Friday, August 05, 2016

Jason Hesiak: Made in America, Part 2

Football has been my vehicle to come out of the ghetto, to get everything I've got. I think I have a lot more to offer. There's a lot of things I NEED as a person. You know, I need that recognition. I think that, uh, what is driving O.J. Simpson is that need to be known, that need to be liked, to be, say, 'Hey, that's O.J. Simpson.' You know, I walk down the street, I want people to KNOW me.
O.J. Simpson: Made In America, Part 1

The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
16 They have mouths, but do not speak;
they have eyes, but do not see;
17 they have ears, but do not hear,
nor is there any breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them become like them,
so do all who trust in them.

Psalm 135: 15-18

O.J. Simpson signing autographs in Buffalo International Airport, 1980

Here, the story continues of my confession of racism and of God’s working to heal myself, and, hopefully others, through his rule and for his glory. Click HERE to read Part 1.


We were at Bob Kardashian's mansion. O.J.'s playing tennis. Everybody's having a good time. I'm 'Black Bob,’ man. I don't wanna be around these people, cuz they're all phony to me. I said: 'O.J. Look around you, man! These people don't care nothin' about us! Just a few years ago, these guys woulda drove down Filmore in their Rolls Royce, and they would never even spit on us.' I said: 'Now? They actin like we they long lost brothers?' I said: 'Man, the only reason we're here is cuz we're jocks. And you're O.J.' And he looked at me, he says, 'Mmm,yea.' He says, 'I understand what you sayin.' An' he rubbed his tennis racquet, he says, 'But I AM O.J.,' and ran off, on the field, laughing. And I was like, I mean, I was furious, because I said:'He's lost! He's lost his identity. He doesn't know who he is, any longer.' I think he had been brain washed!
- A childhood friend of O.J.’s, Joe Bell

Black and white people had both watched the same trial. On the very same television programs. They had all both seen the same pieces of evidence, the same witnesses called, the same courtroom drama. And, yet, about three out of every four people in the country, directly along racial lines, well, DIDN’T see the same trial! How was this possible!?

One of the jurors in the OJ trial, a black woman from a poor section of Los Angeles, later being interviewed in “OJ: Made in America,” explicitly came out and said that her own specific decision to acquit Simpson was “payback for Rodney King.” This juror represents how much of the black community experienced that trial, I think. Just as I don’t view their feelings about 39th and Dalton, Latasha Harlins, or Rodney King are illegitimate, I don’t think that that juror’s decision had an illegitimate basis.

She herself later (after OJ’s going to prison for kidnapping and theft) came to sort of regret her decision, because she later realized that OJ probably committed murder. She also said, though, that, at the time, she did what she thought was right. Her whole thought process about the trial was based on her story and that of her people with whom she identifies herself. I can understand how she thought and felt, considering the circumstances.

My reaction to the OJ verdict, however, had a whole different basis in the first place. My disgust was based on the same things that Tomi Lahren bases her idea of justice on in THIS VIDEO. For Tomi Lahren, Johnny Cochran “played the race card.” Race had nothing to do with it. He just brought race into it, so he could win the case. Tomi Lahren trusts the justice system and its methods and bases for truth. I am Tomi Lahren. I trust in the cool, rational headed “facts.” I trust in the science, the genetic testing of the blood samples, in the rule of law and the judicial process. I have no reason not to. That’s why my heart was screaming “INJUSTICE” when I watched the OJ verdict announced.

We trust in what we identify with. Both OJ and I trusted in “the brain-washers.” Jesus’ justice is, however, depicted on the cross, not in American courtrooms.

So, watching “OJ Simpson: Made in America,” I realized that my history, my training, tell me that my seeing the OJ verdict the way I did determines not only my ability to be successful in the world but my very identity. In school, I was graded on being able to see and understand these things. I took that evaluative process very seriously. I treasured high grading of my self.

Watching “OJ Simpson: Made in America,” I realized that the African American community, while watching the OJ Simpson trial and verdict unfold, already understands that truth is founded on trust. For them, all truth has an obvious element of human specificity and contingency. Matthew 7: 24-25 is spoken by a human being in a specific, contingent context.

African Americans have seen and closely experienced far too many instances where the facts, despite rumors to the contrary, actually turn out to be unimportant to the supposedly “objective” justice system. No one has to convince them that there’s no such thing as uninterpreted facts, that such “facts” are a figment of the Enlightenment imagination, even though many (both whites and blacks) probably don’t know what the Enlightenment is. A bunch of old, scholarly, white guys who were, like me (and the rest of us), shaped by Enlightenment history, apparently had to bang into my head the unfactualness of facts for fifteen years before I started to understand what they meant.

Watching “OJ Simpson: Made in America,” I realized more clearly that the biggest fact that has clearly been rendered unimportant to the justice system before the eyes of the black community has been their own worth and dignity as human beings in the world. So, they tend to live in a whole different world and be shaped by the values of a whole different community. “The facts” have all too often determined the black community’s inability to be successful in the world. So, they tend to more often grade themselves differently, I think.

Watching OJ’s verdict played out on “OJ Simpson: Made in America,” I realized that, for Johnny Cochran – and every other black man and woman in America, for that matter – no one “played the race card.” For them, race was clearly and obviously already part of the story. We trust in what we identify with. If racism wasn’t, in the words of Joe Bell, “the most powerful narrative in America,” then there would have been no evidence of Mark Fuhrman’s past racism for Johnny Cochran to attack. As a white man, I say that that is legitimately true REGARDLESS of whether or not Fuhrmann really was racist by the time Nicole Brown Simpson was murdered! And, that’s because the narrative of racism was available to Cochrane because of both Fuhrman’s former obvious racism and because of the larger racist history of our country in which Fuhrman had been participating.

All of that is to say the reason why it was possible for the whole country to watch the same trial and yet see two totally different things, which I realized while watching “OJ Simpson: Made in America.” White people saw science, facts, evidence, and the justice process at work, because they saw a justice system in which they were placing their trust and with which they identified them selves. White people trust the system, because it’s a white system, which happens to be part of why it has favored white people for so long. Just as the black community has 39th and Dalton, Letasha Harlins, and Rodney King, white people have the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, and the East India Company.

White people were looking to systems of truth and justice founded by white people: systems like modern science and modern Western style courts. Black people, having already developed a profound distrust and lack of hope in those very same white systems of truth (bad grades do not equal stupidity) and justice (criminal history doesn’t equal lawlessness), were trusting people (namely, O.J. Simpson) to bring light to the story of their own people.

While watching “OJ Simpson: Made in America,” I realized that it’s not necessarily or absolutely “bad” that OJ was acquitted, and that black people saw that as vindication in the wake of Rodney King. I also saw that it’s not necessarily or absolutely “bad” that I was complicit in racism in how I viewed the OJ verdict.

Neither people group was operating on a universally legitimate standard of truth or justice that could render their ideas of truth and justice as good, right, true, and noble, while rendering the other ideas of truth and justice bad, wrong, false, and unworthy. Just as I actually operate on that basis of trust while presuming that what I’m trusting in is based on some supposedly objective standard, the black community, in how they experienced the OJ trial and verdict, had standards while primarily, you could say, living the story based on the human elements of trust and hope (or lack thereof). Considering the histories, neither basis of truth or falsity is totally illegitimate.

What is “bad” is that different such bases of truth and justice point to what seem to be fairly accurate indications of just how racially broken apart our country is. About three in four whites, while forming their opinion of OJ Simpson’s guilt or innocence, trusted in the objectivity of “the facts” that presumably, in their estimation, had nothing to do with the particular, contingent human element of trust. On the flip side of the coin, about three in four blacks, while forming their opinion on the same topic, trusted in something completely different. The reason I say this is an indication of brokenness is because we trust in what we identify with.


O.J. Simpson football card
Soon after coverage of the verdict is shown in the “OJ Simpson: Made in America” special on ESPN, it showed footage of Simpson being welcomed into and speaking at a black church in Los Angeles. Simpson said something along the lines of: “I don’t care what people think. I’m not trying to just put a certain image of myself to the world. I’m trying to show good character. I care about doing good and going to heaven!” Or something like that.

I don’t remember his exact words, but, regardless, he could have said, “I like pizza,” and I’m pretty sure the crowd would have reacted the same way, which was rip roarous applause. When he finished talking, the whole church literally jumped up out of the pews with loud shouts of joy, clapping like they had cymbals in their hands.

Watching this footage of O.J. at church, what stood before my face while watching my heart unfold before me as if from a magic lantern from behind my TV was three-fold.

First: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Again, from my recent study of N.T. Wright and David Fitch, I had before me a view of what we would now call racial unity in the visible, local body of believers as a witness to the presence and reign of the One true God of Israel embodied in Jesus Christ whose Spirit was present and at work as the only possible explanation of how two groups of people who would otherwise never be united in such a way as to identify themselves as One body together before the world are, instead, living in a community of love together, a community that gathers for worship of the One true King with and under whom they all identify together.

The true justice of God is displayed on the cross, not in American court rooms. True justice is lived out in the cross-shaped community that is an extension of the broken and pierced body of Jesus Christ.

Second: White people – that would be me - still in shock, indignant, and incredulous over the lack of justice in O.J.’s verdict, watching him speak to a black church in Los Angeles to such a cacophony of applause, thinking, “Why would that preacher give the pulpit to someone who was obviously an unrepentant murderer like that?”

Third: All these African Americans shouting for joy….on the TV screen of my heart.

As I discussed above, this is not just a matter of one’s opinion, take it or leave it, of OJ’s guilt or innocence. The reason Caucasian and African Americans had such different reactions to OJ Simpson is because they are trusting in different things, and trust runs as deep as the blood by which we identify ourselves.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Sundays are the most segregated day of the week.” The national spectacle of the OJ Simpson verdict, then, confirms MLK’s point, that the blood of our ancestors is thicker than the fiery waters of baptism into the body of the One True King. Of course, by “our” ancestors there, I don’t mean Abraham and Jesus the Christ. I mean Egyptian Kings and Thomas Jefferson. “Our” blood by which “we,” the American (evangelical) church, has life, is not the blood of Jewish fathers and kings who have adopted us Gentiles as their own. Instead, “our” blood is that of tribal and territorial ancestors.

In ancient times, those ancestors were worshiped more explicitly as gods. I say “more explicitly,” because we are - quite obviously, if we take the public facts set before us – governed by those same gods. In ancient times, they were thought of as gods, because they caused things to appear in the world that, without those gods, we would otherwise not see what it is that we do in fact see.

Can you think of another explanation of why Sundays are the most segregated day of the week? If Sunday mornings are an indication of the depths of our brokenness, the implication here is that different gods of competing tribes are at war over control of the territory where they find them selves. Either that, or the different tribes don’t think of them selves as being in the same territory in the first place. Perhaps, the reason we saw two different OJ Simpson murder trials was that we live in two different worlds, each crafted by our ancestral and territorial gods.

What I am suggesting, then, is that my confession of my racism is also a confession of my worshiping of a false god. My inability to see through the lenses of my black brothers and sisters – I realized in this moment when the screen of my heart was being played out before me through “O.J. Simpson: Made in America” – was not only because of but animated by my idolatry. The White American justice system, the white Enlightenment systems of the truth of science, forensics, and genetic testing, these were my idols. These are our “idols of silver and gold.” They “have eyes but do not see,” and “have ears but do not hear.” “Those who trust in them become like them.” I was shaped into the image of my idolatry. Truth is the words of the Christ. Justice is the cross and resurrection.

I treasured success in understanding and participation in these systems made by white human hands. I trusted in them, and I was thus shaped in their image. I “became like them.” Thus, the reason I was shocked, saddened, and angry when OJ was acquitted was because my very identity was challenged rather than affirmed. I identify myself with the success of the systems of justice and truth by which our judicial system operates. This is why I was blind and deaf to seeing and hearing the OJ verdict any other way and as an affront to justice.

What I am suggesting then, is that my confession of racism, which is also a confession of worshipping a false god, was also – I realized in this moment when the screen of my heart was being played out before me through “O.J. Simpson: Made in America” – the vision and prompting of the Holy Spirit towards the actualization of Revelation 7: 9:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

How different that is from the unholy vision of Sunday – still – being the “most segregated day of the week.”

Of course, if, in light of all that has already been discussed here, we begin to think through what it would really and truly and very practically take for whites and blacks to live and worship together in a community – and I don’t mean with a token white or two in a black church or a token black or two in a white church – then, what we arrive at is worship of the One True God of Israel who has adopted us, Egyptians and Europeans alike, into His family. The church’s having the same demographic as the DMV would mean a people who treasure Jesus Christ above all else. The painting of Jesus on the wall of the Sunday School classroom would be of a Jewish Jesus, not a black or a white one. It would mean TRUSTING IN Jesus. It would mean the gift of seeing, both our own sin and the glory of God. And, it would mean that, if we trust in him, we would become like him.

The reason – while watching the OJ verdict - I felt my heart strangely warmed, while at the same time confronted with the shock, sadness, and anger was, because I was more fully being given identification in Jesus Christ and his community. This juxtaposition in my being between exhilaration and profound sadness was also because I was, at the same time, repenting of trusting in what I was realizing was becoming old, dying, and rotting, false treasures. Before that, I really had no idea that my trust in the American justice system was both my complicity with racism and my lack of trust in the One who brings and embodies true justice.

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

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