I’m sitting under a tree, enjoying the creature comforts of RV camping while listening as Laurel Fork Creek tumbles by. It makes for great sleeping and peaceful living. The birds are enjoying the cool morning. I can tell it by their song. The air smells like the Blue Ridge. Sweltering urban temperatures are unwelcome in these hills and hollows. From where I’m sitting you’d think the world is at perfect peace.
Perfect peace, however, is a paper-thin veneer we’re good at creating.
As I sit listening to the sound of a bucolic world passing by, the morning is periodically interrupted by the growling of big rigs hauling their loads on nearby NC Highway 105. The roar from the busy highway interrupts the quiet of an artificial peace, just as the noise of a massacre of innocents in Charleston, and the relentless 24 hour news cycle shatters the quiet of a deeper peace that God surely intends for a beautiful world of natural density and diversity.
It’s a surreal, disconnecting, and life-size paradox - aural and emotional. Yes, the creek is real. The hemlocks and maples were innocent and unaware when their seeds began reaching into this fertile earth long years ago. But as I sit here typing surrounded by trees, I’m hardly even in the woods, much less living in the serenity of an idyllic life where all is well with the world.
The world is not at peace.
Our problem is that too many of us can act as if our world really is peaceful. The veneers we’ve created - and that peace is a thin and deceptively false covering - effectively blind us to the realities that exist, just “behind us” and out of our obvious sight.
The frightening episode at Emanuel AME church in Charleston needs to serve as a long-overdue wake up call to America. The racial sin upon which the economic strength of this nation was built was slave labor. And that horrific injustice has never, really been acknowledged. Generations of slavery created a deeply-rooted prejudice built into the psyches of many Americans. So deep that, even after discrimination was legally outlawed, it has continued to divide the nation.
Many middle and upper class whites, for example, owe our base wealth to the success of the GI Bill, which provided financial and educational support to veterans of the World War II. While the benefits of that legislation should have been available to black vets - and technically they were legally available to them - due to insidious racial bias only a small percentage of black families received such benefit. This covert prejudice served to further segregate blacks and whites on an already uneven economic basis.
And these quiet, legal-but-illegal injustices continue to divide us to this day. If we will be honest about how “integrated” our lives really are (and they are not), this point will be undeniable.
But something has changed. I believe this. I believe that we are about to engage in a critically important, and extremely difficult, national conversation about the racial injustices inherent in our society.
I am not afraid of the conversation that is coming. And it is coming – and all churches need to be involved in it. It’s too important, and the integrity of our faith will require it.
In a few minutes I’ll start packing up my little, artificial world, and by dinner time I’ll be back in the real world, free of the façade of a quiet peace, which is not very real to begin with. It’s nice to pretend occasionally, but life in the real world is always better.
Hope you’ll join me.