“Where do we go from here, chaos or community?” Rev. Dr. MLK Jr. asked this in his last book before he was killed for his work to end segregation and call for peace during the Vietnam war. The breach of the US Capitol and attempt to overturn our election requires us to ask the same question.
Where do we go from here?
Army Basic training taught me the myth of individualism. If one soldier in my company of 100 was late getting into formation, we were all considered late. And we took the consequence as a group by doing pushups. To teach us that it’s not good enough to be on time ourselves, if one of us fails, we all have failed. We couldn’t succeed as individuals. We could only succeed as a team. We are responsible for each other, not only ourselves. We were only as strong as our weakest link.
One day in basic training as I was standing in formation in the early morning, I looked down the row of my squad, counting to make sure we were all present before the drill sergeant arrived. I saw Private Johnson kneeling down in front of a fellow soldier who was always late to formation with his uniform a mess. Tying his boot laces, he worked quietly, tucking in the soldier’s pant legs that were flapping in the wind instead of tucked tight into our boots like the regulation demanded. Private Johnson tugged on each uniform flap, making sure each button was hooked for his fellow soldier. There are 21 buttons on the uniform, and a single missed button means all 100 of us would be punished.
Private Johnson took on the responsibility for his fellow soldiers’ failure. He took on the responsibility of his fellow soldiers’ choices: to be late to formation causing our whole company harm. He didn’t make excuses for him, he didn’t separate him from our company as an individual and say, “Not my company, our soldiers don’t do this.” He took on the responsibility of his fellow soldiers actions that would harm the whole, as if it was his own responsibility. Like it was his own failing he needed to fix. He was honoring the good of our team more than himself.
American Church in the wake of the Capitol insurrection: we have the opportunity to take responsibility for each other—to leave the myth of individualism and blaming behind and walk into a bright new day of healing by accepting responsibility for each other. We are the worldwide church body, a family of God. Not only individuals. We have the opportunity to practice what we preach. To let our beliefs in getting the plank out of our own eye first before telling our neighbor about the speck in theirs. This means accepting responsibility before pointing the finger and asking others to acknowledge their blame. Hear me now, this is not directed towards all Churches or all Christians. But most of our (especially white) churches’ history doesn’t involve marching with Dr King and working against the triplets of Evil: Racism, Militarism and Poverty. We’ve got to own our personal and collective stories and take action. Some church folk call it repenting.
There were Christian Crosses, Bibles, and Jesus for President flags in the mob of violence that beat to death a police officer, that planned an insurrection and took over our seat of government and made it their country for 4 hours. Sit with that.
If you are Christian, humble yourself and take collective responsibility for it. Mourn your faith’s participation. As a Church we accept the virtues of being part of this collective and we accept its failures. That’s integrity.
Practice holding yourself accountable for your political party’s triumphs and its failures. If your political party stormed the Capitol, mourn that and tell your neighbors you are sorry. We build trust in our relationships when we take the initiative to accept collective responsibility.
Our country is aching to see the strength it takes to accept responsibility for more than our own individual acts. To be wrong, and admit it. To be the first to apologize. To accept the hard truth that we’ve sown bitterness and are reaping violence. Violence doesn’t start in our fists, it is born in our hearts. Out of the heart the mouth speaks. Words have consequences.
What words have we carelessly dabbled in? What ideas have we planted and watered? What have we refused to correct?
“Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Let us realize that William Cullen Bryant is right: ‘Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.’ Let us go out realizing that the Bible is right: ‘Be not deceived. God is not mocked. (Oh yeah) Whatsoever a man soweth (Yes), that (Yes) shall he also reap.’”
We often hear MLK’s first line in this paragraph, but we don’t hear the last line. “Let us go out realizing the Bible is right: ‘Be not deceived. God is not mocked. Whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’”
Where do we go from here? Chaos or community is our choice and our faith’s legacy. If we plant seeds of humility and choose the strength of responsibility, we will reap healing and a hope that is worthy of our faith.
Our hands can bend this moment towards justice.