A Life of Truth
One of the most beautifully disturbing questions we can ask is whether a given story we tell about our lives is actually true, and whether the opinions we go over every day have any foundation or are things we repeat to ourselves simply so that we will continue to play the game. It can be quite disorienting to find that a story we have relied on is not only not true - it actually never was true. Not now, not ever. ~ David Whyte
One day last week I read a reflection about grief, written by a former military chaplain. In that reflection, he told a story. “A classmate of mine from my seminary days...used to wear a button...He was an organizer...during the turbulent late sixties and early seventies. His button simply said: Mourn, then Organize.
The previous day I’d seen photos of dozens of members of the National Guard, huddled together, sleeping in uniform while lying on the floor of the U.S. Capitol building. As happened to me when I heard President-Elect Joe Biden had been confirmed in the Senate, tears came unbidden. I love my country, and I realized: this was one more moment of a relatively new kind of loss, for me and for countless others. We are mourning the loss of my/your/our America.
For me, if I am honest, it’s a white, male, Christian America I’m still losing and grieving. But it is also the loss of a story, a fictionalized narrative, the so-called American dream. As a boy, I was indoctrinated into the dream that said “all men are created equal.” Of course, that dream did not mention women and dehumanized those who are not white. For centuries, that “dream” has been something of a nightmare for anyone who isn’t a (straight) white guy.
I have been trying to learn - slowly, gradually, resistantly, uncomfortably, disturbingly - the countless ways white male privilege and superiority has become our dominant human story. Our national narrative has been fueled by religious declarations like the 15th-century Doctrine of Discovery. Laws, policies, and restrictions began to be made and to be enforced long before our country was founded. I also keep trying to learn how the original sin of this country may be, and I believe is, racism (which isn’t limited to Americans), but the original sin of humanity is sexism.
To be a white, educated, ordained, heterosexual, married man is to carry a breadth and depth of power and privilege I’m still coming to see and trying to understand. My adult journey as an anti-sexist began in my seminary days. My journey as an anti-racist began sometime later, rekindled by the fire that began to burn in the late summer heat of 2014, when Michael Brown was killed on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.
Since that time I’ve been involved in juvenile justice reform and now serve on the board of the Lynching Sites Project, a restorative justice and racial healing organization. But it was not until the new year came, along with insurrection, that I realized just how big my loss is. For six and a half years I have been slowly learning how to grieve the loss of that fictional story, the story I had both consciously and unconsciously relied on. Part of that story is, “America is not like this. This is not who we are.” That is fiction. This IS who America has been, who we are.
But who are we, who are you, who am I, now? Who do we want to be in 2021? I’m an American who wants to keep working through my mourning, so I can organize.
~ The Rev. Thomas A Momberg
January 20, 2021