by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
If 2017 were a statue we’d tear it down.The past months saw the protest and demolition of Confederate monuments across the nation. They are symbols of oppression. Indeed they are – and yet more. They are symbols of us. America doesn’t understand or value history. We live in “the myth of progress,” and “the age of Authenticity,” to quote current philosophers. Of course only the few draconian violent anti-humanists believe statues of Confederate soldiers and Gen. Robert E. Lee are rally symbols for an ideal “correct past” and the need for a new race war. The rest of us would rather purge history (or at least redact history). I think, however, we fail to learn from history. I am afraid we will repeat history. Old Scrooge did not want to see his past, present, or future. Yet, Charles Dickens used Scrooge’s past-present-future to change how London treated orphans, prisoners, widows, alcoholics, and criminals. British author Os Guinness proposes American educators need a reinvigorated emphasis on history so Americans can reframe their understanding of Freedom, which Guinness thinks has become very very very irresponsible (A Free People’s Suicide, 2012).
Progressive Christians are embarrassed by Christianity’s history – the Crusades and the Inquisition, some disenfranchisement of women and other races. My few progressive Jewish relationships ignore the Bible because of the Jews’ treatment of the Canaanites and the other indigenous peoples who occupied the Promised Land. Understandably, we don’t like it when we are evil. Theologically, we replaced clergy with doctors and therapists, sin with shame and a little bit of “healthy guilt,” and demons with chemical imbalances. But we haven’t solved neurosis and violence. And our prisons are disproportionately filled with black men. The social evolutionary myth of progress responses with “some day in the near future…” all our woes will be overcome with technology and education, while ignoring that the social evolutionary mindset led to Nietzschean ” will to power” and Nazism. We need our history – the good, bad, ugly – and the Bible – good, bad, ugly – so we can learn what not to do. I don’t trust the myth of progress. I’ve seen it lead to despotism and totalitarianism (Communism was based on this myth.)
If 2017 were a statue we’d tear it down. “Let’s forget about cancer, surgeries, statues, racism, sexual assault, tweets, health insurance, KC homocide rates…”
As a pastor, I propose that we need confession – personal but even more so, communal. The village needs confession. Confession recognizes failure. Confession owns up. Confession points the finger at me, you, us. Confession looks down to the ground where we stand and it sees the blood we’ve spilt – Confederate/Union and also down at Linwood Boulevard and Prospect Avenue. Confession consolidates the communities guilt, just as Thanksgiving consolidates our blessings. But in the church Confession also Absolves. The myth of progress as no answer for past evil, just an atrocious “Well, we will get better in the future…” which isn’t fully convinced or satisfying.
What did 2017 teach you? Cancer – life is precious and not an entitlement. Debt – simplicity. The political malaise – violence cannot heal. Forgiveness and contrition heals.
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you and thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We haven’t loved… the way Jesus loves. We failed to take up our cross. We failed to forgive while hanging on the cross.” The past year goes in the book of life, your life. It adds a page that makes you, the you you are. This cannot be torn down. But it can be prayed. If we do not we will be right back here 365 days from now, hurrying past 2018, trying to tear the statue of 2018.