A Response: Manuscript from July 11th Prayer Vigil

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and
pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from
heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.“ 2
Chronicles 7:14

We as a
nation could use some healing, I think. And while this passage wasn’t written
directly to us or our nation, I think there are principles that certainly
apply. But I think we far too often misread the passage.

You see it says: “if we pray and
humbles ourselves and seek God’s face…” Well, that’s part of what it says,
and it’s the part we like to do. So we gather to pray, but that’s not all it
says. It also says, “turn
from your wicked ways.” Or what we call “repent.”

Of course, when we read that part,
we can think of all the people that applies to.

Not me.

My repentance wouldn’t help anything.

I’m not a part of the problem.

They are.

They always are the problem. 

You see, the issue is an issue of
blame:

Who’s to
blame?

Are black people?

White people?

Law enforcement?

Drug lords?

Our ancestors?

Our neighbors?

People who get in trouble with
police, or police who cause trouble?

We all have passionate responses
to these kind of questions, because we want to know, when struck with tragedy,
who to blame. But blame is not a holy passion, and it’s not a holy desire. It
does not come from the heart of God. You see, we’ve been blaming each other
since the beginning of sin itself.

Remember the story of Adam and
Eve?

They were living happily ever
after in the Garden of Eden, and as soon as the snake tricked them into eating the
fruit, the blame game began: Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the snake. And by
doing so, neither were willing to own up to their part in the problem.

Sin is introduced into the world,
and their first response was to blame others. Think about this; The first
feeling to enter the human spirit with the introduction of sin, was blame. I’m
guessing if you’re human, then blaming others has been your first response to
sin and brokenness too.

When things begin to fall apart,
you look for someone to bear the weight of the problem.  But if you feel so inclined to push blame on
to anyone other than yourself, then I have bad news for you: you’re only doing
what broken people do.

I get it. I do this too. When
things go wrong, I look for who to blame and I direct all of my anger,
frustration, and pain in their direction.

This is not a good thing. And
this is not how problems are solved. We cannot help others; we cannot love
others, if we are in the midst of blaming them.

As Jesus said
in Matthew 7:3-5 

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and
pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your
brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a
plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own
eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Matthew 7:3-5

So all I can do, if I read this
passage right, is to stop and work on getting that plank out of my eye. And
some might be thinking: “Well, I don’t have a plank in my eye!” And I would
say, “yes you do, it’s just being blocked by something… like a plank, that is keeping you from seeing it or something…”

What if the person who is to
“turn from their wicked ways” is actually me? I wrestled with this question.
And I’ve come to a conclusion. There is only one sin that I can repent from: my
own, and those of my ancestors. I can’t repent from any other sin. And so
tonight, as symbol of my desire for our land to be healed, and as an example
for you all. I repent. Because whether I can explain it or not, I’m part of the
problem. In fact, I’m the only part of the problem I can really do anything
about.

I can’t change you. I can’t
hardly convince you to think differently. And I don’t want to argue about who’s
right and who’s wrong. Because it’s a mute problem. We all agree on one thing,
things are not as they should be, and that’s enough for us to humble ourselves,
seek the Lord, and turn from our wicked ways.

My wicked ways.

I stand before you, as someone
who is willing to admit, that I’m part of the problem. And I don’t blame anyone
but myself.

Let me explain. If you will permit it, id like to
offer my own repentance.

Friends,as a white American man, I share a legacy in this country of oppression, slavery, and male dominance. More than that, I come from a family and a region that has historically viewed black people as inferior. As a white American male, the racial prejudice that we hear the black community cry out against runs in
my blood. It’s the legacy I’ve been given.

But I don’t blame my family or my nation. We did the best they could with what they were taught, but I certainly don’t
defend them. I’m not interested in pushing it off to someone else or coming up with excuses. I’m a big boy. I’m willing to own
it for myself. And I’m willing to say: I repent. I don’t want this legacy to
define me. I don’t want this legacy to define my family. I will not allow this
legacy to be passed onto my son.

And more than
all of that, I’m sorry.

For the part I’ve played.

For the times I’ve turned my eye when I’ve
seen injustice.

For the times I haven’t fully
supported the brave men and women who go out into the streets to protect us.

For the times, out of fear, I
haven’t spoken up against those who love.

For the times I have been quick
to speak instead of quick to listen.

For anytime, whether I can recall it or not,
that I failed to love God and others as I am called to.

No blame to push onto you. All I
can do is speak for is myself. And I confess, And I repent, and I hope to be
made new. And I invite you into a similar response.

If you’re still mad and still
upset and can’t stop shoving blame onto someone, then maybe you won’t be able to confess your part in all this. But if
you’re willing to stop and own your part in the fall of humanity, then I invite
you to pray this prayer with me.

Merciful God

We confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.

We have failed to be an obedient church.

We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have
rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not
heard the cry of the needy.

Forgive us, we pray.

Free us for joyful obedience

through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

If you’re wondering what to do
next, then you’re in good company. I like many in our country aren’t sure what
to do.

But I will say this. In my
perspective, the absolute ideal world would be a world where we—people of every
race, nation, and color, were free enough and filled with understanding and
love enough, to be able to enjoy each other’s company.

To be able to sit together and
eat a meal together.

So I wonder if the first step
toward healing is an invitation to come and
partake in each other’s lives.

And I can’t think of any better
example of this than JB, who has helped so many of us here at central
understand the black experience. And I think I speak for many of us here at
Central when I say: we are so thankful for your life and witness and love for
God and others.

I also want to thank those at
Central and in Athens who serve in law enforcement. Your advice, insight, and
wisdom that you’ve offered me during this time has been priceless. More than
anything, we want you to know that we support you and are praying for you and your
safety. And for those families who suffer the lost of their loves ones when they don’t come home from work. We
mourn with you.

Now if you’re wondering what you
can do, I’d suggest this: find someone who is different than you, and strike up
a conversation. Risk asking them to share their experience, invite them over to
dinner, or join your small group.

But don’t listen with judgmental
or minimizing ears. There’s a verse in Jeremiah that reads:

"They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” – Jeremiah 8:11

As we listen and share, let’s not
minimize each other’s pain, confusion, or wounds—regardless of where we find
ourselves. But rather listen with a heart of compassion. For we as Christians have
only two callings in life: To love God, and to love our neighbors. They might
not always be neighbors easy to love—I know I’m not always easy to love—but
that’s the calling we’ve been given.

With that, I’m going to invite
you to stand, and pray in unison yet another prayer. This one comes from St.
Francis Assis.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred,
let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is
sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled
as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For
it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is
in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

Stay and talk, confess, love, enjoy each other, or pray,
as long as you want.

May the peace of Christ be with
you.


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