Praying the Serenity Prayer in an Unjust World

32890634426_f4be28278fIn the past couple of years, I have gone through the shattering experience of seeing so many things I believed to be true about America and about many fellow Christians turn out not to be true at all. This has led to a depth of despair and heartbreak at times that has been difficult to bear. (Though, of course, knowledge of the disconnect between ideals and reality is far different from bearing the brunt of reality, which as a less vulnerable person in this country I haven’t had to do much of.)

In many ways, my experience has been like that of early years in a ministry family–in which I would find myself shocked at the entrenched sin in the lives of “nice” and “good” people. This is, of course, something I should not have been at all surprised by, given my firm belief in original sin. But many of us believe in original sin in theory but when faced with its presence in the lives of actual humans that we know and love–and worse, in our own lives–we can become shocked and disillusioned. How can that person be capable of that?

I’ve learned to better accept and cope with the reality of original sin and its fallout that one comes into contact with in ministry. But I think I still maintained an overly idealistic view of America that had more to do with the myth of America–or perhaps to do with some of the admittedly greatly admirable moments in our history divorced from the horrors. And I still maintained an overly idealistic view of Christianity in America–or rather of the people within Christianity–that did not acknowledge the depths of dysfunction and sin that have infected us all. I believed in original sin in general but not in a sense that touched my most idealized … idols.

And so when I began to learn truths that are so often kept from us all, truths of persistent white supremacy in this country, of Christian complicity in horrors, of lack of theological depth and lack of discipleship, of hypocrisy … when I began to see these things, suddenly I could not unsee them. I felt bound up in a system of oppression and injustice and unable to free myself. I hated seeing my idealized beautiful baubles smashed to the ground.

Worse, hardly anyone around me seemed troubled by these things. In fact, many around me were just like I had been a few years ago: completely unaware of the horrors of our history and our present. Locked inside the idealized vision instead of confronting reality. Meanwhile, I heard the cries of my African-American brothers and sisters, of my Muslim fellow citizens, of disenfranchised Native people, of the poor, of refugees.

As no one listened and no one cared (I exaggerate, but it felt this way), I became increasingly frantic to make people see. I posted countless articles and evidences and cried out for justice and called Congress and tried desperately to figure out how to make a difference. I am still trying to figure this out. I still often feel frantic. But people pass on by. Sometimes they are simply too busy with trying to stay afloat themselves, and engagement with learning and advocacy seems a luxury for those with extra time on their hands. I understand this. But sometimes they simply do not care to know, because it is easier to believe the myths than the reality. It feels as if these people stuff their fingers in their ears and cover their eyes, willfully determining not to hear, not to see.

I wanted desperately to believe I could wipe out original sin so I would not have to live in a world as broken and flawed as mine was. And yet.

I still cycle through these feelings. I want to make this world a better place, but the stubbornness of sin in this world–and in me–seem to make it impossible. It is easy to sink into despair.

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