August 14, 2017

Is Unity Possible?

            Violence erupted in a staid university town this weekend, and the symbolism of the white supremacists was startling.  A Nazi swastika alongside the Confederate “stars and bars” was a mash-up, to be sure, and the US flag was thrown in for good measure, as if all of this was mutually reinforcing.  It is not; it is a hideous conflation of identities, seemingly for the purpose of protesting the variegated diversity that comprises America.

Getty Images / Used with permission


Getty Images / Used with permission


            As I turned to the lectionary reading this morning, the first verse of Psalm 133 captured my attention: “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.”  Written long ago, this Psalm probably voiced an exhortation to preserve the family, and a common worship of God at Zion was a constructive approach to accomplish that.  St. Augustine thought this text was the foundation for monasteries and their “brotherhood.”  The import of the Psalm calls us beyond the insularity of one’s own bonds of kindship or one’s spiritual community.





            What might it mean for a deeply fractured nation now? Unity begins in prayer, carefully considering the perspective of those who oppose us. St. John of the Cross encouraged this practice: “You might quiet the whole world for a second if you pray.  And if you love, if you really love, our guns will wilt.” So, people of faith begin with prayer, interrogating the prejudice and blindness within each of us.
            While prayer is action, it propels us beyond the conversation we have with God to enter new conversations with those with whom we differ.  Here attentive listening and patience is required.  I am reminded of Will Campbell’s unconventional approach to racial reconciliation.  A major civil rights activist, he was lampooned by the right and left alike for his work with Dr. King in Birmingham and Selma and for his chaplaincy for KKK members, notably James Earl Ray, King’s assassin. He listened to both.




            He saw himself as a bridge, and reconciliation was his life’s work. He not only spoke of racial bigotry and discrimination against black people, he also spoke of “the redneck’s slavery.”  They, too, had a history of dire poverty as a repressed people.  These were Campbell’s kin, having grown up in rural Mississippi during the Depression.  Many of his critics thought his attempt to unravel his “knot of contradictions” meant that he could not take a stand for justice.  Far from it; he simply refused to see only one body of marginalized people.
            Arguably, racial minorities have always borne the disproportionate burden of discrimination; their civil rights have been trampled, and the geography they occupy often disempowers.  The Black Lives Matter movement has not been given to violence; rather, it has called attentive to policing practices that reflect racist attitudes and practices.  White persons who have taken offense over this movement have yet to perceive the privilege they enjoy.
            Unity is hard work; it is never finished; and, it requires repentance and perseverance.  It is God’s desire for humanity, and Christians have an exemplar to follow, Jesus Christ.

            Molly T. Marshall


Central prepares leaders for seeking God, shaping church, and serving the whole world.

July 17, 2017

Why So Much Beauty?




            

A recent trip to the barrier islands and a swamp of southern Georgia brought me face to face with some of God’s remarkable creatures.  Sea turtles, alligators, terrapins, turkey vultures, deer, raccoons, bears, snakes, horseshoe crabs, sharks, to mention only a few, populate this part of the world.  As I journeyed through this low country, I wondered why so much beauty?




Creative Commons - National Aquarium Flickr


            Take, for example, the Diamondback Terrapin.  The carapace of each is exquisite in design.  It did not have to be so; however, the Creator of all that is determined that beauty would be a hallmark of divine handiwork. These ancient web-footed members of the turtle family are essential to the ecology of wetlands.  They are a part of the water purification system, and their presence helps maintain the invertebrate balance in the brackish water they prefer. They also help control the salt marsh snails that overgraze the grasses.  Yet, they are endangered, and crossing the road puts them at great peril.  We might also ask, why so much waste?
            Only 1 of 400 sea turtle hatchings makes it to maturity.  Many predators and the sheer exertion of making it from a nest back to the ocean diminishes the prospects of all but a very few.  Is the waste a part of unredeemed creation or is it simply the necessary calculus of an interdependent ecosystem where death is a part of ongoing life?




            The alligators of the Okefenokee Swamp, a National Wildlife Refuge, reveal how long a species can endure in certain climes.  Amazingly robust, a bull alligator can grow up to 14 feet and weigh nearly 1000 pounds.  As we toured the swamp by boat, we were instructed to keep our elbows in the boat lest we provide a snack to the ever circling alligators who keep watchful eyes on who comes through their territory.  As a big one splashed right next to my seat, a headline flew across my mind: “Alligator unaware of teaching about redemption of all creation as he drags seminary president overboard.”




            One of the lectionary texts for next Sunday recounts Jacob’s dream sequence with the ladder that spans heaven and earth.  Awaking from his dream he exclaims: “How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). He recognized that the earth is full of God’s glory, and that God inhabits not only the heavenly places, but the abode of creatures, too.
            There is so much beauty and, seemingly, so much waste.  Yet God’s desire for the flourishing of all creaturely life entails pain and cost for all who share this good home.  That should invite us to praise and recognition that “surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”  God indwells all that is and calls it good.  God has made everything beautiful, as the Bible teaches.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares leaders for seeking God, shaping church, and serving the whole world.