The Moral Universe – An Interlude


The daily paper here has picked up Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson’s column, and I’m very glad of it. Mr. Robinson weighed in on the Jason Davis murder, ending with the thought that when Michael Dunn said the group Davis was with must have had police records because they were “bad,” what he really meant was that they were “young, black and male.”

Last week, Mr. Robinson wrote about “12 Years a Slave,” a film that he hopes will open up an honest confrontation about the United States’ original sin: slavery.

The column touched me in several ways as well as inspiring a personal epiphany. When I decided to address American racism in a blog, I set myself a deadline by which to launch it, March 4. I thought I picked that date just because it would be easy for me to remember; March 4 was Ash Wednesday.

In the Episcopal Church, and I assume in other Christian denominations, Ash Wednesday is the introduction to the penitential season of Lent. Growing up Catholic, I assumed this season was only about personal penitence; I was forever being told that I was sinful, and I probably wore out some of the priests with my confessions. In fact, I came to believe that I was guilty for just about everything bad that ever happened.

The Great Litany in the Book of Common Prayer addresses some wrongs that I personally have not been guilty of, others that I have. I used to want to mumble over some of them because I didn’t think they applied to me. It took me many years of hard work in faith-building to see that I was praying and atoning not just as an individual for my own sins and my own inability to resist temptation, but for the sins of the community and of the wider world.

So I’m thinking now that perhaps I chose Ash Wednesday subconsciously, because what I hope will happen is that my blog will send out the message that we all in this country have got to begin “honestly confronting,” as Mr. Robinson says, and atoning for the sins of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow, denying voting rights, denying housing, denying employment and educational opportunities, racial profiling, and the list could go on.

The first thing that has to happen to confront these issues is that white people like me have to learn about them and witness to them and admit that these horrors and injustices were carried out in our name. Whether they happened 100 years ago or 200 years ago or last year in Florida and Texas, they happened in the name of white people. We have to confront also the unquestioned privileges that being white has brought us. One hears rants about entitlement programs; being white in the US is the biggest entitlement program there is, and it’s one I do believe has to go.

The Great Litany goes on for several pages. My heart quailed a little when I made the decision to it pray it aloud every night before I go to bed. Here is just one small beseeching:

“From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want of charity, Good Lord, deliver us.”


(You can follow Mr. Robinson at this link: