Yesterday, I attended my first New Orleans City Council meeting in support of my friend Rev. Shawn Anglim, who briefly spoke about the proposition to remove statues of confederate leaders. To say the least, the crowd was not in a peaceful place.
People who spoke on either side were supported by clapping, but there were also a lot of angry shouts of “racist” from the crowd when speakers described the confederate leaders as “decorated officers of the U.S. military who should still be honored.” Other speakers pointed out that those same leaders tried to overthrow the U.S. government, and questioned why they should be honored for that, since people doing such today are called “terrorists.” The hot attitudes around the council chambers made it clear that divisive issues around white supremacy and racism are still as strong as ever.
This blog is about finding our way through the fear and pain that keeps dividing us as people.
Our day is not that different than Jesus’ day, when the people of Israel were being ruled by an occupying force of Romans. They were treated as slaves whose very lives depended on submission to the authority of the rulers. Jesus’ lack of addressing the occupation of the Romans seems incredible, especially in light of the call of his followers to lead them in rebellion. His way of responding to occupation was nothing like the usual human way of fighting a war.
Somehow Jesus saw beyond the apparent power and authority of the occupying force to the greater authority of the kingdom of God. He kept calling on his listeners to become aware of that kingdom, that authority, and to live as followers of that King. When he did speak of enemies it was in a call to love.
When I see the hurt of our multi-cultural American people through racism and religious intolerance, when I hear political candidates calling for the removal of yet another group from our own borders, my initial desire is to speak out in anger, much like the people in the City Council chambers did. My first reaction is to hate the haters. But then a quiet Voice within invites me to actually be a follower of Christ, and his Way is about surrendering our cares into God’s heart.
A religious leader just after the time of Jesus, named Saul, was acting like Trump in our day, or Hitler a century ago. He was trying to eradicate a religious group too, which happened to be the followers of Christ. But then he had a mystical encounter with the risen Christ, and that changed everything. He went through a spiritual transformation, and began to learn another way of addressing our great concerns. He found the way of peace through surrender.
In his letter to the followers of Christ at Philippi, Paul wrote the following: “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:6-7). This man who was imprisoned for his new faith could proclaim: “Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near,” (Phil. 4:4-5).
The way of the world is to form enemies of some groups, based on race, religion, or culture, and to seek to dominate or eradicate them. That is never God’s way. The Way of Christ was to call us back to God’s way, which is a source of true peace. Paul found that way, and it is the way of finding “the peace of God that exceeds all understanding” through surrender.
So let us take our stands against racism, and speak our truths against religious intolerance, from that place of peace, as Rev. Shawn did yesterday. Let us not hate the haters, as our initial inclination might be, remembering the world doesn’t need more of that poison. Rather let us come together in an attitude of prayer, finding peace through surrender of our concerns into the caring heart of God. Amen.