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Superhuman or Spirit Gifted Grace?

In the preface to Osheta Moore’s book, Dear White Peacemakers, she relates a story about the high school coach calling her biracial son the N word in school.  Other high schoolers heard him say it so there was plenty of evidence that he’d done it.  Osheta was angry beyond angry, and hurt.  She determined that she would dress down that coach with every fiber of her mother self, to put him in his place.  But, since she is learning how to be a peacemaker in her daily life, consistently, she chose to be fully human with herself and to treat the coach as fully human, also. 

So, she went to the coach and  explained to him how the treatment her son experienced made him feel unsafe and that he should feel safe in school.  The coach apologized for the pain he’d caused her son.  She knew that’s all she was going to get from him.  It was all he had to offer.  Then came the work of treating herself as fully human also.  She says, “…I wondered – could I, an angry Black mama, invite him, an oblivious White man, in with open hands and acceptance?  Could I be a peacemaker, seeking to believe the best and give the benefit of the doubt to this White man who had hurt me and my son?”[1]  The apology was a good start, but it did not address her anger, her valuing of peacemaking, and her commitment to helping others “see.”  She had to recognize that truth for herself.

I can relate in the betrayal she endured from a coach who should have known better.  Not in a racist way, but in a human way.  Here’s an abbreviated version of my experience of dehumanization at the hands of someone who should have known better.

I was serving as a stipended faith formation leader in a parish.  The context was the time period after the US entered into war in Iraq, and there was a lot of mixing of American patriotic symbols with Christian liturgy, as if to claim that God was on “our side.”  This mixture of symbols, while popular, is not how Jesus desires peacemaking to happen.  I shared my perspective, confidentially, with a colleague, also on the staff, believing she shared the same perspective.  Unbeknownst to me, she violated my confidence, and shared my perspectives with the pastor.  A bit later, I shared this perspective with the group I was directing, risking blowback but still determined to speak Jesus’ way.

The blowback happened, swiftly and in a verbally violent way from the pastor to me.  I decided I could no longer continue in the position and then began plotting how I would resign:  by taking the letter to the betraying colleague and then excoriating her for her betrayal.  I was inside Osheta’s rage: self-righteous, betrayed, angry.

But, when I resigned, I did so by simply saying, “This is not going to work.”  I chose grace over violence.  I chose empathy over dehumanization.  Somehow, even then, I knew that there is no place in the work of peacemaking, of following Jesus, for retribution, accusation, violence, dehumanization.  Reading Osheta’s story these many years later, I know that both she and I chose to follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

We are called to be peacemakers.  Maybe we won’t influence world peace, but we can be peacemakers in the day-to-day interactions we have with others.  Peace pays it forward.  Peace begets peace.  Can we?

________________________

[1] Moore, Osheta.  Dear White Peacemakers, pg 23.

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