My man Israel is channeling Volf here, and has me thinking even more about Jesus’ radical call to repentance and forgiveness. Even and especially– as Volf himself writes– for the victim of oppression. Harsh as this may sound, Volf nevertheless writes with compassion and empathy, issuing a strong call for oppressors to change their ways and own up to their obvious wrongs while simultaneously calling those who have been hurt to repent (“change their ways”) and forgive.
Why do this? Why rub salt in fresh wounds? Well for lots of reasons, really; many of which don’t exactly make sense to us. But mainly because, without repentance on both sides of the offence, we will only and always continue the whole mess. Violence met with violence, insult met with insult, bitterness returned for bitterness. So the cycle is reinforced, and the whole house of pain finds an addition.
“Envy and enmity keep the disprivileged and weak chained to the dominant order– even when they succeed in toppling it! All too often, of course, they do not want to topple the dominant order; as Bauman says; they ‘demand a reshuffling of cards, not another game. They do not blame the game, only the stronger hand of the adversary’.” (Volf, EE, 116).
“…when we are victims…[we] need to repent of what the perpetrators do to our soul. Victims need to repent of the fact that all too often they mimic the behavior of the oppressors, let themselves be shaped in the mirror image of the enemy. They need to repent also of the desire to excuse their own reactive behavior either by claiming that they are not responsible for it or that such reactions are a necessary condition of liberation.” (Volf, EE, 117)
In this light, Malcom X speaks with both wisdom and folly in his famous quote: “if they won’t let us sit at the table of democracy, then let’s knock the fucking legs off of the table.” His impulse is right, even if his means are unChristian (and would ultimately reinforce the oppressive system).
We all need repentance, for we all need to find a better Way. To think more broadly and more wisely than what we see around us. And yet, we are all– to some degree– mired in this same system. This tension is probably best explored not by theologians and ethicists, but by prophets and artists. Kanye West speaks with forthrightness, wisdom, and honesty as he raps about people who ought to free themselves, but who only continue in an exaggerated mimicry of the very system that would hold them back.
“…Man I promise, I’m so self conscious
That’s why you always see me with at least one of my watches
Rollies and Pasha’s done drove me crazy
I can’t even pronounce nothing, pass that Versace!
Then I spent 400 bucks on this
Just to be like, ‘nigga you ain’t up on this!”
I say fuck the police, thats how I treat Âem
We buy our way out of jail, but we can’t buy freedom
We’ll buy a lot of clothes when we don’t really need Âem
Things we buy to cover up what’s inside
Cause they make us hate ourself and love they wealth
That’s why shortys hollering ‘where the ballas’ at?’
Drug dealer buy Jordans, crackhead buy crack
And a white man get paid off of all of that
But I ain’t even gon act holier than thou
Cause fuck it, I went to Jacob with 25 thou
Before I had a house and I’d do it again
Cause I wanna be on 106 and Park, (and) pushing a Benz
I wanna act ballerific like it’s all terrific
I got a couple past due bills; I won’t get specific
I got a problem with spending before I get it
We all self conscious I’m just the first to admit it…”
“…Golly, more of that bullshit ice rap
I got to ‘pologize to Mos and Kweli
But is it cool to rap about gold
If I told the world I copped it from Ghana and Mali?
First nigga with a Benz and a backpack
Ice chain, Cardi lens, and a knapsack
Always said if I rapped I’d say somethin’ significant
But now I’m rappin’ ’bout money, hoes, and rims again
And it’s still about the Benjamins
Big faced hundreds and whatever other synonyms
Strippers named Cinnamon
More chips than Pentium
What’cha gon’ buy next? Whatever new trend it is
I’m tryin’ to spend my stacks
And I’m so broke I look back like ‘Damn, was I on crack?’
I mean twelve platinum chains, was I on that?
What the hell was wrong with me dog?
Sing along with me y’all…”