The Courage Prayer

Posted 6/5/20

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…

Many readers will recognize the opening line of The Serenity Prayer. It is often recited at the close of a 12-step meeting, such …

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The Courage Prayer

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God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…

Many readers will recognize the opening line of The Serenity Prayer. It is often recited at the close of a 12-step meeting, such as those held by Alcoholic Anonymous.

I have been praying, however, in light of the news of recent violence against African-Americans and other people of color. I’ve focused on the second part of this prayer, which is perhaps not as well known:

God grant me courage to change the things I can.

Today, I and other white Americans do not have to accept the racially motivated violence against our fellow citizens. We do not have to accept that a young black man can be killed for jogging in a neighborhood. We do not have to accept that a defenseless black man can be pinned to the ground by his neck with the knee of a police officer until he dies. We do not have to accept that other white police officers would stand by and watch as this black man pleaded, “I can’t breathe!”

We can change such things! But if we are not going to accept such injustices, then we will need the courage to change ourselves. America has a tragic history of racism that predates the founding of our country. Racism was institutionalized in the Constitution, then legislated in slavery and segregation. The violence against black people today demonstrates that racism persists in our 21st century society.

Yet another truth is that too many white Americans, though perhaps sympathetic to suffering, have acted as though we are unable to change such things. Too many of us have accepted a false sense of serenity.

Of course, few white Americans actually perpetuate deadly violence against anyone. But we white people must listen to the descriptions of the double-standards, the abuse, and the fear that is part of the reality of being a racial minority in this country. For example, black men tell stories of the first time a police officer pulled a gun on them. Tragically, many white people are turning a deaf ear because violence has been part of some protests.

Let me be clear, any loss of livelihood or life is unacceptable.

Yet, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said riot is the language of the unheard. We must listen to the truth behind the frustration and anger. Listening to learn takes a specific kind of courage.

Step No. 4 of the recovery program for addicts is to make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. It is time for white Americans to take this step toward recovery. Addictions cause people to make excuses in order to justify themselves. In this case, I often hear people say that they will not apologize for being white. That is not the point.

The point is that racism is not a thing of the past. Like an addiction, we remain in the grips of a horrible cycle. Segregation is prevalent in our public schools and private housing sectors. Prisons are filled with people of color. Police violence is disproportionately directed against black and brown people. This honest confession that our society is addicted is painful, but confession is also holy. For once we have admitted the problem, we can do something about it.

Long ago, a brown-skinned rabbi from Nazareth claimed that the truth shall set us free. May we have the courage to change the things we can so that, one day, our prayer will be answered: “Free at last, Free at last! Thank God almighty we are free at last!”


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