History

the Web Editors 05-12-2016
Mug Shot from Seminole County Florida

Image via Seminole County Florida

George Zimmerman, acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, now claims he will auction the gun that took Trayvon Martin’s life. 

Former neighborhood watch volunteer Zimmerman listed the weapon at gunbroker.com, promoting the sale as "your opportunity to own a piece of American history." 

Since the beginning of the modern era almost 500 years ago, Western culture has been marked by a distinct aversion to history. Thus we have come to narrate our lives primarily through our stories as (seemingly) autonomous individuals, instead of through the social stories of the peoples and places to which we belong. One of the unfortunate consequences of this shift is that we often become blind to the socioeconomic narratives that have set the stage for our present lives.

One of these is white supremacy, which has shaped the geographical, educational, and economic systems of our land over many generations and played a formative role in the life of almost every American. In his excellent new book, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, Drew Hart turns our attention to this story and particularly to the ways it misshapes our Christian faithfulness. Hart begins the book with a description of how racialized our lives are. Historically, nonwhites were excluded from many important spaces in U.S. public life: schools, governmental positions, and even churches. Although few, if any, of these spaces today explicitly exclude nonwhites, our socioeconomic systems are rooted in these earlier eras and continue to promote a highly segregated way of life. “When we can be honest about how our entire society is deeply racialized,” Hart says, “we will be ready to move forward.”

Hart reminds us that race is not simply about the color of one’s skin but also about power and the question of who gets to dictate the course that our society will follow. Early in the book, he spends a chapter exploring how our understanding of Jesus is often too white. We are inclined to imagine Jesus as an influencer, one who works in the upper echelons of our hierarchical society and who has the power to control the course of society. Hart emphasizes that this is not the Jesus that we find in the gospels, who aligned himself with the marginalized and who mostly rejected hierarchical society. “Where the old order dominated and violently lorded over others,” Hart observes, “the kingdom of God arose from the bottom, margins, and cracks of society, freely inviting people to share in the peace and justice of God made available in the presence of Jesus.”

Randy Woodley 11-17-2015

Image via /Shutterstock.com

When we think about the meeting of the first pilgrims and the Native Americans, we usually connect vicariously to one side of that old Plymouth encounter, mysteriously linking our faith journey to the early pilgrims’ faith journey. But what about those long-ago Native Americans? Is there a reason to remember them as more than a foil for the pilgrims?

Year after year we think warmly of that first union of the pilgrims and the Native Americans — and then we continue on in the supposed faith tradition of one of those peoples without another thought to the fate of the others.

So what role do those old Native Americans play in our faith today, and how might we bring them to mind or honor them? Here are a few ways you can faithfully honor both sides of the Thanksgiving table this year.

Cathleen Falsani 09-23-2015

Image via Good Sweeney/Flickr

As Pope Francis’ motorcade made its way from the Joint Base Andrews in Maryland to the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C., late Tuesday afternoon, it made a hard left from scenic Rock Creek Parkway onto Massachusetts Avenue, wending its way northwestward at a fast clip along the manicured thoroughfare known as Embassy Row.

Riding in the passenger-side back seat of his tiny, black Fiat 500L, the 78-year-old pontiff leaned his body toward the open window, stuck his arm out, turned his smiling face toward the street, and waived at the modest clutches of pedestrians law enforcement had allowed to stand along the sidewalk to greet him as he whizzed by.

The pope rode past the South African embassy with its statue of Nelson Mandela, right arm raised in a fist of solidarity, out front — and then, almost directly across the street, the hulking statue of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill raising two fingers in a peace sign (or to hail a cab) at the southernmost end of the British Embassy’s sprawling grounds.

The Mandela and Churchill statues almost high-five each other across Massachusetts Avenue while the pope’s humble hatchback, surrounded by massive Secret Service SUVs and swarms of police motorcycles, passed beneath their outstretched arms.

I wonder if Francis noticed the statues, and thought of the men — so different from one another, but each remembered as a hero — and wondered what his own place in history might be.

Robert Hirschfield 08-11-2015

TUVIA RUEBNER HAS earned the lament he wrote for King David, Israel’s better-known sorrow bearer. The poet came into the world 91 years ago in Pressburg-Bratislava, Slovakia, under Nazism’s shadow. It is a shadow he managed to separate himself from physically, but which sticks to him philosophically and is at the core of his poetry. The parched sound of random loss is the root sound in many of his poems. The spawn of an unimaginable yesterday, Tuvia Ruebner is more than anything a poet of today.

His parents, his grandparents, and his little sister Litzi all perished at Auschwitz in 1942, a year after he immigrated to British Mandate Palestine. Forty years after their deaths, Ruebner’s first son, Moran, was sent to fight in Israel’s first Lebanese war. Moran left for South America the following year, estranged from his country and its wars, and after a few letters, was never heard from again.

In Ruebner’s poem “[My father was murdered],” one by one he enumerates his losses:

Shane Claiborne 06-29-2015
confederateflagblock

Image via /shutterstock.com

I own a Confederate flag. Growing up, the flag meant little more to me than school spirit, pep rallies, and Southern pride … until I left East Tennessee. I’ll never forget the moment things began to change. I moved into my college dorm room and established my new home at Eastern University in Philadelphia. I carefully set up my desk, put my posters on the wall, and displayed my high school yearbook — with a Confederate flag on the cover — proudly on my bookshelf.

Via Wikipedia Commons

Pope Gregory XIII, portrait by Lavinia Fontana. Via Wikipedia Commons

Let’s be clear: April Fools’ Day is not a religious holiday.

It does, however, trace its origins to a pope.

The day began, most believe, in 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII decreed the adoption of the “Gregorian calendar” — named after himself — which moved New Year’s Day from the end of March to Jan. 1.

The change was published widely, explains Ginger Smoak, an expert in medieval history at the University of Utah, but those who didn’t get the message and continued to celebrate on April 1 “were ridiculed and, because they were seen as foolish, called April Fools.”

Joanna Harader 12-13-2013
Anne Kitzman/Shutterstock

Christmas carolers. Anne Kitzman/Shutterstock

One of the downsides of a theological education (and/or an overactive theological imagination) is an inability to sing some favorite old hymns with naive gusto. During this Christmas season in particular, we simply know too much about the biblical story (and the reality of childbirth and babies in general) to fully believe all of the touching words in some of the most popular Christmas carols.

So as a public service, I have written historically accurate versions of three of the most beloved holiday hymns. Without personally endorsing any of the theology below, I also offer some alternatives to those who don't theologically jive with the current version of "Joy to the World."

Eboo Patel 10-02-2013

How did a skinny, shy, middle-class Indian come to lead one of history's great liberation struggles?

Rose Marie Berger 07-01-2013

Laments engage "the most unbearable questions of faith."

Alicia de los Reyes 07-01-2013

Is faith healing a sign that the Spirit is moving—or a response to economic pressure and a broken health-care system?

Jim Rice 06-05-2013

Even at their best, toys like the American Girl Dolls send a mixed message.

Danny Duncan Collum 05-11-2013

U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey

Trethewey focuses her keen verbal gifts on the most sensitive nerve in American life.

Bill McKibben 04-03-2013

In February, more than 30,000 demonstrated in Washington, D.C., against the Keystone XL pipeline. Photo by Rick Reinhard.

We can see in our mind's eye all the generations to come, and so we know why we fight.

The Editors 03-18-2013

A half a century after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King’s prophetic words continue to reverberate. In “To Redeem the Soul of America” (April 2013), author and historian Vincent G. Harding recounts his time with King and explains how King’s “living letter” impacts each of us today.

Watch this video to learn more about King’s historic letter.

Vincent Harding 03-14-2013

King's "living letter" from Birmingham jail still speaks to us all.

Carl Ruby 03-07-2013
Juan Camilo Bernal / Shutterstock.com

Juan Camilo Bernal / Shutterstock.com

Charles Carpenter
George Murray
Nolan Harmon
Paul Hardin
Joseph Durick
Earl Stallings
Edward Ramage
Milton Grafman

In towns all across America, streets are not named after them. School children do not learn about them. No one waits in line to see the homes where they were born. They are ... simply forgotten.

They weren’t necessarily bad men. They weren’t unimportant men. They were men of influence, men with a voice and the respect of their community. Most would have agreed; they were good men, according to one, “men of genuine good will.”  While evil men are remembered and great men are enshrined, these men … just forgotten.

They are forgotten for being on the wrong side of history. Men forgotten for being silent when “a word fitly spoken” could have made a difference. Men who are forgotten for valuing comfort and stability over justice and compassion. Forgotten because they were unwilling to call out the status quo, and show it for it was … cruel and unjust.

These are the eight men on the other side of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” The recipients. Eight well educated white pastors, priests, and rabbis who by God’s providence led reputable congregations in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963.

Jim Wallis 02-11-2013

It's more human to deny the evidence, attack the messengers, and try to delay any response.

Adam Ericksen 11-19-2012
Photo by SSPL/Getty Images

Engraving made in 1847 after Captain Seth Eastman meeting Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag. Photo by SSPL/Getty Images

"The antidote to feel-good history is not feel-bad history but honest and inclusive history." – James Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me, 92.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving, as we take turns around the dinner table sharing why we are thankful, a sense of awkwardness settles in. The awkwardness is not only due to the “forced family fun” of having to quickly think of something profound to be thankful for. (Oh, the pressure!) The growing awkwardness surrounding Thanksgiving stems from the fact that we know that at the table with us are the shadows of victims waiting to be heard.

Humans have an unfortunate characteristic – we don’t want to hear the voice of our victims. We don’t want to see the pain we’ve caused, so we silence the voice of our victims. The anthropologist Rene Girard calls this silencing myth. Myth comes from the Greek worth mythos. The root word, my, means “to close” or “to keep secret.” The American ritual of Thanksgiving has been based on a myth that closes the mouths of Native Americans and keeps their suffering a secret.

Samuel Escobar 11-02-2012

Spiritualized Poverty

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