinfulness and working on repentance. On Ash Wednesday, we confessed our exploitation of other people, our blindness to human need and suffering, and for “all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us.”[i] In the Great Litany this Lent, we prayed, “From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want of charity, Good Lord, deliver us.”[ii] In the Exhortation in the Penitential Order, the priest asked us to “Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word, or deed. And acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life, being ready to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by you to others; and also being ready to forgive those who have offended you, in order that you yourselves may be forgiven. And then, being reconciled with one another, come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.”[iii]
As we finish these last days of Lent, as we hear the passion narrative on Sunday, and as we walk the days of Holy Week next week, I am reminded of how much work we still have to do. For me, I will be contemplating the ways in which I participate in the systems and practices of racism in our community, working to not only be better, but to teach my children to be better. And knowing our work of repentance is on-going, I look forward to our Eastertide book study that will allow us to delve into these issues even more. This week I pray for the whole human family:
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[iv]
[i] Book of Common Prayer (BCP), 268.
[ii] BCP, 149.
[iii] BCP, 317.
[iv] BCP, 815.