Monuments of Shame

Monuments of Shame

During my college years, I was quite enamored with beer.  I’m not proud of that.  But, it’s the truth.  My love affair with beer became a destructive habit that damaged relationships, hindered my maturation and education, and cast a permanent dark cloud over that chapter of my life.

I not only drank beer.   I covered the walls of my bedroom with beer-related posters and neon beer signs.  I built a visible, tangible monument to my destructive, addictive idolatry.

27 years ago, with God’s help, I stopped drinking.  Thank God.  About that time, I also tore down the beer-related decor.  Needless to say, there’s no beer-related paraphernalia in house anymore.

Given my history with beer, and the pain and destruction it caused, imagine if I still had that stuff hanging around.  What would that communicate to my mom, to my wife and children? What would that communicate to guests in my home?  What would that communicate to those who call me “pastor?”  What would that say about me, and my inability to move on?

Perhaps this is an overly-trite example, by comparison.  I hear a lot of talk these days about Civil War-related monuments.  I hear well-intentioned people say, “It’s our history,” as a justification for why the monuments should remain.  But, as I understand it, the purpose of monuments is to honor.  Is it appropriate for monuments to remain, in public, tax-payer supported places of honor, that represent such a dark blot on our history?  Is it appropriate for monuments to remain that symbolize the source of pain and strife for so many of our fellow-Americans?  It appropriate to maintain public monuments that white supremacists continue to use as symbols for their hate-filled cause?

I have vivid memories of the Berlin Wall coming down  and the massive statue of Saddam Hussein toppled in Iraq.  Numerous statues of Stalin and Lenin were torn down, removed, or relocated to history museums.  To the best of my knowledge, the destruction of such monuments was celebrated by most Americans.

In contrast, one can still visit many of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany – not as monuments, but reminders.

I will confess, as a 50-year-old white man, born and raised in the South, it only recently occurred to me that Confederate monuments were an issue of concern.  They’ve been an “accepted” part of Southern culture, since before I was born.  They’ve just been part of the Southern landscape.

But, my eyes have been opened.  While they’ve not offended me in the past, I now view them from a different perspective.  I have a growing understanding of what they represent to my African American brothers and sisters.  I have a growing understanding of the shameful horrors they represent. If they cause pain, and continue to communicate a message of racial difference and separation, then they need to come down.

They MUST come down!

Yes, the Civil War is part of our history – as are the Trail of Tears, the Japanese internment camps, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the southern Jim Crow laws, etc., etc.  We have history books, documentaries, and museums to keep those stories alive.  Remembering our history is important, so that we learn, grow, and strive not to repeat it.

Perhaps we do need monuments – monuments on behalf of the victims – as reminders of our sins.  But, why would we maintain monuments to honor the perpetrators of our darkest moments?

Though trivial by comparison, my college drinking is a dark chapter of my life.  I’ve worked hard to overcome that part of my history.  I can’t change it.  And, I won’t hide it.  But, I certainly won’t memorialize it.  The neon beer signs had to come down.

They had to come down.

 

 

The Sin of Being Passive

The Sin of Being Passive

I can easily be accused of being passive.  I don’t move quickly.  I take my time making decisions.  I tend to be quiet – taking in more than I express.  I don’t get very excited very often.  I prefer peace and calm.  I don’t show much variation of facial expression.  I can watch grass grow or paint dry, and be perfectly content.

But, I wouldn’t say that I am mentally passive.  In fact, my mind is so active that I have trouble shutting my thoughts down.  But, externally, I realize that’s a different story.

During Lent, I’ve been reflecting on that line from a familiar prayer of confession, “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done…”  We not only need to confess our sins of commission, but also our sins of omission – in other words, our sins of passivity.  While I may not be guilty of this or that particular action (though I likely am), I am very likely guilty of inaction.

It recently occurred to me that Adam was standing next to Eve – passively – while the snake tempted the two of them to eat the forbidden fruit.  Then Adam blamed God for making Eve.

When the angels told Lot’s family to leave Sodom, they dragged their feet.

When Dinah was raped (Genesis 34), her father, Jacob, did nothing.

Passive.

Isaiah 1:17 says, Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”

That’s action.  That’s what it means to God’s people.

But, by verse 23, Isaiah says that, our rulers are rebels, partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them.”  Their actions were evil – bribery, corruption, theft.  But, equally evil was their inaction – including the distinctive call to God’s people to love justice and do kindness – “they do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

Oppression is not only the result of sinful action.  Oppression is also the result of passive inaction – MY passive inaction.  YOUR passive inaction?

Though I read and speak and write about justice, acting on behalf of the oppressed and the marginalized is another matter.  I cannot – we cannot – passively watch the injustice in our communities and broader world, and do nothing.  We are called to be people of action – to be a hand of mercy and a voice of prophecy.  We are called to act.  To do less, is nothing less than sin.

I confess that sometimes my passivity is selfish – I just don’t want to do anything.

I confess that sometimes my passivity is selective blindness – if I don’t see it, it must not be happening (ostrich syndrome).

I confess that sometimes my passivity is rooted in busyness – I am so busy doing church work that I don’t have time to do Kingdom work (there is a difference).

I confess that sometimes my passivity is a result of cowardice – will I be criticized for this, and am I willing to pay the price?

I confess that sometimes I am passive because I don’t know what to do – ignorance becoming a convenient crutch.

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther king wrote the following words from a Birmingham jail cell, largely to white passive pastors, who were discouraging his actions, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”

“The time is always ripe to do what is right.”

This week, chemical weapons were deployed in Syria, Isis killed over 50 people in Syria and Iraq, and – as is true every other week – multitudes of people are suffering and dying in countless ways, while I passively do nothing.

Forgive me, Lord, for what I have left undone, and those things which I ought to have done. 

What will we do?  What will I do?