January 8, 2021
Sometimes you have to begin with recognizing your outrage. I did. It was the images of the Confederate flag, symbol of white supremacist racist violence, being waved in the Rotunda, as if triumphant. The very same place where earlier this year, the bodies of John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsberg lay in state. It was hearing the vile words of the President who incited, even invited, violence with lies and knowingly unfounded accusations of a “stolen” election. It was the misuse of power being acted out as theater in the chambers by some who, despite having been sworn to protect and defend the Constitution, sought to exploit the anger of the crowd for their future political gain. And, we do not dare to separate this from out of the landscape of yesterday …the most recent word from Kenosha, that no charges would result from another police shooting of a black man, this time, Jacob Blake, shot seven times in the back. These images are all part of a whole.
Maybe because it was in Washington, DC and involving the Capitol Building I heard the dissonant ring of these words repeating in my mind, “…in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” My 8th grade social studies teacher gave the assignment to our class to memorize these words from the Preamble to the US Constitution. This assignment came during the height of the Viet Nam war. It was not intended as a simple rote memorization task. He was not interested in propagandizing the words into us. He made certain that it was to be the beginning of a lifelong dialogue where these words would be measured by the evidence of justice that they inspire and make manifest in each of us.
Today, I hold that memory and the images of yesterday alongside of the memory of our beloved Dr. Vincent Harding. I invite what I witnessed yesterday to soak into my humanity. I am grateful that he taught us to embody the costly telling of truth about our nation while contrasting his personal hope captured in the title of his book with Daisaku Ikeda, “America Will Be!: Conversations on Hope, Freedom, and Democracy.” If we take anything from yesterday, and Kenosha, and all of the shootings of black and brown bodies before, and from our own very personal and instructive outrage, and dare to truthfully look at these critical events as symptoms of a systemic sickness within our national soul, what are we willing to give from ourselves to “… a more perfect union?” As Dr. Harding often said to us, “Now that you know better, do better.”
In the spirit of the Iliff community,
Thomas V. Wolfe
President and CEO
Iliff School of Theology