This is a post I had started for this blog, but I had the opportunity to write our Campus Minister’s column for our church newsletter for this week and next while he’s away at his DMin residency at Lipscomb, so I published it in our newsletter.
Jeffrey and I recently watched the acclaimed Ken Burns’ documentary, The Civil War. This nine-part series takes a detailed, critical look at the death and destruction that consumed our country during the four-year war through the lens of personal memoirs of different people from all walks of life. It was fascinating. As interesting as the documentary was, however, it was even more devastating and disturbing. Many of you may know that I’m a pacifist. The violence of war and of slavery are viscerally and physically sickening to me. The hatred and depth of racial discrimination is almost more than I can bear to consider.
Not long after we finished the documentary, we watched Lee Daniel’s The Butler, a fictional story (based loosely on a true story) that chronicles the life of a man who was born in Georgia in the 1920s into a sharecropping family (really something that was closer to slavery than any of the cooperation implied by “share”) and then saw his father casually murdered without provocation by the landowner. The protagonist eventually came to be a butler in the White House, from which vantage point he saw the turbulent civil rights movement span eight presidencies.
As I lay awake one night after having watched these two pieces, I was struck by the recentness of it all. We live in a world where we have video – video! – of Civil War veterans speaking and shaking hands over the memorialized battle line at Gettysburg. Men who fought in the Civil War lived in our modern age! We live in a world where a person born into what amounted to slavery – a world where black men could be killed by white men without consequence – could live through times of sit-ins, freedom rides, school integration, and countless acts (seen and unseen) of prejudice-motivated violence to see a black man become president!
It hurt me more, somehow, to realize how recent all of it is. I found myself longing to live in some distant land without a recent history of violence and racial discrimination and oppression. I didn’t want any of these bloody wars or any of the racial turmoil to be part of the past or, more precisely, the present, of the country in which I live. I thought of maybe Sweden or Norway, mostly because I don’t know much about either of those countries, and thought maybe that was because terrible things hadn’t happened there (history isn’t really my thing). Guess what: even the Swedes and Norwegians have had (and still have) their violence and racial rifts.
What I’m really longing for is not an area of land bound by imaginary lines that only exist on a map. What I’m longing for is for God’s Kingdom to be here in its entirety. It’s already here, but not yet fully. I’m longing for it to be fully present and realized.
Deron’s been reminding us that, in this season of Epiphany, we are celebrating the manifesting of Jesus as the Son of God. One of the ways we’re called to celebrate is by showing the world that the Prince of Peace is here! The King – who forsook everything for all peoples, for all times – reigns! We are to be light in the darkness around us – the darkness of our country’s past and the darkness of our present realities of continuing hatred and violence. Let us strive to be lights of the peace and the love of Christ together, ‘til Kingdom come (fully).