I’ve had a lot to think about since listening to our President sing “Amazing Grace.” I normally would not reflect on the leader of a secular nation in a religious context, but after President Obama delivered a magnificent eulogy that referenced racism as our countries original sin, it’s hard to not to.
President Obama did not talk about the Sumerian Woman at the Well in his speech but that is where my mind goes when I reflect on the nature of grace. It’s a simple story, but one of ones I find the most challenging. In the story, the woman’s relationship with Jesus grows not because she is perfect, but because she is imperfect. In the story, Jesus meets with the woman and tells her her sins. She does not deny them. She does not protest. She accepts him for who he is, and then goes on to be his first cleric, the first person sent before him to give the good news. She tells her town that the messiah is coming, and that he knew her and all her sins. To do so, she had to confess to her fellow townsfolk that she was a sinner, and allow all to be amazed that he knew what she had kept so secret.
To sin is an old archery term. It simply means to miss the mark. When you do so, you pick up another arrow, and you try again until you get it right. You can’t do that if you don’t look at the target after you shoot. If you don’t acknowledge to yourself that you missed, you never get better. In this way, President Obama was quite correct to call us out as a nation on the areas where we still sin. He was right to bring up economic injustice, he was right to bring up voter suppression. Much like the Sumerian Woman, we are elevated not when we hide our sins, but when we confront them.
So, we must confront our sins as a nation, but we can’t stop with what happens within our borders. Our original sin is not just racism, but it is that we as a nation maintain our position and authority through violence.
We have given our President the authority to target people on foreign soil with drone strikes. This authority gives him the position of being both judge, jury and executioner. The process used to determine a valid target is shrouded secrecy. There is no daylight, there is little discussion. What we know is that there is a “Disposition Matrix” which determines if someone is a “legitimate” target. There is a lack of transparency in how we come to that determination which makes it impossible for us to learn from our sins, to re-focus, and to improve. It also makes it impossible to understand how we could mistake a wedding convoy for an arms shipment, and impossible for us to explain to the victims what steps we are taking to make sure it never happens again.
President Obama has taken flack for talking about racism, but he was right to do so. There is nothing wrong with this country that can’t be fixed by what is right with it. When we work on problems, we make things better. President Obama has taken the first step, but the conversation must be bigger than the racism within our own borders. Like the Sumerian Woman, we could move forward with the Amazing Grace that comes from self-reflection. Like the slaver captain who wrote that song after freeing his human cargo, we can improve ourselves and the world, but first we need to be willing to look at ourselves. We are still blind. We need to be willing to see.