Many in the United States and around the world have recently grown in their love of neighbor and appreciation of the many things in life we take for granted. Some might say that this is one of the positive elements of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have recognized, many of us, the importance of family, friends and the human connection. We have experienced the absence of our communities of faith and again, for many of us, as Catholics, who have been denied the source through which our life finds its true meaning–the Holy Eucharist–we have grown in our reverence for and dependence on the Blessed Sacrament.
That said, as we emerge from our homes and enter the world again, we find it a very scary place. We recognize that what we learned about one another is only as lasting as our latest behavior towards each other.
I am a white male who grew up in a middle class home and often had some exposure to even upper middle class things. I grew up with many privileges and opportunities. I came even to expect such given how commonplace it was in my worldview. Overall, I grew up free from racial injustices, but only read and periodically pondered how such could be.
I witnessed from my grandparents an attitude about African American citizens that was very biased and was likely inherited and ingrained from their own parents. Generationally speaking, I recognized in my grandparents, in particular my grandfather, who fought in World War II, an invincible ignorance on these matters. Some might say a lack of education or just his own cultural upbringing, which seemed a near impossibility to shake out of his system. It was as if it was inbred in him, although I know that it was a learned pattern of behavior and attitude.
My dad changed these views and demonstrated a different attitude. He had a “pure heart” when it came to race in my humble opinion. I say this because recently I heard NBA Hall of Famer and outspoken sports commentator Charles Barkley say, and I am paraphrasing him now, “its hard to talk about race, because most people don’t have a ‘pure heart’ when it comes to these issues.” Our personal biases influence indeed our views. My dad observed no doubt his father’s prejudice and he made a decision to be different.
My dad was accused once of keeping black men and women down because he hired many of these wonderful human beings for his janitorial business, which he started to support his family in 1978. My dad would later be assaulted and nearly killed by the same man who accused him of keeping his fellow African Americans down.
Dad had a unique perspective though. The man who saved his life from the assault was an employee and his right hand man. His name was Lonnie Smith and he literally intervened and stopped the attack on my father. Lonnie was a black man, my dad’s friend and his employee.
Once, while dad was in Alabama in the early 1980s purchasing a a unique vehicle for his janitorial service–a litter truck–he found himself desperate. My father had diabetes since the age of three and he was in daily need of insulin. A kind soul, and a black man, drove my dad around to many pharmacies to get the insulin he needed. Dad desired to return the favor, and extend a kindness to this man by offering to buy him a drink and a meal. My father invited the man to join him at a particular restaurant to which the man said he was not welcomed in such an establishment. My dad couldn’t believe this and said you are with me and bought the man a meal. Dad did not know he was in a cess pool of hate and discrimination that extended far beyond his years.
Sadly, the world does not seem to have changed much. Sure, we have black athletes today making millions upon millions of dollars, but they are the rare few. Most of us white privileged males cannot appreciate the cultural divide, which our black brethren inherit and experience.
As I said to my son, in an effort to help him understand my father’s attitude and why we need to look at people with a ‘pure heart’: “Son, my father believed and we need to reclaim the understanding that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.” George Floyd was made in the image and likeness of God and so is Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who is rightfully charged with his murder. Each one of us is a child of God.
The altruistic lessons and spiritual fruits many of us have offered, as positive results of this COVID-19 shutdown, have seemed to all vanish or at least it appears to this writer. We haven’t learned anything as a country in my opinion. I realize that the majority of our citizens are not committing these current acts of terror and violence, however, our perspectives likely all need a major overhaul.
Whether you are a black or white person, our country needs to stop treating people like they are any less human and Christ-like than they are. Black people are of infinite value and obviously entitled to the same respect any white person is given. I know we are long way from that happening and the walls of injustice and racial prejudice are deep and rooted in our society, which does not want to deal with this reality on the whole.
All people, Christians, and Catholics alike, need to pray and fast earnestly and fervently for a change of heart not once or during this current crisis, but each and every day. Do you do this? I know I don’t.
We need to ask God to soften our collective stoney hearts and grant us each a new one. A heart more like His. A heart, which loves all His children and wants the best for all the members of His family. The late George Floyd’s family members, Derek Chauvin, the peaceful protestors, the hate filled and selfishly motivated rioters, ANTIFA, Black Lives Matter supporters, President Trump and all who call themselves Americans, need to recognize their part in ushering forth peace.
I simply offer the following to accomplish these ends. Everyone of us needs to begin with one prayer. Everyone of us needs to extend one act of kindness to our neighbor. Everyone of us needs to assume the best of each person or stranger we meet whether in the rural or in an urban community. All healing begins with a prayer, an action of love and forgiveness.
Of course, I know we must be situationally aware of the environment we find ourselves, but even too much of that thinking may frustrate the process of healing and hope. Christ did not minister in safe places nor are we called to avoid all risk for the good of our safety. All must come together now to help heal these long divisions of hate and prejudice. How?
I only offer myself as a victim like my father did for the kind black man who offered his support to an ignorant American brother in need. I will buy a meal for a stranger. I will extend a welcoming hand or handshake to someone whom I don’t know. I will offer a smile to someone who is marginalized in society. I will encourage my children to do the same. I will offer my example to them. I will share stories to encourage and inspire them and I challenge all who read this to do the same.
This is how we will change our country. It will take divine love and forgiveness to change this current situation. We must begin with ourselves and extend our love to those first in our care and periphery. You want to change our country? Look around you and become Christ to those you see. May God grant us the courage to have a pure heart like His.