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My Letter to the Editor of The Dahlonega Nugget (unedited version)
16 January 2008

(After not writing in my local paper for a year and a half , I decided that it was time to attempt to break the silence. The editor was gracious enough to print the letter with some editing – space is a commodity and my writing tends to consume space. I understand the need for the edit, in other words. But as I have space here, I am going to post the unedited version as it contains some background insights that a reader might find interesting.)

Dear Editor,

I will begin with apologies. This is bad form, but necessary.

I apologize for asking to speak in a forum which no longer wished to print my words as of a year and a half ago. I must beg enough of the community’s – and the editor’s – forgiveness as to tolerate a few more words.

And I apologize to myself for breaking an oath to never ask to speak here again. But there are things more important than pride.

After a year and a half of semi-forced retirement from the life of my birth-community, I have read something here that compels a response. It needs an uncommon response, and my conscience won’t let me rest without doing this.

Mr. James Brady, in a letter of 9 January 2008 entitled, “Tired of people running down our country,” presented ideas worthy of careful consideration.

He begins by asking, “What is wrong with our country?” and this is where I part company with him. The deeper and better question is, “What is wrong with our world?”

Mr. Brady continues: “We too often just let people bad-mouth our country when we should straighten them out. When they start running down our country we should tell them how great America is. If that don’t take care of it, we should make them understand the hard way.” By “the hard way,” he seems to suggest violence. If he wasn’t suggesting violence, more care with the language might be desired in the future.

My own response is to ask a religious question, as many readers here are said to be religious: “When I stand before God Almighty, will He ask me whether I was a good American, or will He wonder if I lived up to the gift of being a human?”

From an ultimate point of view, does my being American increase my worth as a human one iota, and does the fact many people are not Americans decrease their worth one whit?

Being an American, aside from the privileges involved, is also nothing more than an accident of fortune.

Hear me out.

One of the things deeply wrong with this world is that we humans construct barriers – like tribes and nations – that allow us to ignore the truth that, in the depths of our beings, we humans are all children of one and the same Mysterious and Eternal Deity.

We are all daughters and sons, princesses and princes of a Holy and Royal House that was before all others and will be after all others are gone. Our lives are all equally precious, and none of us should ever be made to feel alienated or inferior, treated as less than we truly are.

Ignoring all the artifices fashioned to keep me separate from my brothers and sisters, if I look within myself, I find, behind the darkness of doubt and selfishness and hate, a blazing star: a bright, burning spark of the Divine that belongs to God Himself. It is a perfect and beautiful fire that is God’s and remains close to Him always.

Nothing I or anyone can do will ever mar, diminish, or destroy it. It is pure and inviolable. It is fearless, immune to doubt and depression, envy, hatred, intolerance, death. It burns with love for its fellow creatures and for its Creator and for itself. It would never treat another in a manner it would not be willing to tolerate. I can choose to live by orienting myself to it, or I can wander in darkness and pain.

This part is my humanity, my fate, that which I am asked to live up to. It makes me a person and not a thing. It allows me to creatively bestow value upon all things in the world except other people who are all filled with the same light of this fiery, divine spark. Other people are, as the philosopher Kant said, inherently valuable, due my respect. More than that, others are due even my love.

Not just me and my kin, my community, my state and nation, but all people, even my enemies. Even people who have worked very hard to forget the light, people who have listened to doubt, hate, anger, and the temptation to violence. People who have constructed boundaries and meaningless distinctions between themselves and other people that allow them to pretend their brothers and sisters are inferior, inhuman. People who have been deceived into believing they can beat others into submission with words, fists, and gossip, isolate them, discount them, imprison them, wage war on them eternally.

If saying these things makes me a friend “of America ’s enemies,” I will have to plead that I am only attempting to follow my Savior, Jesus.

If the Christians are right, Jesus was both God and man at the same time. He came here voluntarily to live with us and give us the example of the right way to live, to follow the light in spite of the darkness. He lived here as a stranger, few welcomed Him, many found Him a bother. He said things like, “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head” and “A prophet is not honored in his own land.”

In the end, He was crucified and suffered an excruciating death. Many believe it was His blood being shed that saves the world in some way.

Let me propose this: On the cross, the Christ completed His work, which was to show the right way to live. He did not resist those who hated Him and misunderstood, He did not curse them. He forgave them: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” He showed infinite patience. Being a good Jew, He prayed the Psalms of David as best as He could for comfort, just as He had renewed the teachings of the great Rabbis during His life, exemplifying the spirit of the Law, not merely the letter.

Christians are told that, if He had desired, He could have come down from the cross at any moment. He was, after all, God; thousands of legions of angels were surrounding Him, awaiting the Word He did not utter.

But Christians seem to forget: With that same Word, He could have ended all of this. He could have exacted revenge on those who caused Him harm, those who did not understand, those whose eyes were darkened and deceived by hatred and fear – He could have ended this world and all of us with it, as we are all both light and darkness mixed together, all sometimes filled with anger and hatred and fear. He could have seen only the darkness in us and extinguished the lights – started over again with a new universe.

But He did not. He forgave, He tolerated, He withheld vengeance. He understood something: There are more important things than surviving at any cost. We cannot do anything we wish to others, even our enemies and those we do not like – we must not pretend the ends of our survival and pride excuse any means we see fit to exercise. We must live up to that inner purity that is so easy to forget – it is what gives us value and meaning. It guides and limits our actions. We cannot pretend to be less than we are, and we cannot pretend others are less valuable than they really are.

Even if they have forgotten.





Richard Van Ingram
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