After the violence we all witnessed on television this week, amid so many things people posted on social media, two things gave me pause. A wise teacher of mine wrote, “We are all responsible for what happens next,” and a former student of mine said, “Jesus did not call for peace and unity. He called for repentance.” These two statements made me stop to reflect: what could I do next? Should I repent? What should I repent? Where should I start?
Our Christian tradition is built on repentance. Baptism is about repentance. In my Methodist tradition, we baptize babies even before they can repent. In doing this we acknowledge that God’s grace is freely given to all of us before we even know we need it. As a community of faith, we covenant to teach the child before us how to repent and how to seek the grace of God. We describe this process as “going on to perfection.” Striving for perfection is a bit like finding the end of a rainbow or walking to the end of the horizon. It is always just ahead of us, a moving mark.
Falling short is hard. It is painful and it is not always clear what we should do next or how. The Hebrew word for repent, shuv, literally means to turn around. It’s a word that is sometimes used to describe going back the way you came. It is an action word that describes something you do with your body.
I wasn’t at the Capitol this week, and I admit to finding a comfortable simplicity in “us” vs. “them” tropes that make me feel better about my own culpability. But even if I do not share the views of the people who participated in violence, I do share a society and a community with them. That makes me responsible for helping to create a place of peace and unity, but how can I do that if I do not first acknowledge the pain and anguish of the present moment? How can I create peace and unity if I do not first examine my own role in creating disharmony?
I would like to turn around, but I am afraid that if I turn around there may be an angry mob behind me, or worse: a mirror. I do not want to turn around alone. I want to turn with you, with my neighbor, and with your neighbor. I want to do it together.