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We Have Erred

Posted July 22, 2015

Once again, the Moyo Team welcomes a new voice to the conversation. In this post, we hear some poignant reflections from Sarah Porter in a post that was originally published on May 5. The piece has been updated to reflect some more recent events.


By Sarah Porter

we have erred.

Since early May, Ethiopian Jews have demonstrated several times against police violence. In response to these protests, President Reuven Rivlin said on May 5 (quoted in the New York Times): “We must look directly at this open wound – we have erred, we did not look, and we did not listen enough.”

I am constantly stunned by the movements and tremors of our world – the recent earthquake in Nepalthe violence in Charlestonthe mysterious death of Sandra Bland in prison – that I feel as though I cannot speak anything substantial into these situations. But I always have questions: How do you minister in a week like this one? What actions do you take?

I saw President Rvilin’s words when they came across my Twitter feed from the New York Times. I’m sorry to say that I hadn’t, in fact, heard anything about these protests in Tel Aviv. After some research I learned that in 1991, 14,000 Ethiopian Jews were flown into Israel in a span of 36 hours in a major operation called Operation Solomon. It was a return of exiles in the minds of Israelis; everyone celebrated. But over time, these Ethiopian Jews have become the targets of racial discrimination. And last week, a video of police brutality against one of them went viral.


There is much to say about that, much untangling of systems and colonization and shipment of bodies and inside and outside and economies and and and…

But for now, I want to look to President Rivlin’s comment here. I admit I know nothing about President Rivlin or his policies, though I have some nagging suspicions about him. Even so, this sentence seems like a profound ethical statement worth meditating on.

We must look directly at this open wound.

President Rivlin harnesses the gaze of the dominant in any society. The dominant gaze is so often a mechanism of power, a panopticon that seeks to extract difference and discipline it into conformity – or to savor it as exotic and less human – or to eradicate it. President Rivlin pulls the gaze toward its consequences. “Look at what you’ve done. There is a plank in your eye and you are beating people with it.”

Before the gaze sits an open wound. The phrase is evocative: it demands action. Ancient remedies for wounds include light and air – to dry up festering and air out infection, a wound must not be hidden under bandages forever. But wounds can be healed with proper treatment. And treatment begins with a direct address, a willingness to look.

We have erred.

President Rivlin speaks from a different spiritual location than I do, but to my mind is brought the weekly Christian corporate confession. Corporate – embodied together we make up a body and the body speaks: we have erred. One of the Methodist prayers of confession begins: “Almighty and most merciful God, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep…”

Erring is the opposite of “looking directly” at a wound. To err is to amble, to wander from a straight course. We only err on crooked paths.

We did not look.

President Rivlin specifies our common sin: There was a wound festering in front of us – we knew it was there; we could smell the infection – and we did not look. My own Christian context again brings to mind New Testament imagery. I think of the man on the road between Samaria and Jerusalem, assaulted by robbers and left for dead while the holy walked by. They did not look. The Good Samaritan, as he is called, is remembered for noticing. And then I think of Pilate, gesturing to the condemned Christ: Ecce homo, he says, Look – behold the man you will kill.

If we had looked, says Emmanuel Levinas, we would have been compelled by the wound to heal it.

We did not listen enough.

President Rivlin knows that a problem, an issue, a wound is passive. It is true that it demands our attention just by existing. But Rivlin calls our attention to the people behind the predicament, the voices that have been crying out unheard, the folks down the street who just want to tell their stories. We heard you, he says; but we did not listen enough. We didn’t listen hard, didn’t listen carefully, didn’t listen in order to understand.

Who is 'we'?

Well, for me, ‘we’ is comfortable white folks in the US. I’m a favored child of a system that benefits me in a million ways that it doesn’t benefit others. I’m also on the Western hemisphere, and I have not suffered from a deadly earthquake. I completed a great deal of education without fearing for my life. The churches and museums in my community aren’t being destroyed. For Rivlin, ‘we’ is Israeli Jews in a contested land with many kinds of neighbors who desperately need their hospitality. I’m not sure who ‘we’ is for you. I thought about going back through and changing out those pronouns. But even if you are in every way opposite from me, I feel sure that in some situation, you are the ‘we’ who must look at an open wound – the erring, heedless, and un-listening ‘we’ – though I remain confident that in many cases you are the wounded, and for that I am sorry. I hope you are one of those who calls us – me – to listen, look, and straighten out my walk.

How can 'we' move forward?

You are standing in a place. Look around. Then take one step.

Alright. Keep walking.

Here are some steps you can take this week:

Contribute to a Baltimore family’s water bill:

The earthquake in Nepal killed over 7,000 people. 2.8 million have been displaced. Contribute to the rescue efforts through the UMC:

In Baltimore, lots of organizations that serve the community were harmed this week. Help rebuild a senior center:

Low on funds? Use an app. With Charity Miles, you can donate to the World Food Programme for Nepal just by taking a walk. (You can also choose lots of other philanthropies.)

Educate yourself on the events surrounding Sandra Bland’s death:

Donate to the victim’s families and survivors from the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC:

Look, listen, and change course.
What are your ideas for moving forward in this world?


Sarah Porter is Program Coordinator in the UMCollegiate office at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. She received her M.Div. from Vanderbilt in December 2013.