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By Brian Keepers
“You cannot heal what you do not first acknowledge.” – Richard Rohr
The images that flash on the television screen are jarring. Men with shaved heads and torches, hate in their eyes, shouting “Blood and soil!” A vehicle plowing into a crowd of people, killing a young woman and injuring dozens more. A black woman strapped to a gurney, crying. A mob caught on video, beating a black man senseless. I stand there frozen and in disbelief.
Then a faint voice behind me: “Dad?”
I turn around. It’s my youngest daughter. She’s nine years old. She’s sitting on the couch. I didn’t see her sneak into the living room. How long has she been sitting there? How much did she see?
Instinctively, I hit the button on the remote and the T.V. blinks off. I don’t want her to see it (a luxury my skin color affords–to just turn the images off). But it’s too late.
“Dad?” she says again. “What’s happening?” There is fear in her eyes. She starts to cry. I move toward her and put my arm around her on the couch. She looks up at me. She’s still scared.
“Where was that?”
“Charlottesville, Virginia.” I say.
“Is that far away from here?” She wants reassurance.
“Yes,” I say. “It’s very far away from here.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
But is it? Is it really? Is it far away from any of us?
In my predominantly white Midwest town, there are not visible white hoods. No one is carrying torches. But is it far away? Prejudice, racism, bigotry? Not in such extreme and repulsive forms as Charlottesville (I think). But is it really far away?
It’s in my own heart. I don’t want it to be, but it is. We’re dishonest with ourselves if we can’t name this. Is it really far away? The line dividing good and evil cuts through every human heart, said Solzhenitsyn.
“Dad?” her voice again pulls me out of my thoughts. “Will things be okay?”
“Yes,” I try to sound confident. Do I tell her I’m scared too? I need to say something. “Love wins out,” I say. “Love always wins out. This is why Jesus calls us to be a people of love. And now is a time when it will be really important for us to show his love.”
“Are you sure, Dad? Are you sure that love wins out?”
“Yes, I’m sure.” And I pull her close. I say it less out of confidence, truth be told, and more out of a stumbling hope. The words rise up and come out of my mouth before my heart believes them. I realize that I’m speaking them not just for her, but for myself. It is both my prayer of confession and my promise—a call to faithful living, to courageous witness.
Is it ever really far away? No, it’s too close. Hate, fear, racism, prejudice. God give us the humility and courage to see it and to name it, in all its subtlety and disguise. Beginning with ourselves.
But neither is love far away. Neither is the One who embodies love, whose name is love, who dwells among us and offers another way. God give us the courage to see and name that too. And then to speak and live it.
Let us not tire of preaching love,
it is the force that will overcome the world.
Let us not tire of preaching love.
Though we see the waves of violence
succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love,
love must win out; it is the only thing that can.
- Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador (d.1980)
Brian Keepers is the lead pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Orange City, Iowa.