Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Serpent

"Let us consider the first fifty years of our national history. There was never a moment during this time when the slavery issue was not a sleeping serpent. That issue lay coiled up under the table during the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention in 1787."
-- John Jay Chapman

If we were to examine the complete history of our nation, even to the present day, that snake is still present. Even through all our progress to a more egalitarian society, that snake, like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, lays coiled and ready to strike.  The toxic venom spewed out during the 2016 presidential campaign is proof of the serpent's enduring presence.

We might protest that in this day and age, in the 21st century, there is no slavery or open racism. But the snake takes many forms and has ways of blending in with its surroundings. It starts with the premise that some people are less than fully human. That there are those who are "three-fifths of other persons" (words written in the Constitution). The devaluation of people. This is the serpent's poison. This devaluation does not limit itself to a historically enslaved race. Any person, of any non-white color, and women, even white women, can feel the weights on the scales of justice tip against them.  Racism, misogyny, antisemitism, and xenophobia are just camouflaged forms of the same serpent.

I realize I am taking quite a leap to speak about injustice towards people of color, other religions, and women when I am non of these. How can I speak of things I have never experienced? I can't. But I can speak from where I have been. And that place is ignorance.

I have been ignorant of the privilege my gender, my race, and my ethnicity afforded me. I have never had to worry when walking alone, even at night, that someone would try to rape me. I have never had to worry when I was pulled over by police that I was being profiled or that I would be shot if I took my hands off the wheel. I have never had my Midwestern accent questioned nor have I been looked down upon as a "foreigner." I have never been persecuted because of my religion. I have never been profiled at the border because of my color or surname.

I was ignorant of the serpent. I would remain so until I went through a "conversion". It was not an instantaneous process. My conversion was a product of  disillusionment, searching, circumstances, experiencing the humanity of others, and my own choices. At lot of it had to do with my faith journey and how it kept bringing me back to words of Jesus. I became disillusioned with faith communities that had no interest in reaching out beyond their property line. Circumstances in my career had an influence as well. As I met more and more people from other parts of the world I discovered their humanity. Then there were the writings of  Bonhoeffer, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, MLK, Mother Teresa, Victor Hugo, Coates, and Dorothy Day to name a few. Reading their stories and their insight into the heart of God softened my own heart. My work with like-hearted people and young men in a mission endeavor has opened my heart even more.

I have learned that the serpent sees vulnerability in our fears. Our fears are many: security, job, health, crime, and terrorism. The serpent knows these issues provoke our primal instincts. He knows where to strike. The serpent also knows the questions that lead us to doubt: "Did God really say?" But we can also remember these words: "Fear Not!", "perfect love casts out fear", and "love one another". Once I let my heart open up to the words of Christ, compassion towards others followed. Love overcame fear! I became willing to risk for others. I learned that the love of God is the only cure for the venom of the serpent.


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