Turning from Old Ways
Instead of celebrating a victory in war or recognizing the founding of an armed unit, South Africa renamed Dec. 16 as “The Day of Reconciliation” for the purpose of transformation, empowerment, and multi-racial national unity. In what can now be described as a dramatic conversion of symbolism, the newly redefined public holiday was celebrated for the first time in 1995.
The Day of Reconciliation is appropriately placed within the Christian liturgical season of Advent, for this period of expectation and longing for Jesus’ birth is a reminder of the ways that God’s presence heals wounds and redefines relationships. As the people of South Africa renovated their national holiday to embrace a transformed national identity, the Season of Advent prepares us to be made new through the birth of Jesus, and thus moves us to promote restored local and global communities through the practice of radical hospitality, as is written in 2 Corinthians 5:19: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, and entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation."
Gangs in El Salvador call a truce from behind prison walls.
ASSISI, Italy — Swimming against a global tide of religious violence and political polarization, about 550 religious and humanitarian leaders met recently here in the birthplace of St. Francis to propose a new way forward: love and forgiveness.
The ambitious aim of the Sept. 19-23 “Global Gathering” was nothing short of putting those values to work in some of the most hate-filled and unforgiving places on Earth. Following the example of Francis, whose feast day is on Thursday, participants pledged to make lofty ideals real through dozens of creative projects researched and funded by the Michigan-based Fetzer Institute, the conference convener.
“There’s a power in love that our world has not discovered yet,” said Fetzer President and CEO Larry Sullivan, quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Let’s put our backs into the work of love and forgiveness.”
In December, I will be hosting a public reading of the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
I am doing so because page 45 of this 67 page document contains a generic, non-binding apology to native peoples on behalf of the citizens of the United States.
The text of the apology included in the defense appropriations bill reads:
Apology to Native Peoples of the United States
Sec. 8113. (a) Acknowledgment and Apology- The United States, acting through Congress —
(1) recognizes the special legal and political relationship Indian tribes have with the United States and the solemn covenant with the land we share;
(2) commends and honors Native Peoples for the thousands of years that they have stewarded and protected this land;
(3) recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes;
(4) apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States;
(5) expresses its regret for the ramifications of former wrongs and its commitment to build on the positive relationships of the past and present to move toward a brighter future where all the people of this land live reconciled as brothers and sisters, and harmoniously steward and protect this land together;
(6) urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land; and
(7) commends the State governments that have begun reconciliation efforts with recognized Indian tribes located in their boundaries and encourages all State governments similarly to work toward reconciling relationships with Indian tribes within their boundaries.
This apology was not publicized by the White House or Congress. As a result, a majority of the 350 million citizens of the United States do not know they have been apologized for, and most of the 5 million Indigenous Peoples of this land do not know they have been apologized to.
Back in 2005, Africa was a recurring theme of U2's worldwide Vertigo tour, where Bono’s campaigning for debt relief, trade justice and immediate intervention in the AIDS pandemic — each fueled by his following of Jesus — met in his music in indelibly powerful collision of faith, justice, and art.
When Bono and his bandmates played “Where The Streets Have No Name,” the most amazing mass of colors dropped from the rafters as millions of Willie Williams-designed, light bulbs descended from the rafters to form stage’s back drop and a modern-mosaic high-tech screen. Then came the flags of each African nation in the most moving light show I’ve ever seen.
During the razzle-dazzle on stage, Bono made his claim,
“From the swamp lands of Louisiana to the high hills of Kilimanjaro, from the bridge at Selma to the mouth of the Nile…AFRICA…AFRICA…AFRICA…the journey of equality moves on, moves on…AFRICA…from town centers to townships…sacred ground, proving ground…”
The link between the Martin Luther King Jr. (the Doctor of the Deep South of America’s inequality) to Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela (the Archbishop and President of Africa’s inequality) was particularly potent art.
"Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
~ John 12:24
When tragedies loom so large, it is difficult to keep a perspective on the small things, to view things on a human scale.
We are trained to see the harvest and ignore the seed. We look at end results for the quick post and tweet. The planting, the watering, the tending is too tedious. Show me the aisles of glowing produce under the florescent lights and keep the dirt and the sweat away. Show me the abundance and not the labor.
And yet, every fruit and vegetable and grain begins as a seed. It begins in the smallest of things.
Soon, the story of Darius Simmons will become larger than life. A story that has picked up some media attention will no doubt soar – for a moment – as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rainbow PUSH continue to walk with his family and call for justice. This is their work and their calling and I bless them for it. I am thankful for it.
Darius’ story is a sensational one – full of racial tension and violence. It is a refrain sung over and over in our nation, the dissonant chorus that reminds us of our nation’s original sin.
"Do you invest it in revenge, or do you think creatively?”
On Ash Wednesday, Catholics and many others will walk around with ashen crosses (or, by the end of the day, what look like indeterminate smudges) on our foreheads. Those ashes are strong symbols of core principles of the Catholic faith — symbols of repentance, identity, reconciliation, and renewal of baptism in the faith.
As a voting rights lawyer who is about as passionate about my work as I am about my faith, I can’t help but see parallels between the moral guidance I am given by my faith, and the policy choices that confront us in the secular world. These principles are reflected in the way we worship – and also in the actions we take in the secular world. This has led me and others to the conclusion that the 4 million Americans who lost their voting rights while incarcerated, and now live in our communities, deserve the chance to vote again upon release. It is both the just and the moral thing to do.
As we approach Ash Wednesday during this Holy Season, I encourage all Christians, guided by their core beliefs, to consider this idea.
Everybody needs forgiveness.
But it’s hard to face that. It feels threatening, like an accusation. So we tend to get defensive and start justifying ourselves, rather than seeing the one we’ve hurt.
If we’re honest, though, we all know that we’ve done things that have hurt others. Probably lots of things.