End Racism – Greg Albrecht

The imperative plea appealing for an end of racism appeared in block letters on the back of a football player’s helmet. Watching on television, I wondered about the effectiveness of this message.  I shouldn’t be too harsh in my judgment, any more than I should be with the empty slogans on bumper stickers plastered on cars.  But still, given a few words at best, how much critical thinking can take place in the abbreviated space on the back of a football helmet or the back bumper of a car?

How much interest is arrested by the soaring and lofty goal of ending racism in people watching a live football game? 1) Most can’t see the message, it’s too far away.  I saw it because I was watching on television and the camera zoomed in on the back of the player who had just made a remarkable catch.  2) Most people at a football game are there for the game, not exhortation or inspiration. 3) Many, if not most people purchase tickets to express undying support for “their” team and in some cases hostility toward the team they do not like.  4) Some “fans” seem to have little interest in the game, treating the stadium more as a bar, spending most of their time buying and consuming beer.  5) Further, it’s my experience when people at a football game are not watching the action on the field or buying and consuming beer they are in line for a hot dog or the bathroom. 

How much progress will be made when a television viewer or someone in the stadium watching the game in person sees the commanding entreaty “End Racism”?    

OK, I’m all for ending racism.  And yes, let’s definitely take a stand for good, virtue, justice, mercy, peace and love. So why not some more imperatives?  Let’s “End Poverty” and “End War” and “End Hatred” and “End Brutality” and “End Retribution” of all kinds.  But really, while the thoughts are beautiful, aren’t such goals hopelessly idealistic?

How about “End Naïve Idealism”?  OK, now I’m sounding like, if I am not actually, a grumpy old man.  But shouldn’t we, those of us who have been around the block a few times, warn the young about the gap of tragedy that lies between hopelessly unattainable utopian goals in the here and now and the reality they will eventually inhabit and experience during their earthly sojourn? 

During the Vietnam War signs were carried by young protestors my age demanding the war be ended “now.”  Now may be all right for microwaving popcorn, but “now” is not attainable for solving huge human problems, particularly when politics, the economy and in many cases religion, are involved.   The wheels of justice grind slowly.   

By all means, dream.  By all means, hope for the best.  By all means, serve others in the name of Jesus.  By all means, become more inclusive – befriend those of other races and cultures, listen to them and learn from them.  But by all means temper your expectations by learning lessons from history.  Get ready for another curmudgeonly observation!  Learning the lessons of history means idealists (young and old) must actually read history without denying, altering and demolishing it because it makes them uncomfortable. 

We, the older generation, owe it to the younger generation to help them with realistic expectations and to moderate their hopes and dreams, or at least allow for the potential that their dreams may not be fulfilled.  Without a foundation in reality, utopian idealism will have believers forever living in a fantasy world, forever experiencing the disappointment of their dreams being dashed by the harsh and cruel world.   

By all means, let us engage in the great and noble issues of our day.  Love and serve your neighbor.  Be involved in helping to change the world for the better.  Do your part, for example,  however small it may be, to improve the environment.   

More than that, let us engage in following Jesus Christ.  By the way, Jesus’ message to his disciples?  Love God and one another.  Follow me and expect persecution, suffering and pain for the life you lead doing so.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is real, as real as real can get.   It is performance-based Christ-less religion that paints a pie-in-the-sky idyllic future if folks will just knuckle under and buy into a particular religious program.   Jesus never promised “your best life now.” 

I believe one day “End Racism” will no longer be needed as a slogan, for it will have ended.  I also believe that racism will never end by any human initiative, it will once and for all forever end by the grace of God.  We don’t have what it takes to once and for all end racism, or hatred, or war, or poverty.   That doesn’t mean we can’t (and we should of course) do our part to improve relationships between racial groups.

Photo: Flickr/Reinhard Link

Let’s remember and memorialize great leaders of reconciliation, like MLK Jr, Mandela and Tutu.  As for more contemporary leaders trying to “end racism” I fear many are simply doubling down on hatred and fighting racism with increased racism designed to pay back perceived or real past oppressors.  How will pouring gasoline on the fire of racism help exactly?

A final thought.  If I were ever an NFL player (now there’s an impossible dream for you) I would be tempted to opt for the imperative directive “End Christ-less Religion” on the back of my helmet.  Of course, I will never be asked for a message to be placed on the back of my professional helmet, and because “End Christ-less Religion” would be massively misunderstood, I would not advertise such a message in any case.  It needs context and explanation, which a football helmet does not provide.  

Meanwhile, I don’t expect any overwhelming progress “ending religion” until this earth is transformed, into God’s own home which the Bible calls a new heaven and a new earth, when and where there is no temple in the New Jerusalem because God will be “its temple” (Revelation 21:22). I dream about and believe that God will one day “End Christ-less Religion” and my friends, the end of institutionalized, oppressive religion will also only come by the grace of God.   

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