Friday, September 30, 2016

Amish Grace

October 2, 2006. You doubtlessly remember the terrible tragedy that occurred ten years ago on that date in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. You may not have remembered the name of that small town, but that is where ten Amish girls were brutally shot in their one-room schoolhouse.
Such a horrendous event is unforgettable.
The Shooting
Charles Roberts, a local 32-year-old man who was not Amish, entered the school just before 10 o’clock on that Monday morning. He released all the boys but kept the ten girls hostage. The teacher escaped and ran for help—but to no avail.
Even though the police soon arrived, they were unable to do anything to stop Roberts from shooting all ten of the girls. Three died at the scene and two more died the next morning. One survived with severe brain injury. The other four recovered and were able to go back to school.
Donald Kraybill and two colleagues wrote a powerful book about that school shooting and its aftermath. They titled their book Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy (2007). Kraybill arrived at Nickel Mines on the morning following the shooting. The first part of the book is based largely on his observations and interviews with many Amish and “English” people who lived in the community.
Kraybill (b. 1946), the world’s leading expert on the Amish, is also the co-author of a 500-page book titled simply The Amish (2013).
I first became acquainted with Kraybill’s name when I read his 1978 book The Upside-Down Kingdom not long after it was published. I have been an admirer of him ever since, and reading Amish Grace for the first time this month increased my admiration of him.
The Movie
Perhaps many of you have seen the 2010 made-for-television movie “Amish Grace” that was in part based on the book—although the movie’s central character, and her family, was fictional. A couple of weeks ago, June and I watched the movie for the second time and were deeply moved by it again.
Thankfully, the shootings were not shown, but the grief of the parents was made very evident. What was of particular interest, and amazement for many, was the forgiving attitude of the Amish community.
To make it a more interesting movie, though, the fictional mother Ida, whose oldest daughter was one of the five who were killed, at first resented the forgiving attitude of Gideon, her husband, and the larger Amish community.
In reality, as well as in the movie, beginning on the very day of the shooting some of the local Amish people began reaching out to killer’s wife as well as to his father, expressing loving concern and forgiveness. The fictional part of the movie portrayed well the positive change in Ida’s life when her attitude changed from anger to forgiveness. 
Gideon & Ida (from the movie)
My Visit
More or less on a whim, the next day after watching the movie I drove 70-plus miles to just south of Jamesport, Mo. By chance, or providence, I met and had about an hour of delightful conversation with Melvin Yutzy, an Amish farmer with eight children, including a daughter who looked much like the schoolgirls in the movie.
He said an “English” friend drove to his place on the afternoon of October 2, 2006, and told him about the shootings. When I asked him what he thought about the forgiving attitude of the Amish in Nickel Mines, he was in complete agreement.
Just like the Amish people Kraybill interviewed soon after the shootings, my new friend Melvin emphasized that forgiveness is the only option for followers of Jesus. 
My daughter Kathy was with me and took
this picture of me by the Yutzy's buggy.
What do you make of the Chiefs sticker?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Celebrating World Communion Sunday

While some of you have no connection with, and perhaps little interest in, this topic, many Christians around the world will participate in a World Communion Sunday service on October 2. This is a yearly, and meaningful, observance of a great number of churches around the world.
Introducing WCS
World Communion Sunday (WCS) is widely observed each year on the first Sunday of October, largely for the purpose of promoting Christian unity and ecumenical cooperation.
WCS dates back to 1933 when Hugh T. Kerr, a Presbyterian pastor, began the observance. Three years later it was endorsed by Presbyterian churches across the country. Then in 1940, the Federal Council of Churches (now the National Council of Churches), endorsed WCS and began to promote it worldwide.
I can’t remember when I first heard of WCS, but it has been fairly recently. I certainly don’t remember hearing of it before going to Japan 50 years ago. Few Southern Baptist churches then, and I assume few SBC churches even now, were/are inclined to participate in such an observance. 
Romero’s Legacy
Catholics, of course, do not observe WCS either. But all Christians (and others) can learn valuable lessons from the life and legacy of El Salvadorian Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated while serving the Eucharist in 1980, and from people like John P. Hogan, who is the co-editor of a book about Romero’s legacy.
About a year ago I read the thought-provoking book co-edited by Hogan: Romero’s Legacy: The Call to Peace and Justice (2007). It contains the “Romero Lectures” presented in Camden, N.J., from 2001 through 2007.
Since reading “The Eucharist and Social Justice,” the 2002 Romero Lecture given by Hogan, I have planned to write this article. Today, a week before World Communion Sunday, seems to be a good time to post it.
In the lecture he gave, Hogan cited these words from St. Augustine: “We eat the body of Christ to become the body of Christ.” In the Catholic sense, as well as in the catholic sense, the body of Christ is worldwide and includes all who are followers of Jesus—including many who are poor and powerless.
Discerning the Body
Hogan went on to interpret the meaning of Paul’s warning about participating in Communion without discerning the body (see 1 Cor. 11:28-31) as not adequately seeing and understanding the needs of many within the worldwide church.
“We cannot claim to be . . . Christian, the body of Christ, and support structures and systems that keep people poor and powerless,” he said (p. 29). Communion, therefore, is not “an interior retreat,” a “spiritual” thing we do for our own edification. It is, rather, a call to solidarity with all segments of the universal Church—especially with those who are poor, marginalized, and mistreated.
So, for those of us who participate in World Communion Sunday next week—and I am happy now to be a member of a church that does observe WCS each year—let us remember with gratitude that we do so as part of a worldwide fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ.
But let’s remember not just the geographical meaning of this observance. Let’s also, and especially, remember those belonging to the body of Christ who are literally poor and lacking adequate food, those who are persecuted because of their Christian beliefs, those who are discriminated against (because of their skin color, their sexual orientation, or whatever), and all who suffer because of injustice.
May World Communion Sunday help us discern, and respond more adequately to, the needs in the worldwide body of Christ.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

What about the “Deplorables”?

Eleven days ago Hillary Clinton made a remark that her political opponents, and some in the media, thought was rather deplorable. As most of you know, she referred to half of Donald Trump’s supporters as being a “basket of deplorables.” (Click here for the video and NYTimes article about that.)
To review, Hillary said, "To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobia, you name it." 
HRC on Sept. 9
Two mistakes
From the outset, let me suggest that that Hillary made at least two mistakes in what she said: nouning an adjective and labeling some people as irredeemable.
It is generally not good to turn an adjective into a noun used to label people. I remember Dr. Wayne Oates, my pastoral counseling professor in seminary, talking about this. While I don’t remember his exact words, I remember his important point.
Dr. Oates emphasized the importance of remembering that we always relate to persons. Thus, for example, pastors don’t visit/care for the sick and the bereaved. Rather, they minister to sick and bereaved people.
With this sort of thing in mind, people shouldn’t be called deplorables. There are only some people who believe/say/do deplorable things. Deplorable may be a legitimate adjective describing some people’s attitudes or actions. It is not a legitimate noun to use in place of person.
Calling people deplorables is, perhaps, an example of “hating” the sinner, not just the sin—never a good thing to do.
In her remarks, Hillary also referred to those in the “basket of deplorables” as “irredeemable.” While it may be true that the social stance of most of those in said basket may not be redeemed, still, to call any person, or group of people, irredeemable is highly questionable.
Two baskets
A few days after Hillary’s infelicitous remarks, Franklin Graham posted this on Facebook: “I’m not ‘Deplorable’ to God, even if Hillary Clinton thinks so” (see this Christian Post article). He emphasized that “all sin is deplorable” to God but that because of Jesus “our deplorable sins” can be forgiven and we can have a “right standing” [pun intended?] before God.
Fair enough. But that statement misses the point. Hillary said that only half of Trump supporters were in the basket of deplorables. She wasn’t indicating that that is where Franklin is—unless that is the bunch with whom he self-identifies.
In a similar vein, a former missionary colleague of mine posted this on his Facebook page: “DEPLORABLE. A lot of white, male, traditional value holding, peace loving Christians are in this basket. Not ‘phobic’ and not haters.”
Why, though, would my friend and the peace loving Christians he refers to not consider themselves among the other half of Trump’s supporters? Even if half are in the basket of deplorables, that does not mean the other half are the same or that they are guilty of the same injurious attitudes.
Hillary talked about two baskets—and the legitimate concerns of those in one of those two.
Two attitudes
Whether as many as half or not, there does seem to be a sizeable percentage of Trump’s supporters whose attitudes and words do appear to be incontrovertibly racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and/or Islamophobic. Trump himself has also said plenty that can be properly described by those adjectives.
There are those who seem to fear/”hate”/denigrate people of color, women, LGBT persons, foreigners, or Muslims. Those attitudes often lead, unhappily, to deplorable words and actions.
Happily, though, there are “admirables” who exemplify an attitude of love, understanding, and acceptance of those who are “different.” 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

William Barber's Revival

Most of us who were Southern Baptists 50 years ago, and earlier, were very familiar with what were usually called revival meetings. Perhaps that was especially true in rural and small town churches, and it was probably much the same in several other denominations as well. 
In my boyhood and early ministry, “revivals” were primarily evangelistic meetings, although they also emphasized renewed Christian commitment among those who were already believers. An outside preacher was usually brought in for the revival services, which often lasted eight days and sometimes longer. 
“The Revival”
There is, however, a different sort of revival now taking place. It is a “national tour” being conducted under the name “The Revival: Time for a Moral Revolution of Values.” Currently, “The Revival” is scheduled for 20 stops between April 2016 and January 2017. It will be in Kansas City on Sept. 19, the 10th stop of the tour, and in Ferguson/Florissant, Missouri, on Sept. 27. 
(For those of you in the Kansas City area, here is the link to information about The Revival to be at St. James United Methodist Church next Mon. evening. For those of you not in or from the Kansas City area, St. James is the church where U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver II was the previous pastor and where Rep. Cleaver’s son serves as pastor now.)
The other speakers at The Revival are Traci Blackmon, pastor of Christ the King United Church in Christ in Florissant, Mo.; Simone Campbell of “Nuns on the Bus” fame; and James Forbes, emeritus pastor of the historic Riverside Church in New York City.
Rev. William Barber
Although Rev. William Barber, Jr., the leader of The Revival claims that it is neither Democratic nor Republican, liberal nor conservative, some of you likely saw him give a stirring 10-minute speech at the Democratic National Convention on July 28. (Here is the link to a YouTube video of that powerful talk.)

Since 1993 Barber (b. 1963) has been pastor of the Greenleaf Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Goldsboro, North Carolina. He has also been the head of the North Carolina NAACP since 2006. Not long after assuming the latter position, he began the Forward Together Movement, mainly in opposition to Tea Party activities in N.C. 
Barber has also been the main leader of the Moral Monday Movement, a grassroots movement that began in 2013. That was mainly a series of peaceful protests against the politics of the N.C. government and the new governor, Pat McCrory. (I wrote briefly about “Moral Mondays” in a 9/30/13 article.) 
From the beginning, among other dissatisfactions, Moral Monday protesters were especially unhappy with new restrictions in voting rights, the cutting of social programs, changes in tax legislation, and the repeal of the Racial Justice Act.
Higher Ground Moral Declaration 
Barber has authored a book about the Moral Monday rallies. It was published in 2014 under the title Forward Together: A Moral Message for the Nation. I have enjoyed reading it this month. 
More recently Barber has initiated the Call to Action for a Moral Agenda, asking people to sign the Higher Ground Moral Declaration (which I have done, and which you also could sign after opening this link). The Revival is part of that initiative seeking to redefine morality in American politics. 
According to their press release, The Revival national tour “challenges leaders of faith and moral courage to be more vocally opposed to harmful policies that disproportionately impact the poor, people who are ill, children, immigrants, communities of color, and religious minorities." 
That sounds good and important to me.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Recommending "Silence"

Silence is probably the world’s most widely-read book about Christianity in Japan. Written by novelist Shusaku Endo, a reluctant Catholic, Chinmoku was first published in Japanese in 1966.
The English translation by William Johnston was published in 1969, and I first read it not long after it came out in English. (Johnston was also the translator of Dr. Nagai’s book Bells of Nagasaki, which I introduced, here, earlier this year.)
Silence, the Novel
Silence is a disturbing book, and a powerful one that merits reading more than once and thinking about repeatedly, even though it is about the plight of Christians in 17th century Japan. While there are many books about faithful martyrs, Silence is about those who lack the courage to suffer persecution and compromise their faith.
In the early 1950s, Endo, who was born in 1923 and died twenty years ago this month, happened to see a fumie in a Japanese museum—and that haunted him for years. In the 17th century fumie (literally, “stepping on pictures”) were used to induce Japanese Christians to renounce their faith—or to be persecuted if they refused to step on the images of Jesus or the Madonna.
Silence is about those who stepped on the fumie

If you read the book, which I hope you will if you haven’t done so already, be sure to read to the very end—or otherwise you will miss the whole point of the book.
Actually, though, Silence was not Endo’s choice for the title of his powerful novel. He once said, “I did not write a book about the Silence of God; I wrote a book about the Voice of God speaking through suffering and silence.”
“Silence,” the Movie
And now Silence has been made into a major movie, directed by the internationally-known Martin Scorsese. It is scheduled to be released before the end of the year
The Japanese version of posted in Sept. 6 article that the new movie will be shown in Japan next year. 

A few days ago, Sharon Bennett Lamb, a Facebook friend who lives in Tokyo, posted this on FB: "Oh my goodness, is this really being made into a movie? The book Silence touched me in a way that’s so hard to describe. I read it the first time I was in Japan 20+ years ago, and could not believe how much a missionary could love his people. I’m preparing myself now (tissues in hand)." 
Silence and Beauty
The most engaging non-fiction book I have read this year, and longer, is Makoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering (May 2016). Fujimura was born in the U.S., the son of Japanese parents, but he has lived and studied in Japan—and became a Christian there. 
Mako, as he is called by his friends, is an internationally renowned artist, and a year ago he became the director of Fuller Theological Seminary’s Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts.
For years Fujimura has read, researched, and written about Endo and Silence, and his book is a marvelous interpretation of the content of the novel and how key ideas of the book are related to central features of Japanese art and sense of beauty.
To all of you who have not read Silence, I recommend that you do so this fall and then go to see the movie when it comes out. And while there will likely be fewer of you who will do so, I also recommend Fujimura’s fine book. It was worth much more than the $10 I paid for the Kindle version.

Monday, September 5, 2016

A Praiseworthy Pioneer for Women’s Freedom

In stark contrast to my previous article about Mother Teresa, who was canonized just yesterday, this article is about a woman who throughout her lifetime opposed the Roman Catholic Church and was constantly opposed by the RCC as well as by many traditional Protestants.
Even though she died 50 years ago, this woman is still being severely criticized by some people, and Hillary Clinton’s approval of her is one of the reasons Hillary is currently being vilified, as I also wrote about recently.
Introducing Margaret Sanger
The person in question is Margaret Sanger, who was born in 1879 and died on September 6, 1966. Her lifelong passion was providing women with the knowledge about how to prevent pregnancies. In 1914 she coined the term “birth control,” and she was a fearless crusader for that cause, which culminated with the FDA’s approval of the use of “the pill” in 1960.
As a young nurse working in New York City, Margaret saw firsthand the misery of people living in poverty with more children than they could possibly care for adequately. And she saw the extreme suffering and even the death of some women who sought to have illegal and often unsafe abortions—or who tried to perform abortions on themselves.
Consistently an opponent of abortions, Sanger sought to help women gain the knowledge and the means to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
After several years of publishing and distributing literature that was deemed illegal according to the Comstock Act of 1873 and after spending in time in jail following her opening of a birth control clinic in Brooklyn in October 1916, Margaret started the American Birth Control League in 1921.
That group developed into the organization that since 1942 has been known as Planned Parenthood Federation of America, even though Margaret did not like the new name. 

Vindicating Margaret Sanger
In addition to charges that Sanger favored abortion, which she didn’t, she has also been charged with being a supporter of eugenics, which she was, as well as being a racist, which is patently false.
There was much interest in and support of eugenics in the first part of the twentieth century—and one of the main political supporters was the Republican President Theodore Roosevelt. Sanger probably said things that we now would find problematical, but her view on eugenics in the first third of last century was very similar to that of many respected academics and politicians.
The biggest lie being told about Sanger is that she targeted African-American families. Two of her early supporters, though, were Adam Clayton Powell, pastor of the largest African-American church in the U.S. and W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the founders of the NAACP—hardly people who would be on the side of a racist.
Sanger’s vocal critics also fail to note that in 1966 Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the first recipients of the newly-established Margaret Sanger Award and that Mrs. King publically spoke in praise of Sanger and her activities. (Hillary Clinton received that award in 1999.)
There were questionable aspects to Sanger’s personal lifestyle, things that I would not condone, but her single-minded dedication to women’s freedom and the right to control their own bodies and the size of their families was a praiseworthy contribution to the well-being of our nation.
Resources consulted
Jean H. Baker, Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion (2011) – A sympathetic biography 
Margaret Sanger, An Autobiography (1938, 1999) – In her own words 
“Choices of the Heart: The Margaret Sanger Story” (1995) – TV movie 
“Margaret Sanger,” Cobblestone Films (1998) – Available online at Mid-Continent Public Library