If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
Though I grew up in Oklahoma, my family history travels back through South Africa and even further back to Ireland and England (that journey is a long story that I’ll save for another day!)
Growing up, I loved hearing the stories Grandpa told, and I felt proud of my family history. I didn’t realize until adulthood the themes of injustice that wove their way through his life.
Sometimes those themes of injustice showed up like the one neutral to the mouse’s plight in Tutu’s metaphor. Grandpa’s family was like many white South Africans, recipients of the privilege of the colonizers of the African continent. And in Oklahoma, Grandpa’s family purchased and farmed land that had been promised in 1834 to the Native Americans who had been forced from their homelands by the colonizers of the North American continent.
Sometimes those themes of injustice showed up more like the mouse caught under the elephant’s foot. Grandpa’s family was mistrusted and discriminated against in the southwest Oklahoma of the 1920s because “Tommy Wilson was foreign and Catholic.” Banned by the local KKK, Grandpa was unable to pursue a career in teaching, so he spent his life as a carpenter, working hard through the depression years to give his children a better life.
Today, I am, like many of us, on a journey of recognizing the racism and injustice woven into my story and my own perceptions, attitudes, and stereotypes. It is painful to discover the neutrality within myself that Tutu describes. This is a process of seeing with new eyes and hearing with new ears.
When I let myself feel my fear or move through my shame, I can step out of my comfort zone to see those places where I have been part of the oppression, one of the oppressed or neutral in particular situations. To look at the ways that our lives are intertwined with each other, woven together both in love and injustice, I am freer to ask what God is calling forth from me today. I invite you to read with an open mind and heart, asking what God is calling you to do or be.
Ever-loving God, “Let justice roll down like waters” (Amos 5) on all the places of injustice in this world. Let there be abundant food and clean water for all. Let there be justice and healing for past sins—the enslavement of Africans, the genocide of indigenous people throughout the world. May there be an end to today’s exploitation and slavery. May there be a future of equality, justice, and protection for LGBTQ people and marginalized people throughout the world. Heal the wounds in flesh, spirit, and earth. Open us to God’s calling for justice and righteousness, love and honesty. Help us, Loving God. We are yours. Amen.
Beth A. Richardson
The book This Life That Is Ours is "a welcome traveling companion, helping us to connect to God and ourselves in the midst of what can be a disconnecting, lonely season." Learn more.