taking the words of Jesus seriously

An idol is anything we sacrifice our children for. May the blood of our children lead us to repentance.

29th day of school. 18th school shooting. “America’s chickens have come home to roost.”

We should have listened to Rev. Jeremiah Wright. We should still listen to him. He predicted this.

Following the attacks on 9/11, the nation became aware of a Chicago minister by the name of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. As a black preacher from his particular tradition, he was just doing what is done on any given Sunday in any given sanctuary: preaching a prophetic word. Preaching a social gospel. Telling objective and subjective truths from a particular and very important perspective. Speaking truth to power by speaking truth about power. But this unnerved much of America. Not everyone is used to that prophetic voice. So instead of God-inspired, his comments sounded un-American to many people.

When he said “Not God Bless America, but God damn America,” people couldn’t process that. But what he was saying was that God does not bless our violence. God damns — condemns — our violence. And there are spiritual consequences for generations to come.

Even then candidate and future President to-be Obama threw Rev. Wright under the bus. He had to if he were to win the election. You can’t embrace those comments AND become president. Because you have to tell people what they want to hear in order be elected. That’s a major part of why our government is so incredibly broken. America is broken. We Americans are broken.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright was right.

I urge you to listen to go back and listen to his entire sermon on YouTube. But something was lost in translation. He was basically saying that we, like all empires in all times and places, will reap what we sow. He was saying that our children and their children will pay for “the sins of the father.” He asked God “Why?” God responded, “Don’t take the inventory of the killers. Take your own inventory. How are things between you and me?”

This prophetic voice was not only unwelcome, it was demonized. He was telling some inconvenient truths (pun intended). We should have listened. The roots of violence exist in all of us.

“Violence begets violence, hatred begets hatred, terror begets terror,” he exclaimed, echoing the words of Gandhi: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” An eye for an eye is in direct contrast with the Peaceable Kingdom. But America consistently chooses Empire over Kingdom. But what about self-preservation?

I truly believe that following Jesus is a death sentence in many respects. First, we are to die to self. Second, we are to love our enemies. Even those that persecute us: “Forgive them Father for they now not what they do” (Luke 23:24). Give our lives for our friends: “There is no greater love” (John 15:13). Jesus calls us to martyrdom in many respects. And that is completely counterintuitive.

But the American ethos at any given time over the past 242 years has been bullying. And that is quite intuitive. Just take human nature and add power. Bullying is terrorism, and bullying creates terrorists. Our current president is, more than any American figure from recent history, a fitting archetype for the The Bully. Make no mistake, the rest of the world sees us as bullies and has for a very long time across presidencies.

And, no matter our individual stances on guns, the NRA and the money they distribute among our elected officials is a huge problem. Gun laws must be changed as a necessary first step of many steps.

Those in power in our country often allude to faith, to God, to Jesus. But we are not a Christian nation by any stretch of the imagination. To believe so is to live in deep, deep denial. We largely worship power, money, and status — and guns. Look around, this is what a crumbling Empire looks like. We are Ancient Rome with pharmaceuticals, plastic utensils, and iPhones.

The behavior of our country on the global scene is not, and never has been, a true reflection of Jesus. We have exported violence across the globe. We have armed and trained millions of people across the globe. We have terrorized many other populations. We have killed innocent people. We have bullied. We have tortured.

This country was built on bloodshed, violence, terrorism. Our desire to display “Thou Shall Not Kill” outside of our courthouses where we hand down death sentences is proof of our sins.

The level of sexual violence against the vulnerable is proof of our sins. Our ghettos, rural and urban, are proof of our sins. Our rampant and highly unaddressed police violence is proof of our sins. The maltreatment of women and minorities are proof of our sins.

And our school shootings are proof of our sins. America’s chickens have come home to roost.

It’s incredibly important that we acknowledge this. It should be with great humility that we address these issues from multiple angles. But one thing is clear. We are socializing ourselves and one another constantly. Socialization is not something that stops at 15 or 20. It is life-long. We are becoming psychologically, morally, and spiritually anesthetized to violence — especially gun violence. Now simply going to school has a more harmful effect on a child than playing Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto.

Maybe we need to redefine shithole country.

And if that bothers you, don’t shoot the messenger. Pun intended. Because that’s what we did to Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Shot the messenger.

READ: 4 Thoughts on Trump’s Remarks About ‘Sh*thole Countries’

And no amount of lamb’s blood rubbed across the doorways of our schools can protect from the slaughter of our innocent children. We are not under that kind of protection. Because we are not innocent. The enemy is in the house.

We are the world. Usually that is meant in a “kumbaya” kind of way. But, literally, we are the world: in the world and of the world. As Americans, and as Christians: We are not distinct. We are not separate. We are a part of what is wrong in this world. We serve at least two masters.

And we are not exceptional. We don’t like participation trophies but we are ok with taking the title of “best” despite so much evidence to the contrary? Our self-congratulatory behavior predates that of our president.

Maybe Samuel has his head in his hands saying “not again.” Samuel, whose sons he appointed to lead Israel. But they did not follow his ways. They transformed from leaders into politicians; turned aside after dishonest gain, accepted bribes, and perverted justice. Sound familiar?

Maybe, like Israel of old, we got the leader we deserve.
One that is a mirror showing us what we really worship.
One that is a mirror showing us that the problem is not him, it is us.
One that is a mirror showing us what we have become. And maybe that horrible knowledge will lead to repentance.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”
There is murderous sickness in that question.

When did exceptionalism become confused with patriotism? And when did this unholy hybrid of exceptional and patriotism become the false religion of Nationalism? When did it become treasonous or unpatriotic to point out our issues? Who is more loyal to the family, the one that says “Hey, we need to talk about dad’s alcoholism,” or the one that defends the family against such “disloyal” behavior?

The same dynamics are at play on the national level. We, as a nation, are a dysfunctional family that refuses to talk about what is real, acknowledge our issues, and commit to real change. Because, like all members of all dysfunctional families, we have become so sickened in our stances we can no longer see clearly.

READ: The Little Big Differences in Christian Nationalism

We have lost not our ability, but our willingness, to tolerate one another. Because we also persecute one another.

We are well-rehearsed in the rotten fruits of the spirit: Contempt, calamity, conflict, impatience, mean spiritedness, superiority, close-mindedness, hardheartedness, and a lack of self-control.

We have a long history of violence — interpersonally and internationally.

America’s chickens have come home to roost.

Nothing will change until we do. We must change. We must be the change. We must submit to being changed. It will not happen by accident. It will not be forced upon us. It will not be legislated. Laws will change when we change.

I hear the first words of the earthly ministry of Jesus echoing among the purple mountain majesties and fruited plains: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

And I hear the old refrain: “America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.”

An idol is anything we sacrifice our children for. May the blood of our children lead us to repentance. May this unwelcome truth lead us to great healing.


About The Author


Tony Caldwell is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice and Professor of Social Work at the University of Mississippi. He is a member of the Memphis-Atlanta Jungian Seminar and the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts. As a public speaker, human rights activist, project facilitator, town hall moderator, and workshop leader; Tony has partnered with The Human Rights Campaign, the W.W. Kellogg Foundation, The William Winter Institute For Racial Reconciliation, The Mississippi Racial Equity Community of Practice, the Sara Isom Center For Women and Gender Studies, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Radical South Conference, The Levi Strauss Co., and the Toyota Corporation. Tony and his colleague, Dr. Jandel Crutchfield, have enjoyed success in their grassroots Together Projects promoting interracial and interfaith dialogue around issues of intersectionality, privilege, police violence, and systemic racism across the state of Mississippi. Tony has presented at Wild Goose Festival, the Haden Institute, and at various other conferences, congregations, and universities. He is currently leading The Underground Church, a reconciling faith community, in Oxford, Ms. As well as conducting research linking health outcomes in the Mississippi Delta, which are 50th in the nation, to transgenerational trauma related to slavery, segregation, poverty, and marginalization, and developing interventions to address these issues. Tony loves writing about the intersection of theology, depth psychology, and social justice.

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