A week ago, I found myself standing between two faith communities that are near and dear to me.  Though I was regrettably not present at either, the recent events at both left me challenged and frustrated.  At one, an affluent, predominantly white congregation, an African American man reflected on the Eucharist in light of a recent court case where a young black man was killed and his killer was acquitted on self-defense.  His reflections raised quite a stir, and offended many.  Though not forced, he later apologized for what some saw as untimely comments about racism.  At a second congregation, a predominantly black, inner city congregation, a group of adults and teens discussed the legal case, personal experiences with discrimination, and unjust encounters with law enforcement and the legal system.

I often want to believe that we live in a post-racial society, but the more I examine this notion, my social work training reemerges, and I remind myself that this is little more than wishful thinking, that people are still treated differently based on their appearance, and that past systemic injustices have left us in a complete state of disrepair for blacks, native Americans, and many other ethnic groups.  We are still a segregated society with very little understanding of one another, and systems of oppression, both historic and present, leave an indelible blight on our conscience.  One of the jurors in the George Zimmerman trial, an African American woman expressed her turmoil, believing in her heart that a young man was brutally murdered, yet she had to acquit the killer under the law of the land, because the burden of proof rested on the motive, not the action.  She recounted that she would live with feeling powerless over her inability to enact what she felt was just.  So often we see injustice happening, and we cry out to God to break his silence and make restoration.

One of the 12 marks of intentional Christian community is to “lament the racial division in our churches and communities”.  I find it significant that the first step of reconciliation is lamentation.  Not a prescription for turning upside down the systems of the world, but for personal affection.  When we begin with lamentation, the stories, the injustices are personal, rather than societal.  When they become personal, it affects the way we live our daily lives, and we can’t help but build relationships with the people we have become divided from.  Just as Ezekiel sat by the Kebar River with the people for days before speaking, we live with and interact with the people who are different from us by choosing to sit with them, to worship with them, to live on their blocks with them, and send our children to school with them.  Only when we do this, will be begin to rebuild an inclusive, accepting community that values the different traditions and practices of everyone.  We will never reconcile a nation or a people, except in that we reconcile our hearts and our personal lives with another.

One of my favorite quotes, by Thomas Merton, gives me chills every time I read it:

You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent. You are in no position to issue commands, but you can speak words of hope. Shall this be the substance of your message? Be human in this most inhuman of ages; guard the image of man for it is the image of God. —  The Unspeakable

It is easy, but entirely ineffective to prescribe a top-heavy solution for racism to the whole age.  While just laws are certainly important, we speak words of hope into our society through our daily lives, as in the Little Way of St. Therese.  We seek the restoration of humanity, of God’s humanity reflected in our own, through lamentation, through rebuilding awkward and broken relationships, and through suffering as witnessed in the Eucharist.  The Eucharist calls us into a communal lamentation, recognizing that the image of God is the image of the broken Christ, trampled and despised every day in the ways we destroy the image of God in each other.  Only when we allow ourselves to follow this same path – when we experience the daily suffering and brokenness of our relationships and truly lament — will we find reconciliation.