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“If a Jew wrongs a Christian, what is his natural response?  Revenge.  If a Christian wrongs a Jew, what should his penalty be by Christian Example?  Why Revenge!  The villainy you teach me, I will carry out.” – Shylock (The Merchant of Venice)

“In a divided society, only the Church can model unity.” – John Perkins

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34  

 

Earlier this month, something very simple and yet significant took place in Washington regarding racial reconciliation.  A former KKK member repented of violence he committed against civil rights protesters forty eight years ago, and senator John Lewis was one of the men subjected to this violence.  In the video below we see the two men officially meet for the first time forty eight later.  

Though this is great news, I do at times find myself wondering about gestures like these.  Though it is significant (obviously for the persons involved), many of us are “removed” from the crimes of the Civil Rights era.  We did not experience these horrors personally, and gestures like these now feel more symbolic.  It’s easier for me to forgive sins of the past that I was not personally subjected to.  But what about present, more immediate offenses where the pain still cuts deep, where revenge, and all of it’s subtle forms of retaliation, seem justifiable?  Nevertheless, I was glad to see this.

As I watched this video where forgiveness is asked for, given, and received, I asked myself:  How can I more authentically live out the “ministry of reconciliation”?  What would it look like for me personally to walk this out in my own life?  What would it look like for the Body of Christ, in our churches, to go beyond “symbolic” gestures of corporate repentance, and practically live this out in our communities and relationships?  And most importantly, who are those I must now forgive, as well as go to and ask for forgiveness?  I have much to consider.  What steps toward forgiving, and loving your “enemies” will you consider taking? 

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:27-31, 35-36

Roc

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“The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act, as the destroyer of liberty.  Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails today among human creatures.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a newspaper…. education and slavery were incompatible with one another.” – Frederick Douglas

“I am here to help you find, take back, and keep your righteous mind.” – Melvin B. Tolson (The Great Debaters)

Today is Presidents Day, and in honor of the holiday and the month (February is Black History Month) it seemed appropriate to post on a relevant theme and to begin with a quote from Abraham Lincoln.  Over the past couple of weeks my sons and I have been watching inspirational movies about the African American experience, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, The Great debaters, Booty Call (okay, kidding on that last one; just seeing if you were paying attention).  As I watched these movies and other programs, certain themes were consistent, mainly the ongoing role education and faith play in the pursuit of liberty.  So it got me praying and thinking about slavery, literally, figuratively (of the mind), and it’s expression in the church.  Here are some of my thoughts. 

In the Old South there were three main tenets regarding slaves and learning.  They were brutally enforced, and history says that overseers were trained to adhere to these tenets. 

  • Slaves were to be kept ignorant and uneducated.
  • Slaves must never presume to be smarter than their masters or overseers.  If they were, they never showed it.
  • Slaves must never be self-directed, that is, presume to freely choose or act in their own best interest without the approval or permission of their overseer.

“The power to enslave another class of people rests solely on the ability to bind them in ignorance.” – High School Teacher

Why would slave owners discourage literacy?  Because knowledge is power.  A smart slave was “trouble”.  They were less compliant because they were less ignorant and therefore not as willing to submit to exploitation.  When Lincoln emancipated the slaves, many slave owners withheld this information from them so that they would continue harvesting the fields for their masters. 

Though illiteracy and ignorance are not synonymous, knowing how to read and think critically helps to dispel the darkness of ignorance, and empowers an individual.  The one place a “slave” needs to be set free is in their thinking.  Reading is liberating to the mind, and in one sense this “truth” can help  set people free from the mind-set of a slave.  

“Nigga, who taught you Octagon?!” – Chris Rock (comedy sketch on slavery and reading)

Educated slaves, had to hide their learning from their masters and overseers.  The overseers, many of whom were themselves uneducated foreman who could barely read, would subject a slave who could read to unspeakable cruelty.  Their learning could spread to other slaves, instilling hope, a sense of accomplishment and worth, and belief that they too could attain their God-given destiny.  Such thinking would upset the status quo so, a slave caught reading would be severely whipped, or have some of their fingers cut off.  So, educating oneself was a perilous adventure that required great courage (and still does),  because for a slave to accidentally reveal that he could read or out think his “master” was a potential death sentence: 

“So think about the poor slave who could read, but was scared to teach their kids to read for fear they would be killing their kids. Think about the poor slave that rode to town every week. Think about the poor slave who rode the buggy to town every week. Riding the buggy…riding the buggy, And he could read, and is riding the buggy and he’s riding the buggy. And up ahead he sees a busy intersection, and is riding the buggy and he’s riding the buggy. Then he sees a STOP sign, —-. Now he’s in a big dilemma. “If I go through this intersection I’m a have a accident, If I stop, these crackers will kill me.” And he’s riding the buggy and in the last minute he says ‘**** it’ goes through the intersection has a big ol’ accident. Almost kills somebody. Then the police come; “Nigga what is wrong with you, Nigga what the **** is wrong with you. You could have killed somebody Nigga. Didn’t you see that stop sign?” “Oh I don’t know what you talking ’bout.” “You didn’t see that stop sign, that stop sign back there?” “Oh you mean that OCTAGON thing.”  “Nigga, who taught you octagon?” – Chris Rock

 

Day to day, in all sorts of circumstances, people (black, white, or purple) are still taught to hide their learning, or are made to feel ashamed for being smarter than their “overseers”, even in the church I might add, as if ignorance is a virtue.  Never does a week go by that I am not confronted with this “dilemma” at work or worship, with friends or strangers.  Knowledge is power, and the suppression of it is a power-play.  I’ve had to tell my sons recently, no “friend” who mocks and shames you for your love of learning, or seeks to intimidate you into hiding your intelligence, is a true friend; they do not have your best interest at heart.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”

“And everything which is not permitted by law is forbidden.” – Ayn Rand (Anthem)

The freedom to choose is so related to liberty and freedom that even God Himself leaves us the freedom to choose whether or not we will obey Him and His commands.  It is so integral to our spiritual formation and identity, that to take away a person’s freedom to choose or act according to his will, keeps them in such a state of immaturity, that strong character and a worthwhile sense of identity is never formed.  The dependency this creates keeps one bound to their “master” and unable to see their own preferences as viable options or possibilities.  This is why Jesus himself commanded his disciples to not call their leaders master, rabbi, or father.  Only “One was their Father”.  In Ayn Rand’s book, Anthem, we encounter a world where all individuality, and freedom to choose ones own preferences has been programatically suppressed out of the human race.  There is only the collective “we” and the major sin is to have a preference apart from the group identity or, or which hasn’t already been pre-determined by the elders.  They could not even choose their life’s vocation.  Even that was determined by those in authority, and according to their predetermined “grouping” or status in life.  To presume otherwise, to even “think it” was a  “Transgression of Preference”, and they, “Asked so many questions that the teachers forbade it”.  Until their souls were awakened, they had no idea that they were functional slaves.  They lived within a box where they did only that which they were expressly told was legally allowed by the elders, “And everything which is not permitted by law is forbidden.”  That is not liberty.  We are free to serve God by faith working in love, as our conscience dictates (against such there is no law). 

“You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” – 1Cor. 7:23 

It’s easy to look back at our history (Black History is America’s History) and see slavery for the shameful thing that it is.  But can we look at the past and see vestiges of slavery in our own lives even today?  In our thinking, our work, our places of worship?  In scripture, darkness is equated with ignorance and error.  Knowledge and truth with light.  We have one Father, one Lord, the Father of lights who has, “delivered us, rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son,” a Kingdom where:

 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Gal. 3:28

Peace,

Ron

In answer to my last post on failure, today I’m posting a response by John Stanko of Purpose Quest http://www.purposequest.com/.  Feel free to check out some of his past articles on the subject of failure. 

Roc

Well, I haven’t quite declared my annual Celebrate a Failure Week, but I may soon. In the meantime, I have a whole body of failure articles that can be found at http://tinyurl.com/c8xkyr. I often tell people the following trilogy of statements that help explain the purpose of failure:

Q: Isn’t failure often a learning experience?

A: “Yes!”

Q: Don’t we often learn more from failure than success?

A; “Yes!”

Q: Aren’t we always to be learning?

A: “Yes!”

Q: Then should we, should you, be failing as often as possible?

A: Silence

So what say you to the last question?

I had intended on doing a series of posts this month on the topic of failure.  Several weeks ago I came across numerous blogs discussing the topic, and the need for a well articulated Theology of Failure/Suffering.  Many churches  avoid adequately addressing the issue from the pulpit, and the void is experienced  in the pews.  After discussing the issue with several people, including a couple of church leaders (and former church leaders), it’s obvious that many leaders struggle with how to speak honestly of our own failures, let alone how to walk with and restore others who have failed, or who are suffering due to the failure of others or as a result of  some tragedy or crisis.    

Each year a friend of mine, John Stanko dedicates the first week of February as “Celebrate a Failure Week”  http://www.stankomondaymemo.com/, and last month I thought I’d start writing on the subject in preparation, but since I was struggling with feeling like a failure, and thought I’d fail to do justice to topic, I put it off.  I wasn’t even going to bring it up.  Then something interesting happened today at work.  I came across a box of what appeared to be new calling cards, bound stacks of hundreds of them, separated into smaller piles.  Instead they were cards with bullet points from various workshops:  “Dealing with an Accusation”, “Dealing with Someone Else’s Anger”, etc.  A grouping of ten workshops, but there were only nine placements of cards.  One had been totally depleted while the others remained.  What was the set of cards everyone had taken?  “Responding to Failure”.  It’s a topic everyone struggles with. 

We all fail, or are touched by the failure of others.  Yesterday I had a heart to heart with my eldest son over an issue of real and perceived failure (false regarding him, but my own failure being all too real).  The conversation was difficult and  emotional, but it also strengthened our relationship and trust as we wrestled with what it means to accurately identify when and if we’ve truly failed, and how to respond.  More importantly, it gave us a chance to discuss what God thinks of us and what is His response to failure.  I learned much about God’s grace listening to my fifteen year old, and I was reminded of how devastating it is to feel that we’ve “let down”  our heavenly Father, and to fear losing His love because of a real or perceived failure, and others’ response to it.  

I don’t know if I’m going to write on failure or not; I’m still processing.  However, I am interested in hearing any of your thoughts, references, or articles on the subject.  Maybe you’ve written something yourself.  If so, send it along, maybe I’ll post it.  Meanwhile, remember:  “Nothing can separate us from the love of God”.  Not even Failure.

Roc

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