Dean’s message from the January 2021 Spire e-newsletter
It begins with a country being formed by taking the land of others because darker-skinned people were (and are still) judged as less than lighter-skinned people. This founding kernel of our country has grown over the years and has emerged at various times with supremacist values on full display—Ruby Ridge, Branch Davidians, Oklahoma City or the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, decades of lynching Black and Brown folk; the 1919 Red Summer—in earlier eras and today with an unequally administered police and judicial system that privilege’s wealth and (sometimes elite) whiteness.
These are not easy words to write for me as dean of a predominately white liberal to progressive theological school in the south that I believe is trying to speak and live as partners with God in bringing in a new heaven and a new earth. They remind me that we have so much more work to do as a community of communities of faith in the work for justice and hope. But I must confess, I am struggling through a bout of weariness. How many more times must I and others make a case that we do not live into our desire for a democracy and that we must get involved as citizens to help make this a country worthy of the ideals of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, imperfect though they may be? Why do we make up trite phrases like “post truth” or “alternative facts” when what we are doing is lying? Why is it so hard for far too many of us to wear a mask to protect others, let alone ourselves, out of a suspect notion of independence and freedom?
We forget, to our peril, that a democracy runs on give and take by those who make it up. It means that we have to compromise from time to time as we seek that prized notion of the common good. The events of January 6 on Capitol Hill were disgusting, frightening, and angry-making. And sadly, for me, given the drumbeat of lies that led up to that moment and continue even now; it was not surprising. We have been living our worst selves along with our best selves for as long as we have been shaping this nation. This reality spilled into view on the 6th with that portion of the protestors who turned themselves into a mob and were allowed to breech the halls of Congress. It also seems that they were helped by members of Congress tweeting the location of Vice President Pence and Speaker of the House Pelosi while at the same time some officers tried and did hold back some of the mob.
In the end, the mob was repelled, and the counting of the votes went forward that certified Joe Biden in an election he really won. We now face months of a continuing pandemic and the knowledge that sedition is alive and well in our country. But our best selves have also emerged. The theme of President Biden’s inauguration, unity, called us back into what it means to be a nation. The soaring words of the youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb,” is both challenge and hope as she ends with “When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid/The new dawn balloons as we free it/For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it/If only we’re brave enough to be it.” How we guide ourselves through this challenge will say much about how we live our faith, (re)learn the value of community, cherish one another, and refuse to allow a mob to completely define us as we recall the powerful words that begin the Preamble to our Constitution: “We the people.”