Monday, February 6, 2017
"Prejudice is a burden which confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible." — Maya Angelou
There is no one who is not prejudiced. The very word comes from the Latin that means “judgement in advance” in advance of the facts, in advance of personal experience, in advance of your own beliefs in kindness, love, and forgiveness—but it is there and we all do it. As the character Pogo in the comic strip drawn by Walt Kelly said back in 1971, “We have found the enemy, and he is us.” We all bear this burden, but it is a burden that can we set down—we don’t have to carry it. Nelson Mandela, after being unfairly imprisoned for twenty-six years said that, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.” We do put ourselves in prisons of our own devising. William Blake called “mind-forged manacles” those things to which we cling that will only hurt us. I cannot remember the exact book or movie (I’m sure that there was more than one) where someone was sinking in quicksand or drowning in water because they refused to release the chest of gold or jewels they were holding. They knew they would die, but they couldn’t save themselves. Those reading about or watching these silly, greedy people die rather than let go think how foolish and/or crazy they are, yet we do it to ourselves when we carry grudges, resentments, hatred, and perhaps worst of all—prejudice. Harper Lee’s first book, “Go Set a Watchman” was written before “To Kill a Mockingbird” but wasn’t published until this century and was originally rejected by her publisher who wanted her to write a book about the character who became “Scout” in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” In that first book unpublished for so many years, Ms. Lee wrote, “Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.” We are all prejudiced by many things. I have no prejudice against nationalities, races, creeds, skin color, gender, sexual orientation, or any thing like that, but I am prejudiced. I am prejudiced against ignorant arrogance, simple arrogance, bullies, bigots, racists, and all those who hate others based on unreasonable beliefs. I don’t think it wrong to hate evil, to hate injustice, to hate oppression of the defenseless, or to hate hunger or poverty or disease. It’s one thing to hate the sin and quite another to hate the sinner, but then to expand that to everyone you think is just like the sinner—therein lies the evil. The problem comes when we decide that there are individuals or groups of people that deserve our hate, our intolerance, our oppression without reason or facts. And the big problem is that we all, every last one of us, do this to some extent or another. We can claim our hands are clean, like Pontius Pilate, but we know his weren’t and neither are ours. Some say something is okay if it’s legal, but we all know that slavery was legal, that beating women was legal, that working four-year-olds for twelve hours a day in inhuman conditions—those were all legal. Okay, this prejudice thing is a human condition with which we all must struggle. It’s a human frailty/weakness that Christ knew all too well. God has always known it. Throughout the Bible we hear “do unto others” and “a soft answer turneth away wrath” and “love your neighbor as yourself” and the greatest commandment of them all, “Love one another as I have loved you.” We do try and succeed more times than not. We need to recognize and own our prejudices if we ever want to control them. Having them is not a sin as much as acting on them is. If you examine yourself, you will most likely find your prejudices or you could ask others to help you—if you will believe them when they tell you. Let me end this with a story of two Buddhist monks walking through a forest hundreds of years ago. The two monks, one old and one new to the order came upon a woman weeping at the edge of a wide creek. She was very expensively dressed, and the older of the monks asked why she was weeping. She explained that this was her wedding day and she was on the way to the ceremony but she couldn’t cross the creek without ruining her wedding clothes and that would bring shame upon her. The older of the two monks simply picked her up and carried her to the other side of the creek where he set her down and she went on her way. The two monks walked on for several hours but finally the young monk could stand it no longer. He challenged the older monk asking how he could have picked up that women when their order expressly forbade touching women. The older monk just asked the young one, “Are you still carrying that woman? I put her down hours ago.” If you are still carrying that woman, put her down. Everyone will benefit.