The serene, sheltering presence of the woodland greens stilled my restless, questioning soul. The medley of emerald, olive, jade, mint, sage, and chartreuse shades of moss, bush and tree sung in fresh, life-giving chorus, “Peace. Peace. Peace.”
It’s not the first time that an Oregon forest trail has invited rest and offered perspective. The life and strength of the conifer canopy and the shrubs and ground-cover which ensconce me, sing of the joy, peace and grace of my Lord:
You will indeed go out with joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
New International Version, Isaiah 55:12
Meandering along the trails of this calm, nurturing, forest sanctuary, one would have no idea of the egregious conduct of our fellow man in recent days, weeks, and months in America.
What joy for the Arbery family after their son’s death?
What peace for Breonna Taylor’s family after the botched drug raid in which she was misidentified and then killed?
What assurance of justice has resulted after the death of George Floyd and so many, many, many others?
Minute by minute, hour upon hour, day after day, week upon week, month after month, year after year, decade following decade, and century after century after century, this forest has grown tall and strong – in peace, with diversity, and in community. Yet, we 21st-century humans, although awarded the pain-filled lessons of the greed, ignorance, discrimination, wrath and pride of history, have learned little.
Please forgive us, Lord.
Instead of offering kindness and acceptance, we have abused and ridiculed.
Instead of giving thanks and appreciation, we have demanded and taken more.
Instead of blessing and encouraging, we have depressed and demoralized.
Instead of caring and loving, we have murdered and killed.
Instead of listening, we have ignored.
Instead of understanding, we have misjudged.
Instead of inviting, we have refused, repelled, and denied.
Instead of enfolding, we have excluded, abandoned, and ostracized.
Instead of learning, we have confused, confounded, and misrepresented.
Instead of being compassionate, we have been cruel.
Instead of being courageous, brave, and authentic and real in our interactions and relationships with others – especially with anyone who is different from us in any way – admitting that we have so much to learn from each other – we have instead defaulted to and become too, too, too comfortable with our fear and suspicion.
Instead of asking for forgiveness of those we have aggrieved, hurt, and betrayed, we have denied and excused our selfish, behavior.
Minute by minute, hour upon hour, day after day, week upon week, month after month, year after year, decade following decade, and century after century after century, our sins against our fellow brothers and sisters of color have grown deep into the soil of mistrust, censure, and condemnation.
Oh, Lord, forgive us.
Your Word says:
Let the trees of the forest sing, let them sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.
New International Version, 1 Chronicles 16:13
The forest sings God’s praises because of its joyful acknowledgment for life, for strength, and for sustenance. You, my Lord come to earth to bring restoration, hope, and life to all – to realign our commitments and priorities – to honor, love and respect your creation whether plant, animal, or human-being.
There is no doubt that emotional commitments are difficult and time-consuming to cultivate. Yet, for those of us who choose to seriously invest in the lives of others – no matter what race, religion, age, occupation, ability, or status – it is possible to write a new set of life-honoring history lessons.
I’ve spent over a quarter of my life living in Africa – living life on my adopted continent in which my skin color makes me a minority. My African brothers and especially my African sisters have graciously shared their lives with me – in trust. They have not ridiculed me. They have not ignored me. They have not been unkind to me. Instead, their compassion, attention, and love have helped me grow into the person I am today – and for the gifts of these precious women, I am grateful. Such relationships of grace took time – like I said – over twenty-five percent of my life has been dedicated to knowing them all more and growing stronger in the soil of their rich acceptance.
To see my Black brothers and sisters in America suffer injustice upon injustice in a society and in a country that promises love, faith, liberty, and opportunity for all, and for them not to be afforded the blessings of the peace and safety that I am given as I walk the forest paths of Oregon, pains me.
I have not done enough to advocate and expect this understanding, this care, and this right for my Black American family – as I have my African family.
Please forgive me, O Lord.
I must do more.
Show me how.