Posts Tagged ‘Gospel of Matthew’

The New York Times has a moving story about one pastor’s efforts to gather the stories of those who lived through lynching in the 20th century.

The Rev. Angela Sims visits people one at a time, and with care encourages and coaxes them to share their stories for the sake of history — and healing. She tells the Times:

I’m listening for what salvation and redemption might look like. I’m listening for how grace might play out and for notions of forgiveness.

I think about some of the individuals I’ve met and the way they’ve talked about having to get rid of racial hatred — to be in relationship with God, to not hate themselves. I’m looking for a way to articulate this ethic of resilience.

The story leaves one with the sense that Sims is still working out what she means by an ethic of resilience. At this point, the Times story better conveys what such an ethic looks like in the stories of survivors. At its core, Sims’ work wades into the mystery of evil’s presence in the world, juxtaposed against God’s goodness. As the Times story notes:

For Ms. Sims, such interviews went beyond racial issues to ontological ones. “The question of where God was in the midst of this evil,” she said, “is held in tension with the way God acted. They name the evil, but they recognize something beyond it.”

In trying to form a “theology of resilience,” Ms. Sims has combined the firsthand testimonies with Biblical teachings, particularly the Book of Micah with its cry for moral justice and the Gospel of Matthew with its mandate for disciples to travel the land. She has also been inspired by the essays of Alice Walker and a lecture by James H. Cone, the leading exponent of black liberation theology, about the lynching tree being the crucifix of African-American Christianity.

In helping others to bear witness, Sims is charging all our memories so that we might do more than leave the past behind. Instead, we must let the past shape how we all listen to others in the present and consider with humility how God might want us to live better in the future — for the sake of justice, for the sake of peace, and for the sake of reconciliation.

As for Sims, though it is taxing to hear such stories, she is undaunted:

There is no rest for a weary soul when you’re doing the work you were called to do.

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That’s the Word of advice that Stephen Colbert offers to help President Obama dispel the rumors that he is Muslim. The quote is Colbert’s (very) fanciful “take” on Matthew 5:47 (i.e., he made it up), but when I watch the clip I can’t shake the sense that Colbert was informed more by Matthew 6:5-14.

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The ongoing fracas over Shirley Sherrod, filled to the brim with rage and resentment, points me back to a package of articles on “The Rage Culture” published this past week in The Chronicle Review. Most interesting is an essay by historian Elaine Tyler May, who traces the anger of today back to the attitudes and ideologies that emerged from the Cold War era.

I can’t do justice to her full arguments here, but even if you find her words to be provocative her conclusions are good food for thought:

The principles of individualism, unfettered capitalism, the sanctity of the home, and the suspicion of outsiders that gained salience in the early cold war era has far outlived the conflict itself. …

Fear has made Americans feel less secure. And the fear that breeds anger, hostility to government, and lack of concern for the common good may have made the nation considerably less secure. While Americans were distracted by street crime that harms relatively few people, unregulated private enterprise fleeced the entire country. Locks on the doors did not protect families against losing their home through mortgage foreclosure. Guns in their pockets did not prevent them from losing their shirts to Wall Street.

And what about democracy? Democracy depends on citizens accepting their differences and trusting each other, at least to the extent that they understand themselves as belonging to a civic sphere as well as a private sphere. It requires investing in the common good, and holding the government accountable as the institution that represents, and acts on behalf of, the citizenry.

If, in the name of security, Americans distrust one another and the government, and value private protection at the expense of public good, then the basic social  and political practices that ensure a healthy democracy cannot survive.

If May is correct, where is the Christian voice to be found amid this cacophony of distress? To what degree are believers fueling this age of rage, and to what degree do they step back and offer a prophetic voice of reconciliation? Where are the peacemakers who reject the templates of anger and conquest that shape the public sphere? And, in the small moments of my daily life, how can I offer one small witness that our life need not look like this?

Although I tend to refrain from Bible quoting, the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount, offered here through the lens of Eugene Peterson’s “The Message,” stand as challenge to believers today — including me:

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

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