Friday, May 18, 2007

Absolve: v.

sorry for the picture of four old white men as an opener, but i suppose you could call them fairly important...
Northern Ireland and the American South alike saw the 1960s inflamed with an influx of civil rights movements and now, forty years later, both places are still mincing forward in attempts to solidify their own tentative peace. After reading John Perkins’ Let Justice Roll Down, the parallels stood out to me all the more. Perkins is a civil rights superstar and has fought for equality nearly his entire life. This man has a story of forgiveness that is absolutely unreal. Having been beaten nearly to death by racist cops after a lifetime of being tyrannized in mid-century Mississippi, after having witnessed white police kill his brother, after years of being beaten down, physically, economically and socially, Perkins relates how every fiber of his being pulled to reject the entire white community. But at the same time, “I began to see with horror how hate could destroy me—destroy me more devastatingly and suddenly than any destruction I could bring on those who had wronged me… And where would hating get me? Anyone can hate… An image formed in my mind. The image of the cross—Christ on the cross… He was nailed to rough wooden planks and killed… But when He looked at that mob that had lynched Him, He didn’t hate them. He loved them. He forgave them… His enemies hated. But Jesus forgave. I couldn’t get away from that.”

And so John Perkins also felt love and forgiveness for his abusers, for the entire racist and bigoted system that had attempted to hold him down for his entire life.

Things like that make me believe in God.

I ran into Chrissy (the same Chris I mentioned in August) downtown last week and felt the normal swell in my heart when I saw his little smile. Still job-hopping, still in love with the girl he’s dated for a few months (even her baby has started calling him Daddy, a sure sign of true love in Belfast), and still hopelessly stuck in the trap of severe loyalist mentality. Inevitably, the power-sharing topic came up (naturally a popular theme these days:, if you’re interested). I didn’t even need to listen to know what Chris was going to say; in sum: Paisley is a sellout. Adams is still a f***. Prods are gonna have to run at this rate, and we are all gonna need to head to England before *they* take over. Chrissy, having been raised on a steady diet of “anti-Fenian” rhetoric and nervously protective philosophies, really is convinced that Protestants have to stand their ground against Catholic upswings. Power sharing cannot be seen as a step toward workable peace; instead, it is a sure bet that one side or the other is gaining ground (just which side is actually gaining depends on whom you’re speaking with, though). It makes me sad, because I really love this boy. I really want him to become better than his UDA upbringing would have him be. I wish he could see that despite singing the same national anthem and adoring the same Queen, culture-wise Northern Ireland is no more British than Ireland. Northern Irish, both Protestants and Catholics, have carved out a little sub-culture that would not easily assimilate into either Ireland or England.

I also really want Chris to learn how to forgive “the others” for sins that have never been committed against him personally. Perkins talks a lot about how creating victims also perpetuates a group’s own victimhood—essentially, damaging both groups. “After I was beaten by white policemen, I began to see things a little more clearly. I was able to see the needs of white people and what racism was doing to them. You see, I had gotten set to the fact that that the sickness of racism had affected the black community in a way that kept them from functioning as a healthy community. A lot of our people were sick—affected by generations of slavery, oppression, and exploitation—psychologically destroyed. But I had never thought much before about how all that had affected whites—how they had been affected by racism, by attitudes of racial superiority, by unjust lifestyles and behavior.”

Like it or not, Catholics and Protestants are equally at home here in Ulster. And just like for blacks and whites in the American South, they have merely coexisted for far too long. But finding a way to begin absolution is a tenuous process.

“Love fills in the gaps of justice.”
-Shane Claiborne

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