Remembering What Matters Even in Difficult Times

I rarely post anything personal, but once in awhile, it happens. I’ve been thinking about peacemaking, mending breaches, and restoring what has been broken. For issues that have existed for years or decades or even centuries, there are no quick fixes, but there are some timeless things that can help in discerning what matters and what must be done.

Remember what matters — thoughts on peacemaking.

As always when I’m at a loss for words, I begin with poetry, song, and scripture, and thorough these, I am reminded of the simple yet sometimes hard things that matter. Here are just a few of the things I’ve been dwelling with  in these troubled times.

Blessed are the peacemakers

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

-St. Francis of Assisi
Contemplating the necessity of peacemaking takes me to Matthew 5, to the portion of Jesus’ teaching that we call the Beatitudes. They are all of a piece and each one matters deeply, but I have highlighted three that seem particularly apropos for this time.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Repairing the breach

One step on the road to peacemaking is to mend harms and heal breaches. Isaiah 58 gets pretty specific about how to do that. Here it is, spoken to music, with just a few of its verses below. It’s a chapter well worth memorizing and contemplating.

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?

 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?  . . .

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.

Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

Doing what matters

Of all the things in the world I could be doing, I want to do the things that matter most. This passage is another reminder of what those things are.

“I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me . . .
Truly I tell you,
just as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren,
you did it to me.”
(From Matthew 25: 31-46)

Who is our neighbor?

Color, Caste, Denomination

by Emily Dickinson
1864

Color — Caste — Denomination —
These — are Time’s Affair —
Death’s diviner Classifying
Does not know they are —

As in sleep — All Hue forgotten —
Tenets — put behind —
Death’s large — Democratic fingers
Rub away the Brand -—

If Circassian* — He is careless —
If He put away
Chrysalis of Blonde — or Umber —
Equal Butterfly —

They emerge from His Obscuring —
What Death — knows so well —
Our minuter intuitions —
Deem unplausible —

*Circassian women were thought to be unusually beautiful.

Emily Dickinson’s poem seems to reflect the idea found in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Some final thoughts

I’ve read many, many articles and essays over the past couple of weeks as I try to learn more about the issues that continue to trouble our country. Part of my volunteer work at church relates to issues of peace and justice, so I’m all too familiar with issues such as excessive use of force. I haven’t been as familiar with national racial issues, but I’m working to amend that deficit through books and articles by a variety of people from different backgrounds of faith and experience. It is a learning curve, but I believe it matters, especially in light of the prayer and scriptures above. Here are two articles from two different perspectives — they are both worth considering.

American Racism: We’ve Got So Very Far to Go by David French — It wasn’t until Mr. French “went from being the father of two white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed kids to the father of three kids—one of them a beautiful little girl from Ethiopia” that he saw and understood how far we still need to go. If you have a hard time seeing what the issues are, this thoughtful article by someone identified as a conservative Christian columnist might help. It’s part of our heritage, and it’s something we need to know.

Another perspective is The Assumptions of White Privilege and What We Can Do About It by Fr. Bryan Massingale, a priest and theology professor at Fordham University offers a very clear look and illustration of what is meant by “white privilege.” This is especially helpful if you don’t feel particularly privileged! Toward the end of the article he writes, “only an invasion of divine love will shatter the small images of God that enable us to live undisturbed by the racism that benefits some and terrorizes so many.” This is something to pray for.

Three books that have helped me with understanding the issues

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson — Always my first recommendation for anyone who’s unfamiliar with the workings of the judicial system. It has been described as a true story in the vein of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s unforgettable, and I believe it’s one that everyone should read.

Watch the Just Mercy film for free in the month of June 2020. 

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson — A few years ago, a childhood friend I hadn’t heard from in many years phoned me. She’d been reading a book, and it had brought up memories and questions, and she wanted to share it. That book was The Warmth of Other Suns, and before I could get a copy from the library, we received it as a Christmas gift from another friend who had likewise been moved by the nearly unknown story of a decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South  in search of a better life. Based on hours of interviews with over 1000 people plus detailed data, Wilkerson tells the story of the Great Migration through the lives of three real individuals whose lives are followed from childhood to old age. This was a book I could hardly put down.

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein — This rather astonishing book documents how our government (the very same one that was announced by a Declaration of Independence that declared that “all men are created equal”) systematically imposed policies of racial segregation, including providing subsidies for builders to create whites-only suburbs; race-based zoning laws; tax exemptions for institutions that enforced segregation; and support for violent resistance to African Americans in white neighborhoods. It’s another unforgettable and sad book.

Two books for young readers

I read constantly as a child, and two of the books I returned to often were Mary Jane by Dorothy Sterling and Prudence Crandall, Woman of Courage. Each of them provided a window into the challenges of racism – Mary Jane from the perspective of a normal girl who happened to be going to school at the time when the public schools were integrated; Prudence Crandall from the perspective of a Quaker teacher who accepted black girls into her school and faced incredible hostility as a result. There are many other good books that can broaden our world. I’ll try to list more of them in the coming weeks.

One last song

And just because — here is one of my favorite songs. John Michael Talbot’s music is usually just Scripture set peacefully to music. He sings about what matters, and I’ve enjoyed his music since I was young.

Unless otherwise attributed, scripture citations are from memory or from the NRSV, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved.

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1 Response

  1. I appreciate that your posts, while religiously oriented, speak to universal truths and our shared humanity. Thank you.

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