Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday and a fast from ignorance

Today, we Christians celebrate Ash Wednesday. We never used to do this in church back home, but Anglicans do the whole imposition of the ashes thing, and remind each other that "you are dust, and to dust you shall return." We proclaim repentance from our sins, and often take up a Lenten discipline - for example, to pray daily, to exercise more, to abstain from coffee, chocolate, alcohol, or meat. I'm abstaining from meat, by the way. There is no way in hell I will ever abstain from alcohol, coffee, or chocolate.

Episcopalians are typically reluctant to discuss sin. In church back home, we would discuss sin all the time, remind ourselves how wretched we were, how we needed God's grace to repent, and how we had to bring others to Christ or they would die. All the sins we were guilted with were personal. The preachers I knew would usually use sexual sins. In time, I came to perceive this as a means of manupulation. We were being coerced into a certain orthodoxy by means of guilt, particularly sexual guilt.

We never talked about social sins, though. Racism is a personal sin, as well as a social one. So is sexism, so is homophobia. So is prejudice against those with physical or mental disabilities. If you obscure the social dimension of sin, you ensure that sin will remain unrestrained. Yes, human beings have sin in their nature. We will never be able to fix all social problems. But to give up and blind yourself and others to social sins, and focus only on a false personal holiness, is itself a sin.

That's why I chose Malcolm X - Malik El Shabazz - as my icon for Ash Wednesday. He was assassinated this day on 1965 (Ash Wednesday falls during a different day each year, and this year it happens to coincide with the day Malcolm was assasinated). He was a prophet, condeming the racism inherent in the social structure of America, as well as the racism that Americans - both Black and White! - had internalized. He called for it to end. His words below speak fire and judgment, but they also speak of hope and liberation. Let us heed his call!

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