There is no shortage of past and present racism in America. The enslavement of Africans and African-Americans and the genocide against Native Americans is well documented. Today, we are witnessing ethnic based attacks that may have been swept under the rug in the days before video recording attacks on Asian Americans and the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality. The worst of our past injustices may be behind us. But, underlying attitudes toward each other persist. Why?
I am old enough to remember the racial attacks in Bensonhurst and Howard Beach. That was about the same time as Sir Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder had a hit with “Ebony & Ivory,” “People Are People” from Depache Mode and Sade’s cover of “Why Can’t We Live Together.” After some sort of violent flare up, some healing music comes out and we drift into complacency. The problem with this state is that if we are not constantly striving for the best outcome, the evil one can easily keep there with a pessimistic attitude. All it takes is someone else to be assaulted and/or killed and “that’s just the way it is” dominates our way of thinking. As long as we are not personally affected, we don’t tend to care. If we do get upset, it’s not for long.
Educator Benjamin Mays gave a word that has influenced me for some time. “Failure is not the problem. The problem is low aim.” I think most of us are willing to, at least, be tolerant of each other. Many of us are willing to like and love. Perhaps many more are like, “I don’t mess with them, they don’t mess with me.” I suggest (to myself as well) that we look at one another in a higher light; sainthood and the possibility of it.
Consider Acts 13:1 at the Church in Antioch as an example. Lucius of Cyrene and Simeon called Niger (Simon of Cyrene) were not rejected for being African. Manaen was not shunned for being brought up with Herod. And Saul of Tarsus (Paul) had been a persecutor of Christians. And yet, they were all held in high esteem as clergy with Saul and Barnabas being ordained to carry the Gospel outside of it’s Middle Eastern home. An angel of God led the ethnic Jewish Deacon Philip to converse with and baptize an Ethiopian royal treasurer (Acts 8:26-40). Even the more hardcore Hebrew Peter had to set aside racial pride when he saw Italians receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:1-48). Ethnicity and race were not the major concern. What mattered was that all people had the ability to become saints.
I created the icon of All Saints of West Point with the sainthood of all humanity in mind. Moses the Black endured verbal abuse being a dark-skinned man in Lower Egypt and proved to be one of the wisest of the Desert Fathers. Herman left Russia’s Valaam Monastery to stand up for oppressed Alaskan Natives and shared the Gospel in their language. Olga Michael healed the wounds of sexual abuse victims and gave to the poor even as she and her husband were raising seven children on a meager salary. The Arabic Raphael Hawaweeny sought spiritual knowledge from the Greeks and Russians as he prepared to come to America and lead his overlooked immigrant community. Such varietys of humanity, if not more, are all around us. All have the potential to reach oneness with God.
Taking a stand against violence is a good thing. Taking a head and a heart to see holiness in another person is better. If we seek such a head and heart, we may still fall sort and need to be corrected (Galatians 2:11-14). The point is to aim as high as possible. As we repent and forgive, Jesus will heal the short falls.