forgive us our debts

I do enjoy shrimp cocktail. It turns out I was likely enjoying the product of slaves. That story broke big at the end of 2015. At the end of last month President Obama signed a bill into law banning the import of slave produced seafood. There are so many products I consume that have slave labor as part of the supply chain. I'm reminded of the English abolitionists who denied themselves sugar in their tea as a highly symbolic stance against the Caribbean sugar plantations known for atrocious treatment of enslaved human beings who were literally worked to death.

It's a complex world we live in. Even if I am not aware of the sins of my consumption, I still benefit from those injustices. No matter how delicately I walk through life, I will get mud on my feet. I live on land stolen from it's original inhabitants. I wear clothes that were probably made in sweatshops. Knowing this, I have to acknowledge my debt to these dehumanized workers.

I am a straight white male scientist in America. I have looked down on those who have not been as successful as myself. I have judged them. I have blamed them for their circumstances. I have called them names. I have used minority slurs. I am guilty of dehumanizing people in general and in particular. The occasions in particular I am able to reach out to directly and repent, but where do I go for those I've dehumanized in general? I have put myself in debt to God who made all these children in his image. I can admit my debt here on this little corner of the internet. I can live that apology by using my little social media presence to amplify the voices and needs of the oppressed. I also pray daily, "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" as Jesus taught in his sermon on the mount in Matthew 6:9-15.

It's a plural prayer. I am not only asking for my forgiveness, I am asking for our forgiveness. I do not believe I am drawing a circle for "us" just to include my family, my church, my religious tribe, or my country. I reckon if I need to forgive everyone who hurts me, I need to ask for everyone else's forgiveness as well, the slavers who run shrimp boats, the sweatshop owners who make children work 12-14 hours a day, the racists who burn crosses, the pedophiles who traffic exploitative pornography, all of my enemies. I think Jesus is teaching in his sermon that we are in this together. For every sin I can point a finger at, their are many more I am complicit in whether I know it or not.

How many degrees of separation are sufficient to keep the stain off me?

I think if Jesus is God become man so that man may become god, a motto of the church father Athanasius among others, then this prayer is indeed Jesus' prayer as well. As a full human being, he is understood by the church to be sinless in the first degree, but what about the second or third degrees? When he healed the Roman centurion's slave, he did not condemn slavery, an observation by pro-slavery theologians in the pre-Civil War United States. When he compared a Gentile woman to a dog, well, it seems rude from this many years later and has been used to justify rudeness by his followers. I'm simply saying, the Lord's prayer was not only for his followers, but for himself as well. He asked his Father to forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.


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