By Tom Ehrich

FARMINGTON, NM -- I took a modified Sabbath yesterday.

Instead of driving another 200 miles, I spent a second night here in northwestern New Mexico in an oil town where pickup trucks are enormous.

On Sunday morning, I crossed the San Juan River into the Navajo Nation. I missed the turn for church and found myself climbing into the hills. To my right was a miniature version of the Grand Canyon. Breathtaking. Stark bluffs and gorges. I stopped to photograph, feeling totally inadequate to the task of capturing this landscape.

I went back toward Farmington and did find the turn on Mission Avenue and the facilities of All Saints Episcopal Church. They were just passing the Peace. They greeted me warmly, as if I had every right to be there, though I was the only white person. I wonder if the Navajo would be greeted as warmly at an Anglo church. No aspersions. Just wondering.

I met the new rector, a woman who grew up in the congregation and was recently ordained. In an assembly of three dozen Navajo and one white guy, I stopped being aware of my race pretty quickly. I just listened when they said the Lord's Prayer in Navajo. I found it moving. I was reminded of experiencing the Lord's Prayer in Lakota on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.

What we have done to native peoples and other people of color is beyond comprehension. It seems to be getting worse, as a white-power insurgency deepens its hold on American life and politics.

I wonder if the deep chasms in American life, the dysfunction of families and institutions, including churches, and the vitriol flowing freely in public life all have their origin in the sin of white racism.

How can we build a just society on a foundation of oppression, slavery, violence and bigotry? When you treat entire peoples as subhuman, how does humanity blossom anywhere? What can grow when the soil is poisoned by hubris and hatred?

Poisoned soil, you see, hurts everyone. Take, for example, the state of Internet service in the US. It's among the worst in the world, thanks mainly to major providers like AT&T and Comcast, which apparently aren't the least motivated to do better.

Why is that? For one thing, they're making a fortune by doing poorly, so why do better? But even more, they have long had a disdainful attitude toward their customers. They see us as suckers, easily duped, who don't deserve any better.

That, it seems to me, is an attitude that pervades much of the U.S. economy and consistently holds us back. Customers don't deserve better. The majority are people of color and/or lower- and middle-class. Top bosses don't value them as persons, so why treat them better?

A similar scorn grounded in bigotry has taken a world-class public education system and reduced it to tending, not educating, except in the finer suburbs where white wealth expects better for its own.

The opposite is true, as well. Where people rise above bigotry and instead value each other, products and services, as well as political discourse, tend to be better.

Here in downtown Farmington, I had an extraordinary pizza at a no-frills place. Maybe they just got lucky with a chef. But I looked around and saw a joint full of Navajo, whites, and one African-American, all eating peacefully, some in mixed-race families, and not a flicker of scorn.

This, I thought, is how you treat people when you value them.