Reconciliation

Moving into Epiphany's Light

A NEW CALENDAR YEAR marks the end of the Christmas season and a shift to the season of Epiphany that spotlights the reality of the Incarnation. In sync with our personal promises to discontinue bad habits in favor of better practices, the lectionary readings capture familiar expressions of vocational clarity and ministerial frustration. The season is a mosaic of self-examination peppered with moments of great light penetrating the darkest despair. Whether ancient Israel (living in exile in the sixth century B.C.E.), the followers of Jesus (in the first century C.E.), or 21st century seekers of spirituality without religion, the description is the same: The disenfranchised, disappointed, and divided discover a glimpse of the reign of God.

Read these texts as snippets of ancient social media: status updates of a prophet, blogs about the ministry of Jesus, and PDF files about early church practices. Each exposes the light of God pushing into the darkness of human existence: frustrated ministers, radical promises of forgiveness, reports of flourishing charismatic leaders, stalemated efforts due to divided affiliations, petitions for lawmakers to practice impartiality, and the death of one imprisoned on suspicious testimony. Familiar, jarring, and too often tamed, these texts deserve at least the attention afforded public policy debates and celebrity rumors.

A close reading of the text does not lend safety by avoiding the prophet, ignoring John’s message, or disputing baptism rituals. Every baptized believer is called to arise and live as if the kingdom of God has come.

Joy J. Moore is associate dean for African-American church studies and assistant professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.

[ JANUARY 5 ]
Reconciling Differences
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

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Racial Reconciliation Resources

Racism continues to plague our nation. From disparities in the criminal justice system to attacks on voting rights, many of us have sat by as our brothers and sisters are treated unequally. It doesn’t have to be this way.

As “Peace Pastor” Marty Troyer describes in “Subverting the Myth” (Sojourners, December 2013), with a lot of hard work and honest dialogue, racial reconciliation is possible.

People of faith are leading the new movement for racial justice. To become an agent of reconciliation, sign the One Church, One Body pledge and check out the resources below.

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Subverting the Myth

I MET PASTORS Harvey, Alton, Charles, and Joel in Houston’s 5th Ward, a black neighborhood that in 1979 earned the title of “the most vicious quarter of Texas.” I was drawn there by a sermon I’d preached on Psalm 23 called “An experiment in crossing borders.” In it I asked my congregation, “What border is God leading you to cross? And who is waiting for you on the other side?”

Little did I know the profound impact that sermon would have on me.

Nearly five years later, I remember when these men stopped being “pastors at black churches on the other side of the 5th Ward border” and became “my people,” deeply connected as members of the body of Christ.

It was a moment of profound truth-telling, when I realized I was controlled more by the values of Western “racialized” culture than I was by the liberating gospel of Jesus and the alternative community to which I had given my life. It became clear to me that I’d affirmed myself and my identity through the lies of racial privilege, and done so at the expense of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Michael Emerson, a sociologist from Rice University, provides us helpful language to understand how race works. Rather than analyzing racism (concretized for most of us through powerful images of slavery, hooded white supremacists, separate drinking fountains, and individual acts of hate), he invites us to analyze how our society is racialized.

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Unfinished Business

John Howard Yoder

JOHN HOWARD YODER, who died in 1997, was a theological educator, ethicist, historian, and biblical scholar. He is best known for his 1972 masterpiece The Politics of Jesus, his radical Christian pacifism, his influence on theological giants such as Stanley Hauerwas, and his advocacy of Anabaptist perspectives within the Mennonite community and beyond. Many testify that Yoder’s exposition of the gospel allowed them to grasp radically good news in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.

There is a dark cloud over Yoder’s legacy, however, that refuses to dissipate. Survivors of Yoder’s sexual abuse and other advocates have renewed their calls for the Mennonite Church, including Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), to revisit unfinished business with his legacy.

On Aug. 19, the executive director of Mennonite Church USA, Ervin Stutzman, announced the formation of “a discernment group to guide a process that we hope will contribute to healing for victims of John Howard Yoder’s abuse as well as others deeply hurt by his harmful behavior. We hope this work will lead to church-wide resolve to enter into lament, repentance, and restoration for victims of sexual abuse by other perpetrators as well.”

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Combating a Culture of Exploitation

Sex trafficking illustration, ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com
Sex trafficking illustration, ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

Eight years ago I left my dorm room, humming the hook to “Till I Collapse” on my walk to the bathroom. When I returned a new song was playing on my laptop. Ludacris’ “P-Poppin’” pierced through the thin walls and echoed down the hallway. I bobbed my head along and then sat down to finish my homework. I looked at the screen, and I thought I saw my sister.

One of the women on the screen in the strip club swinging around a pole trying to seduce Ludacris looked like Jennifer – my older sister.

And something began to shift.

On Scripture: The Social Shape of Divine Generosity

Screenshot from "Sikh in America: One Year After Oak Creek" from Odyssey N
Screenshot from "Sikh in America: One Year After Oak Creek" from Odyssey Networks.

It all sounds so… demanding. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. “Be dressed for action." Imagine yourselves as slaves who remain ready for their master’s return — not knowing when it might come.

Luke’s Gospel is big on demanding. In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus encounters three would-be disciples. And each receives a warning that would vanquish enthusiasm like an ice-cold shower.

The Passing of a Prophet

Civil rights activist and author Will Campbell, whose eccentricities and affectations had a profoundly serious purpose.

IN HIS EULOGY at Baptist pastor, civil rights activist, and author Will D. Campbell’s memorial service in late June, Campbell’s close friend, journalist John Egerton, recalled their first meeting. Campbell was wearing the broad-brimmed black hat that became his signature, with jeans and cowboy boots. At the time, Egerton noted, Campbell was in the middle of “a costume change” from the tweed jacket, clerical collar, and calabash pipe he had affected as a young, Yale-educated liberal minister.

Campbell was a notoriously theatrical figure, as famous for his hats and walking sticks as for his theological pronouncements. In fact, in the 1980s Campbell became a cartoon character in the guise of Rev. Will B. Dunn in the late Doug Marlette’s “Kudzu.” Campbell also dramatized his own life in Brother to a Dragonfly, his National Book Award-nominated 1977 memoir, and in a 1986 sequel, Forty Acres and a Goat.

Another favorite prop in the Will Campbell show was the acoustic guitar he would strum while singing his own country compositions and old favorites like “Rednecks, White Socks, and Blue Ribbon Beer.” Campbell, who was based in Nashville from 1957 on, also became a sort of chaplain to the “outlaw” element in that city’s country music industry. He traveled on Waylon Jennings’ tour bus, and Jennings’ widow, country star Jessi Colter, sang at Campbell’s memorial.

But to call Campbell “theatrical” is not to call him frivolous or trivial. Instead, he was following in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets who walked around naked or wearing a yoke, and of his beloved “Mr. Jesus,” who famously entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.

Campbell seemed to be having fun playing the role of a Mississippi Piney Woods prophet, but his eccentricities and affectations—most of them anyhow—had a profoundly serious purpose. He was trying to act out a way to be both a white Southerner of the yeoman class and a true Christian.

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In The Middle: The Challenge of Racial Reconciliation

Catherine Meeks

I suppose I could live my life saying, "I will never allow myself to try to understand white people. I will cut myself off from them. I will live my life as a black woman, and I'll just keep white people in boxes." But to do that means to keep myself cut off from a part of myself. And if white people do that about black people, I think the same is true: It keeps them cut off from a part of themselves.

For those of us who are Christians, I don't think we have any choice in the matter. I think God has made it clear that we're to be reconciled to God and each other. And if we're to be reconciled to each other, that includes everyone who happens to be in the world with us.

Reconciliation demands that you not take sides; it demands that you take a stand, I think—a stand that's maybe a merging of a lot of different pieces that represent several different kinds of philosophical stances. I think that one who chooses a road of reconciliation must be willing to look at more than one side of the coin.

Meeting Madiba — An Unlikely Encounter with Nelson Mandela

South African stamp of Nelson Mandela. Photo courtesy Neftali/shutterstock.com
South African stamp of Nelson Mandela. Photo courtesy Neftali/shutterstock.com

Mr. Venter’s question is a constant thought during these declining days of Nelson Mandela’s life, especially today — his 95th birthday.  I pray daily for my South African daughter Eliza, husband Jonathan, and their four sons Noah, Aidan, Luke, and Sam, along with the many dear South African friends gathered over the past 30 years.   Will they live the on-going dream or in an emerging nightmare? 

In 1994, during Bill Clinton’s presidency, I had the honor of meeting President Nelson Mandela in a most unexpected way — just two months after his April inauguration as the first democratically-elected President of South Africa. 

Raising Black Boys in America: An Interview With Leroy Barber

Father and son embrace. Photo courtesy stefanolunardi/shutterstock.com
Father and son embrace. Photo courtesy stefanolunardi/shutterstock.com

Howard Thurman says three things, in Jesus and the DisinheritedOne — God is on the side of the oppressed and the poor. Know that God is on your side. Two — Dishonesty takes you out of the conversation. And if you live an honest life, if you have integrity, you can sit at the table. In areas of race, people look for holes in your character as excuses for you not to be at the table. Three — Hate is useless. Don’t let hate sink into your soul, because hate will destroy you. And respond with love even if it’s hard. So I try to teach my boys that, and raise them that way.

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