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    • #2113
      Forgiving Victim

      3.9 Jesus interprets Scriptures

      In the next two sessions we’ll look at further dimensions of finding ourselves on the inside of a big anthropological shift, by looking at the sort of shift Jesus himself produced among his listeners as he brought out the fuller meaning of Old Testament texts.

      Receiving a new story

      Share ways in which you have noticed the content, questions or insights from the previous Module showing up in your lives.

      Finding ourselves through Jesus

      Answer the following questions:

      • Are you familiar with the patriotic American song, My Country, ‘Tis of Thee? What liberty is being lauded in this song?
      • Who won the liberty and who was it for?
      • What new meaning did Dr. King bring out in that old patriotic song?
        • Who was included in the celebration of liberty who had not been included before?
      • Who do you think felt encouraged that day?
      • Who might have felt challenged or threatened?

      Food for thought

      • What have the miracle stories of Jesus meant to you?
      • Why does James say that the two healing miracles were signs? What were they signs of?
      • In the healing of the man with the withered hands, Jesus is challenging the Pharisees at the heart of their sense of their own goodness. He accuses them of not living up to their own ideal of following Moses and the law.
        • What ideal of goodness was Dr. King challenging in his I Have a Dream speech?
        • What ideal of goodness do we strive to live up to? Whose unheard voice might challenge that ideal?

      Wrap-up thought

      In what ways might Jesus be grieved by your own or your community’s “hardness of heart”?


    • #46753
      Rich Paxson

      Receiving a New Story

      St. John’s, our small church where I work part-time as volunteer bookkeeper/Treasurer, completed its annual leadership change a month ago. Leadership changes, even in tiny congregations like ours, can be disruptive. Whether the change is benign or belligerent, each staff member must find the new workplace vision that best facilitates healthy personal responses to new corporate circumstances.

      A work environment reshuffle seems a good metaphor for the identity changes related to being “inducted into a people,” that is, induction into the Church as James laid it out in the previous sessions. In both cases, prior rules of engagement no longer apply. Individuals need fresh outlooks within the constraints of a changed structure that demands new answers for old questions. For me, a revisioning process usually begins with reflecting on “Where have I been?”

      Lately, I’ve been reflecting on my history and experience with racial prejudice that I developed growing up on Chicago’s South Side. This past week I ran across a book that in a very engaging way opened up to me the history and the practices of my Chicago experience. Author Antero Pietila in “Not in My Backyard” describes 20th Century, urban-American racial segregation as it played out in Baltimore, Maryland. Drawing on his forty years of newspaper reporting, Pietila captures the look, the feel, the fears and the changing vision of the second half of 20th Century urban America. “Not in My Backyard” outlines practices that ‘contained’ African-Americans into urban ghettos and then analyzes white political and economic responses as Blacks ‘broke out’ of the ghettos in the 1950s to begin moving into previously ‘all white’ neighborhoods.

      “Not in My Backyard” resonates precisely with my lived experience on Chicago’s South Side in the 1950s and 60s. The book validates my experiences and my responses helping me let go of the continuing but inarticulate immediacy of the Chicago ‘social other’ of my family of origin and the social dynamics of our South Side neighborhood. Laying down my former life does not mean rejecting it or fighting against it. It means understanding and appreciating who I was then and how I navigated those troubled waters. The process of laying it down frees me to respond to God’s vision introducing me now into a new, much-expanded people.

      The prophet Habakkuk’s writing in the following quotation seems to fit my current situation:

      Then the Lord answered me and said:
      Write the vision;
      make it plain on tablets,
      so that a runner may read it.
      For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
      it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
      If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
      it will surely come; it will not delay.

    • #46763
      Rich Paxson

      Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an African-American man, aimed his ‘I Have a Dream Speech’ speech at poor, marginalized African-Americans in 1960s America. However, King was speaking to individuals from all races who the dominant, capitalist, socio-economic system had excluded from so many of its benefits.

      King’s speech directly challenged white Americans’ understanding of the meaning of freedom that developed early in the nation’s history as a status opposite to that of enslaved African persons, according to Greg Grandin in his book “The Empire of Necessity.” Whites in America were free and, blacks were either chattel slaves or, after the Civil War, economically enslaved persons.

      In his “I Have a Dream Speech”, Dr. King conflated the symbols of freedom and liberty in the patriotic song, ‘My County ‘Tis of Thee,’ with icons of southern slavery and white oppression. ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’ was no ordinary song but one that many primary students sang each morning to begin their school day. When in his speech King said: “… let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia” and “… let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee” he interjected Confederate slavery symbols into verse from the song to challenge white American ideas of individual liberty and privilege.

      While King spoke about the socio-economic emancipation of African-Americans, his message was one of atonement. King recognized that God’s vision of reconciliation among all peoples was, and is, needed in America and only with God’s help can humanity actualize that dream of reconciliation.

      • #46765

        Yes Rich, humans are story-telling animals. We can remember the same events from the point of view of those who find their togetherness at the expense of a victim, or as told by the forgiving victim at whose expense that togetherness was, and no need longer be built. When we sing “My country ’tis of thee” what liberty is being lauded here? Who won the liberty and who was it for? As you say ” Dr King conflated the symbols of freedom and liberty in the patriotic song to icons of southern slavery and white oppression. Here Dr King was giving us a new narrative as Jesus did as the living interpretative principal of the Scriptures.

    • #46766
      Rich Paxson

      What ideal of goodness was Dr. King challenging in his I Have a Dream speech?

      Eugenics, a pseudo-science that supported racist ideas, was popular in the U.S. from the 1910s to the 1930s. Eugenics supported claims that some races were better than others holding that each race had a right to exist but that races should live separate from each other. Eugenicist ideas functioned as a pretext for legitimizing residential segregation with all of its attendant evils.

      Eugenicist ideas capsulized much of the “goodness” that Dr. King challenged. King’s speech challenged Americans everywhere to open city and suburban neighborhoods to homeowners regardless of the color of their skin. King’s message was that freedom was about personal integrity and self-respect, not about blind adherence to any abstract system for goodness. For bringing his message, King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968.

      • #46769

        Yes, eugenics was not only racist but also about the perfectibility of mankind, the Übermensch of Friedrich Nietzsche, and so popular with the Nazis. Martin Luther King, invoked My Country, Tis of Thee in his I Have a Dream speech because it was a song everyone knew and he wanted to bring out the fuller meaning of it for them in the context of the struggle for civil rights. And as you say Rich, “King’s message was that freedom was about personal integrity and self-respect, not about blind adherence to any abstract system for goodness”. As we are all made in the image of God, true goodness has not to do with the colour of our skin.

    • #46792
      Rich Paxson

      [Here’s the post as I wrote it. Since I can’t remove the redundant post above, perhaps the website manager can do it for me.]

      In what ways might Jesus be grieved by your own or your community’s “hardness of heart”?

      “Hardness of heart” resonates with me these days. A week ago Dr. Reeder had me “etherized upon a table,” to borrow from T. S. Eliot http://bit.ly/1Ue7Wq6, so he could snake his cardiologist’s catheter into my coronary arteries to break up the occluding plaque and implant a medicated stent that would keep the offending artery open. 

      I’m sore now but recovering quickly in spite of my impatience. What a small price to pay considering the alternative of a blocked “widow maker” artery. I forgive all the impertinence and effrontery of the hospital stay. After all, here I am writing about “hardness of heart” and now it’s time for forgiveness.

      While medical practice and procedural checksheets may be straightforward and efficient, what about the practice and checksheets for forgiveness? I, along with tax collector Zacchaeus in this lesson’s Gospel reading, look for answers about forgiveness from a figurative perch above the crowd. But Jesus walks as easily below me, seeing my vulnerability and unforgiving behaviors, as he walked beneath Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree.

      What does it mean to forgive? In a 2015 Aeon Magazine article Amy Westervelt (who also writes in the Wall Street Journal) wrote about forgiveness in the context of the middle-ground between what we want and what we have: “Letting Go: Science is discovering what religion has always known – forgiveness is good for us. But that doesn’t make it any easier.”

      “‘Most of our disappointment in life stems from wanting ‘this,’ [Stanford University Professor Frederic Luskin] jabbed at the air with his left hand, the higher of the two, for emphasis, ‘and getting this,’ he said, jiggling the lowered right hand. Then he stared at all of us, intently. ‘OK? And forgiveness is about what you decide to do with this space in the middle. Are you going to adjust what you expect and let the rest go, or are you going to live in this space? Because I’ll tell you what, living in there is miserable.’” http://bit.ly/1Ue7QyM

      Desiring in that place between the ‘left hand’ and the ‘right hand,’ inhabiting that middle-ground between what we think we deserve and the less-than-perfect world of daily experience hardens the heart. Life in a permanent in-between place occludes the arteries delivering the joy, openness, and renewal that feed the heart.

      God, the divine surgeon, if we will only let God, opens our life-restoring arteries transforming the bitter, strangling rules of in-between life from constant conflict to freely caring for our neighbor. Along with Zacchaeus, I hear Jesus saying “… hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” http://bit.ly/1qZP1aW

      • #46800

        Rich, so sorry to hear about your difficulties. I hope this finds you well on the way to a complete recovery. You give us here a very good definition of forgiveness. Jesus is grieved by hardness of heart, which is to say that Jesus is enacting Moses faced with the Pharaoh who will not “let my people go”. Yes, forgiveness is self interest, and not forgiving is a miserable place to be, but I think is also compassion for the perpetrator who is a flawed individual as we all are. But this is not always easy to see !

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