Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent Three: Repentance and Return

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope

Because I do not hope to turn

(Ash Wednesday TS Eliot)

Veterans ask for forgiveness
Standing Rock Reservation, Dec. 4, 2016
I've been wondering, thinking, praying: how do we turn?

When we've set a course that leads in a direction we'll regret, how do we turn?

When accumulated actions make peace elusive, division ever deeper, how do we turn?

Thoughtful people I know no longer read the paper; the headlines are too disturbing.

Men and women of good will brace themselves to see decades of effort dismantled, no recourse in sight.

When very day brings stories of more brutality, more sadness, when anger, anxiety, evil escalate, we find ourselves asking:

Is it possible to turn?

This week a friend on the Standing Rock Reservation shared a link to a video that was already going viral:

Hundreds of US veterans had gathered in a hall, blizzard blowing outside, to ask forgiveness of Native elders. Army vet Wes Clark Jr., son of U.S. retired Army General Wes Clark Sr., offered a statement:
Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. we took still more land and then we took your children and then we tried to take your language we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you, and the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.
After his statement, Clark dropped to his knees and bowed his head in front of the elders, as other veterans did the same around him. Leonard Crow Dog, spiritual leader of the American Indian Movement, part of the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee, leaned forward and put a hand on his head:
Let me say a few words of accepting forgiveness. World peace.
The call of world peace was picked up and echoed as men and women around the auditorium wiped away tears then stood and mingled, embracing everyone they met.

Of course the push back was immediate: who does he think he is, speaking for the US military?

Why should he or others apologize for what they didn't do?

Native Americans have their own share of guilt.

This has nothing to do with us.

On and on down the same well-traveled rut.

That one act of reconciliation will not bring world peace, yet it clears a path toward something new.

It prepares the way for those willing and hoping to turn from our centuries-old narrative of broken promises.

Advent is a time of preparation.

Readings highlight John the Baptist, bold prophet in the desert calling out “Prepare the way." "Make straight the path." "Repent and be baptized.”

By Week Three of Advent, John is in prison, doubting. His bold proclamation of a coming kingdom, his announcement of messiah, have earned him enemies eager to see him gone.

His confidence is shaken.

He sends his followers to Jesus to ask: Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?

Jesus sent back word:
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.
We live in this painful place of change and no change.

Kingdom and no kingdom.

Hope and despair.

That just world we long for eludes us.

We lean toward a moment when doors open for us all, then gasp as the doors slam shut against us.

Can we turn?

Do we dare to hope to turn?

A friend of mine has been working for several years documenting slave-holding families among church members in early Chester and Delaware Counties.

We often think slavery was strictly a southern thing. It wasn't.

Quaker families in Pennsylvania, Presbyterians, Anglicans: she has gone carefully through dusty ledgers, digging through wills, church roles, tax documents.

The goal is to prepare the way for a service of reconciliation.

To put in place a framework for repentance.

The pushback is much like that on Standing Rock Reservation: that's all behind us. We can't repent for what someone else did. It has nothing to do with us.

It's not clear yet where her work will lead, but real change starts with preparing the way.

And that preparation is repentance.

The most common Old Testament word for repentance is sub, appearing over a thousand times. It's sometimes translated "repent," more often "turn" or "return: turn from evil intentions, attitudes, actions. Turn or return to good, to God.

We are too often bound by that constant inner narrative, offering excuses, accusing others rather than examine ourselves.

White privilege? No - you have it all wrong.

Chauvinism? Never. There are good reasons to keep women in their place.

Prejudice against the poor? The uneducated? The immigrant? Those who voted differently from me?

That's not prejudice: I have my reasons. Good ones. Let me explain.

Our only hope to turn, to return, to repent, to change, is to fall on our knees and say "We, me particularly, we've done wrong. We've fallen short."

photo by Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie, Dec. 4, 2016
We've misused the resources we've been given.

We've abused the land we depend on.

We've judged when we should have prayed.

We've been quick to speak and slow to listen and learn.

We've been slow to speak when our word could bring healing or protection.

We have fallen far far short of the call to love.

Even so, there is great mercy available in confession.

Grace surrounds us when we name and claim our sin.

Laziness, greed, anger, pride, selfishness, bigotry, fear, hate, arrogance, contempt.

We pretend these don't matter, allowing them to grow and fester.

Allowing them to shape our politics, our choices, our lives,

We are in a dangerous place, as a nation, as a people.

As God's people, whatever we name ourselves.

We have much to concern us.

Much to answer for.

Any change will need to start with us.

With a bolder, more courageous, more honest repentance, making way for return to a deeper knowledge of God's grace.

It starts when we kneel to say we're sorry.
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned
in thought, word and deed.
We have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
In your mercy forgive what we have been,
help us to amend what we are,
and direct what we shall be;
that we may do justly,
love mercy,
and walk humbly with you, our God.

This is the third is an Advent series of four.

Earlier Advent posts:

Advent Four: For You, Dec. 20, 2015

Advent One: Hope is Our Work, Nov. 30, 2014