The Challenge of Charlottesville

White supremacists turn my stomach, especially when they claim to be Christian. I would like to leave it at that, content in my self-righteous outrage. Unfortunately I claim to be a Christian too and so, as my stomach churns as I watch Neo-Nazis shouting words of hate, Jesus’ words come back to me: “Love your enemy.” Surely he didn’t mean these people. Did he? Apparently so. He didn’t qualify that directive. He didn’t say “Love your enemies. Except for the Romans.”

So what do I do? I at least can pray for these people, asking the God of my understanding to heal the hatred within each of their hearts. It is easy to pray for the family of the young girl who was killed. For me, it is almost impossible to pray for the man driving the car. Yet that is what I am called to do.

Beyond being a Christian, I have also embraced the psychology of Carl Jung and specifically his concept of the Shadow. This notion suggests that whatever I condemn the most lurks in my own heart. Thus, the tragedy of Charlottesville challenges me to look within and face the hatred lurking in my own heart. It challenges me to face and redeem that within me that is racist or sexist and to transform it. It challenges me to face and redeem my own inner violence.

Thich Naht Hanh, the great mystic and Vietnamese Buddhist has written a poem that challenges us to explore our Shadow side. It is called “Please Call Me by My True Names”. Here is an excerpt:

  • I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
  • my legs as thin a bamboo sticks.
  • And I am the arms merchant,
  • selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
  • I am the twelve-year-old girl,
  • refugee on a small boat,
  • who throws herself into the ocean
  • after being raped by a sea pirate.
  • And I am the pirate,
  • my heart not yet capable
  • of seeing and loving.
  • I am a member of the politburo,
  • with plenty of power in my hands.
  • And I am the man who has to pay
  • his “debt of blood” to, my people,
  • dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

This is the challenge of Charlottesville. Yes, we need  to condemn white supremacy and Neo-Nazism and destructive beliefs not at all in accord with the great religious teachers. But to heal society we must first heal ourselves.