Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

Coming Together

January 10, 2006


I’m starting to notice a pattern; a confluence of compelling thoughts. Ancient and contemporary prophets are speaking, my friend is tugging at his brick in the wall, and I’m in the middle of this great book. And my next section of Ethics begins tonight.

As a citizen of Croatia, Volf sensitively explores the false dichotomy of victim vs. oppressor, and the ways in which oppression creates, sustains, and multiplies victimhood. The ways in which oppression breeds more oppression. We are all oppressors; we are all victims. And those who have been victimized are very likely to oppress others (or to oppress their oppressors, if they get the chance).

In the area of social ethics, we do not start at ‘zero’. Each of us enters into a history full of greed and discrimination, of power and attempts at control. While I honestly don’t know of anyone in my lineage who owned slaves (for example), I’ve seen the (hopefully) diminishing echoes of racism and prejudice throughout a few generations. So, what should I do? When a black man kindly holds a door open for me and addresses me as ‘Sir’, I feel a visceral reaction: “No way, Sir. I should hold the door for you“. The students in my ethics classes are usually very mixed racially and ethnically, and they say this reaction is nice, but crazy. The past is the past. Even those who might deserve and like to see reparations aren’t really hopeful that such measures would help. Affirmative Action is good, we agree, but does it really help in the long term?

Or, as Volf says on page 109: “…what stands in the way of reconciliation is not some inherent incommensurability, but a more profoundly disturbing fact that along with new understandings and peace agreements new conflicts and disagreements are permanently generated.”

And, as Jesus’ brother said long ago, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

It strikes me that the work of partnering with Jesus to bring God’s Kingdom is a mighty work of doing, but also of undoing. Beginning with me.

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8 Responses to “Coming Together”

  1. [REDACTED] says:

    Wow, man.

    Things have been getting heavy around here lately, but in a good way. What’s the deal? Is the fact that your DoH post got picked up by some big online journal going to your head?

    Well, whatever it is, keep it up.

  2. sonja says:

    You’ve caught me on a bad day … but Affirmative Action is a wolf in sheep’s clothing if you think about it. It’s just racism with differnt clothes on and it’s done little to rectify the real proroblems of being born with a different skin color. Or rather the problem is not being born with a different skin color … it’s the attitude of the people with pink skin. And there’s really nothing you can do to legislate an attitude. It’s all quite grim … and really we’ve not gotten very far at all when you think about it.

  3. Liz says:

    I have to agree with Sonja that affirmative action is a different take on racism. I’ve always thought it was like saying, “You know, you’re good enough to compete on your own, so here I’ll take a handicap.”

  4. Liz says:

    OOPS! I meant to say, “You know, you’re NOT good enough to compete on your own, so here I’ll take a handicap.” Although I don’t agree with that statement — it’s just my take on affirmative action.

  5. WMS says:

    I don’t know a lot about this issue, but I can’t say that I agree with Liz or Sonja. When instituationalized racism exists inside a centuries-old system of exclusion, belittlement and oppression, there has to be a legal protective system (especially in the South where I lived for 6 years of my 20s and where there is still a strong, if more quiet, institutional system of discrimination).

  6. sonja says:

    My main problem with Affirmative Action is that it lets us think that we’ve done something about the problem and we really have not. The ghettos are still there, they are still full to the rim and overspilling, their schools are horrible and not educating the children. Affirmative Action does nothing for the problem … because it puts the onus on the people with the brown skin. And the onus should be on the people with the attitude; the people with the pink skin.

  7. sonja says:

    You know … sometimes I’m just soooo SLOW! I can’t believe I didn’t look at this and remember the Old Testament Book of Esther. Remember how the end of that is a classic story of the opressed becoming the opressor in the flick of an eye? It took several days to percolate up … and now no one will read it. Sigh …. ……

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