Fearing the ‘other’ – Molly Marshall – ABPNews.com

Perfect love casts out fear, if we have the courage to forgive rather than retaliate.

By Molly T. Marshall

My responsibilities as a seminary president require that I spend an inordinate amount of time in airports and on planes. These venues offer a stimulating opportunity to view humanity in all its richly hued diversity. I get to play peek-a-boo with little ones, surely a universal game, granting a little respite to tired parents. On occasion, I get to assist first-time travelers as they navigate unfamiliar security requirements or train links between gates.

I also have opportunity to witness the traveling challenges immigrants encounter and the xenophobia that surprises us. As I prepared to board a plane in Atlanta yesterday, I noticed two young men dressed in Muslim garb, complete with knitted caps. Of Middle-Eastern descent, they were sprouting beards and wore only sandals.

Instinctively, my antennae went up. Even though I regularly participate in interfaith gatherings and seek occasions to find common ground with those from Islamic traditions, I found myself watching these men with a measure of suspicion and fear. I was not alone in this scrutiny, and soon the men had moved to a corner away from others.

The only way to conquer my fearful reaction was to walk toward them and speak. They had an equal amount of suspicion, also, so I made my greeting brief and did not extend my hand, as many Muslim men eschew that practice. I simply extended the traditional greeting of peace: As-salamu alaykum. They nodded gravely and returned the hope that peace would be upon me, too.

The current international crisis surrounding the militant actions of ISIS has raised the question once again about whether Islam is a religion that sanctions violence. Some evangelical writers are quick to see the recent atrocities as warrant for denouncing this Abrahamic religion, and they advocate strong military action against this marauding force. My fear is that this will only exacerbate brutality — by sword and by drones.

Early in his papal leadership, Benedict XVI displayed a measure of insensitivity when he delivered a lecture at the University of Regensburg that suggested that Islam was “a religion inherently flawed by fanaticism.” He spent the remainder of his eight years in office seeking to clarify and soften this assessment. Hardliners today, however, are hailing him as a prophet.

Indeed, the firestorm that followed his early missteps prompted Islamic scholars to broach dialogue with the Catholic Church as well as Protestants. American Baptists have hosted a number of conversations with Muslims, and these have fostered greater understanding and respect. We need to cover so much more ground in our journey toward peace.

In my judgment, Christianity has as much to prove about its relationship to violence as does Islam. When we claim the Hebrew Scriptures as the Christian Old Testament, we are receiving texts that outline a program of herem, the utter destruction of those who stand in the way of conquering the land of promise. Although Jesus commanded his disciples to “put away the sword,” we know that many of his followers were all too ready to take it up against Muslims in the Crusades. And the bloody religious wars that spattered Europe following the Reformation reveal a violent approach to theological conformity.

America as a “Christian nation” is part of the mythos of national identity, and when we undertake military action against nations where Islam is the primary faith, it is seen as Christians against Muslims. When I confer with friends in Southeast Asia, I receive questions about how Baptists feel about our nation’s use of force around the world. Albeit a professed pacifist, I reluctantly mumble something about “just war” theory, realizing that even this construct is an accommodation to a world fallen to violence. I hasten to add that we really cannot find warrant within the Jesus tradition to justify such action.

Fear retains a vise-like grip on the human psyche. Our long evolutionary history, which privileges survival, means that we will fall to violence in order to escape what we fear most — pain and extinction. Human aggression and self-defensiveness encroach in the religious sphere, and this may be where our fear is most pronounced.

Yet, “perfect love casts out fear,” if we have the courage to forgive rather than retaliate. As Bethany Sollereder has recently written in Christian Century, “… love’s endeavor is to approach pain head-on, to stand against it, and to remain undeterred through it.” Love is the antidote to fear, and we are incapable of it without the divine assistance.

I wish I had mustered the courage to inquire further about the well-being of the young men and their hopes and dreams for the future. I wanted to know if they were studying to become imams or simply devout in their religious practices. I would have if I had been more loving and less fearful.

OPINION: Views expressed in ABPnews/Herald columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.

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As for Me and My House, Call Me a Thug – Connie Stinson – ABP

DAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2014 COMMENTARIES

As for me and my house, call me a thug

It is past time to realize that division only brings more division.

By Connie Stinson

I pastor a racially mixed church in a densely populated Maryland suburb of Washington. We accurately call ourselves diverse.

One month ago, one of our young adults, a particularly gifted 20-year-old, preached “Judge Not” from my pulpit and further exclaimed, “As a young black male, I am often followed through a store by a suspicious security guard. It’s my life.” The parents of color in the congregation didn’t blink an eye. They understood this young man’s painful reality. The message that we should judge not hit home that day.

While I sorely grieve the violence in Ferguson, I also recognize it as one of many indications that our country is being shredded into factions of hate and deep-seated prejudice. That is why we are joining our District of Columbia Baptist Convention on Sunday mornings to pray to end violence in a nation that needs peace.

I was in Missouri last week, less than seven days after the shooting of Michael Brown. My first full day there was the Sunday after. The Ferguson-focused reports saturated local media, local pulpits and local conversations. My Sunday afternoon dinner with extended family from southern Missouri represented three churches they attended that morning.

“What did your pastor say about Ferguson this morning?” I asked. I was wondering how (or if) Christian compassion might express itself in the politically and theologically conservative, whiter, geographically-closer context. I was told, and I personally witnessed as I sat beside my mother in her church that morning, that “all sides were prayed for.” Another said, “We prayed for the family of Michael Brown as well as for the safety of the police officer. We also prayed for all the thugs there.”

Thugs? That was a word I hadn’t heard in a while. What exactly is a thug? The next day, I heard the word used repeatedly by TV newscasters. Wow, apparently it was a popularly understood term, whatever its meaning. My insides grimaced. It was yet another label that we human beings thoughtlessly use to judge and divide, but here it was being used as a regular noun like “boy” or “girl.” I looked it up. Its textbook definition is a person of violence, especially a criminal. Its street slang meaning is one who wanders, looking for meaning in life.

In my view, David True’s words ring painfully true, especially, “The equation black = criminal is built into our culture’s deepest sinews.” We are a country divided by our own fear and our own sick efforts to maintain law and order. It is past time to realize that we are all human beings with the same needs. It is past time to realize that division only brings more division. It is past time to realize that human connection, brought by compassionate listening, is the only way to break down the barrier wall that divides us.

As for me, call me a thug. Never mind that I’m a 58-year old white woman pastor. For that matter, call my whole church a bunch of thugs. I reject the old-school definition; we are not violent criminals. I am claiming the truth in that slang version of the word. Though we do not do it well a lot of the time, we aim at meaning, especially when it comes to seeking unity in diversity. Sometimes we wander, sometimes we go backwards, and sometimes we attempt to march boldly into the future. But the goal is to be meaningful and make a difference in the name of love.

Isn’t that what it’s supposed to be about? May God forgive us all, including our own country, for being much less most of the time.

“For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14)

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Connie Stinson

Connie Stinson is pastor of Luther Rice Memorial Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Md.

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You Are Graced for Greatness – Mary Lee Talbot -Chautauqua Daily

When Nelson Mandela walked out of prison after 27 years, he knew that he had

to leave the bitterness behind or he would still be in prison,” said the Rev. Cynthia

Hale. “The Father of the Nation [of South Africa] had to resist the urge of revenge. He needed to provide an example

of forgiveness.”

Hale preached at the morning worship service at 9:15 a.m. Friday. Her sermon title was “Work Your Grace” and the

scripture text was Romans 12:3-12. “When Mtibaa transitioned, President Barack Obama said, ‘Now he belongs to the ages.’ David Cameron, prime

minister of Great Britain, said, ‘A great light has gone out of the world.’ Mandela is remembered for being the embodiment

of grace, of operating with uncommon grace. That image led people to believe he fell from the sky,” she said.

“But everyone of us is graced by God. You may say, ‘Not me; I could never measure up,’ but you don’t know who you

are. God created you by design; just as Mandela was unique, so are you. All of us on earth are different, as our fingerprints

attest, but that is not what makes each of us different — it is God’s workmanship in you.”

Hale said that God graces each person with giftedness. No two people have the same gifts.

“Your gifts were tailor-made for you and you are graced for greatness,” she said.

In Romans, Paul spoke with authority about gifts, she said. He had written to the Corinthians five years earlier to

tell them that each person’s gifts are needed for the community to be whole.

“Paul wanted to make sure that the Romans did not have an inflated idea of the self, that they were not over intoxicated

with their own gifts,” Hale said. “Through faith comes the power of discernment to determine the nature and

extent of individual power and grace. “Paul also speaks to those who think less of themselves,”

she continued. “All are gifted; there is no big ‘I’ or little ‘you’ in the faith community. Don’t think that the community is

doing just fine without you.” Hale used the word “grace” to talk about gifts because

Christians are saved by grace and gifted by grace. “We don’t deserve what God has done in Christ. We are

gifted in a way that we could not imagine, we could not earn, buy, borrow or steal,” she said. “God is the giver of

every good gift and distributes gifts to us for a purpose.” Paul used the analogy of the body to describe how the

gifts of one work with the gifts of all. Each member of the body of Christ belongs to all the others and they work together

for the common good, “whether they like one another or not,” Hale said. When people are baptized into one body

they are connected by God’s spirit. “People come together from individual places and become

part of the community to serve one another and to serve the world,” she said. “We need one another and we are

essential to the success of every individual and the whole. That is God’s purpose in making us different and distinct so

we are equipped to carry out God’s mission and service.” Spiritual gifts are similar to natural gifts but the Holy

Spirit supersizes them, Hale said. “You may be a good speaker or fine singer, or you minister

to people in a way that changes their lives, you may have the tech skills or work among the least, but you are

set to change the world when the Holy Spirit energizes and empowers graces and turns them from ordinary to extraordinary,”

she said. She told the congregation that “we equip each other, we build each other up, because when we first came to Christ

we needed help. Pastors are not the only ones to whip — I mean equip — people into shape. Each person has the responsibility

to pick up another. “We are given different gifts to provide balance, to help the body mature. No one should have too many posts in the

community. Look at your neighbor and say, ‘I hope she is not talking about you.’ It is the nature of any community that

not everyone is using their gifts. Then people start to say ‘let the young people do it; I am retired and tired.’ My grandfather,

at 90, used to say, ‘Don’t rust out, wear yourself out.’ ” Hale said that church communities would never be all

that God would have them be unless everyone was working. “There is no unemployment among God’s servants. That

would be wasted opportunity. If you are graced, just do it,” Hale said. “Do it with enthusiasm, do it with joy. Work your

grace. Serve the needs of others. Be the ministers of God’s “Your gifting looks good on you, but it is not an ornament

to be worn — it is an instrument to be used for God’s glory.”

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Thankful Thursday – Sister Sandra Makowski, SSMN

 

On this Thankful Thursday I am grateful for the gifts that Sister Sandra Makowski brings to my life. She is the chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Charleston which covers all of South Carolina. She is a member of our Say Something Nice Sunday Steering Committee. She is the author of a wonderful book, The Side of Kindness, which is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. She just completed conducting a three part program on kindness for the Adult Bible School at First Baptist Church of Charleston. She was an outstanding success and came away with many new friends. Her humility and charming sense of humor added to her reception. Sister Sandra is a pioneer in that she is the first woman admitted to study Cannon Law at the Catholic University in Washington, DC. Sister Sandra is a welcome addition to the Christian community in Charleston. I am grateful to God for sending Sister Sandra into my life.

Thankful Thursday is a day set aside to recognize those men and women who contribute to our lives and to let her or him know of our gratitude. Develop an attitude of gratitude. Say Something Nice; Be a Lifter. You will be glad that you did.

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