Archive for August 2017

Keeping Charlottesville in Check

August 16, 2017

It was the summer of 1987, a time of global renewal in the former Soviet Union when President Ronald Reagan so famously called upon President Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” referring to the Berlin Wall, opening the way for new reforms. The spirit of liberty and peace was stirring in South Africa, with the dismantling of Apartheid and soon after the release of Nelson Mandela. In 1989 alone, thirteen nations comprising 1.7 billion people – over thirty-two percent of humanity – experienced nonviolent revolutions. That’s the world I grew up in – a world full of promise and hope for a bright future.

That hope was tarnished in 1992, while I was attending Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, IA. A black family had moved to town and were welcomed with a burning cross in their front yard. I couldn’t believe it. Where did all this hate come from? Hadn’t we learned our lesson a generation ago? Hadn’t Dr. King’s dream taken root in the heart of America? Must we re-visit the old wounds of our racist past? Sadly, what I am learning this week is that racism never goes away, it lurks under the surface waiting to rear its ugly head once again, reminding us of our duty to resist at all costs and to stay vigilant in our pursuit of justice for all. Wouldn’t you know it, later that year the KKK got a permit to march in downtown Dubuque!

While it’s no longer in use, my seminary had a logo back in the 50’s. For years, this was the emblem of Wartburg Theological Seminary. Notice the letters W–T–S are formed by the dolphins, the serpent and the cross. Here, the cross holds central place and the serpent, representing evil, has been dealt a mortal blow, impaled by the cross. The dolphins, referred to by St. Gregory of Nyssa as “the most kingly of swimming things,” represent Christian fellowship and community. The message: while sin has damage yet to do, it’s days are numbered. And when when the Christian community comes together with Jesus at the center, we keep sin in check and find our way toward salvation.

I have been heartbroken over the events unfolding in Charlottesville this week. And, I am compelled to reject and resist all forms of hatred of the White Supremists. This is hard work. It will be for every generation to come. And it will take more than a facebook post or a drawing of a dragon to resist hatred. As Walter Wink reminds us, “Jesus teaches resistance, but without violence… opposing the enemy in a way that holds open the possibility of the enemy’s becoming just also. Both sides must win. We are summoned to pray for our enemies’ transformation, and to respond to ill treatment with a love that is not only godly but also from God.” (The Powers that Be, p. 110)

So, what did that seminary community do back in 1992? We decided to partner with others and hold a “Celebration of Diversity” at Eagle Point Park – far from the hateful spectacle unfolding across town. “Don’t give them the time of day,” was the overall message. So I drew this picture of a teardrop, reflecting a burning cross, as my own personal lament that day. I remember it now, as I lament with those who have died and been injured by this ugly head of sin in recent days. And, I challenge you to enter the conversation, to call out racism and help hold it in check. One good resource is the ELCA social statement on Race, Ethnicity, and Culture.

This fall’s theme is “That’s His Story & We’re Stickin’ To It!” Won’t you enter the story, yet again, this year? Help us tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love. Commit yourself to keep sin in check with the cross at the center. As James Baldwin once said: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Walking with you,
Pastor John Stiles