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A Story of Reconciliation in Ferguson, MO

Ferguson, MO has seen racial conflict and rioting in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown.  A recent chilling report has an anonymous cop warning citizens of Ferguson to buy a gun, “get more than one” to protect their families.  See here.

Or, rather, for a true story of hope and redemption, read this instead.  About a month ago, the St. Louis Post Dispatch ran an article about one of the first black citizens to move into Ferguson, Larman Williams.  Mr. Williams’ story features his white Lutheran pastor, Rev. Richard Sering, who personally helped Williams move into the area.

Williams needed help because in the 60s, Ferguson was primarily a white community and real estate agents would not return the calls of a black man, even one as well respected as Larman Williams.   But Williams’ pastor, Rev. Sering, lived in the neighborhood and Williams sought his help.  Sering called a neighborhood meeting to speak directly to the homeowners.  After the meeting, the seller not only agreed to sell to Williams, but even pay some of the mortgage points so he could afford the cost.

The Post Dispatch story goes on to tell of another tale from after the Williams family moved in.  A family that had initially shunned them, later repented and confessed to Williams how wrong they had been.  The opportunity to be neighbors allowed them to see each other as fellow human beings, all made in the image of God.  Williams said, wisely, “Fear can cause you to act and react in a way that does not necessarily demonstrate the true person you are.  Once you overcome your fear you can do things that are spiritually sound.”

What is spiritually sound?  The Bible encourages us to see all human beings as made in the image of God and therefore deserving of respect and love.  This is a teaching found throughout both Testaments.  The book of Jonah, for example, ends with God reproving his prophet for not rejoicing in the repentance of Nineveh.  The book of Revelation, for another example, describes the family of God as “from every nation, from all tribes and languages” (Revelation 7:9).

Larman Williams is right that fear is what gets in the way of us from treating one another with love and respect.  His own story shows how spending time with people that appear different from you can dispel that fear and make a place for harmony.

That’s why we should be concerned about the ways we segregate still today.  A month ago, a Pew Research study investigated ways we segregate along political lines.  For example, on Facebook, political conservatives are more likely to hear only political opinions that harmonize with their own. On the other hand, also on Facebook, political liberals are likely to defriend people who disagree with their politics.

This is one of the ways the church can be “salt” as Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:13).  When our fellowship reaches across political or racial divides, we not only show the breadth of Jesus’ kingdom, we show how His peace “that surpasses understanding” can bring healing in places where the world remains frustratingly divided.

Jonah was told to go to Nineveh.  He fled the opposite way.  God picked his prophet up in a fish, return to sender.  Once in Nineveh, the prophet found redemption could come even to people he feared.  Like Larman Williams, you, too, may be sent among people you initially fear.  But seek to see them with spiritual wisdom and redemption may come in the unlikeliest of places. 


The Left Behind Movie is "not Christian"?

Christianity Today reviewed the new Left Behind movie and surprised some saying, “Left Behind is not a Christian Movie, whatever ‘Christian Movie’ could even possibly mean (emphasis his).  After the success of a pair of “Christian movies” in the past year, Hollywood has decided to invest more into reaching a Christian audience.  The new Left Behind appears to be an attempt to make an action/thriller out of the books that sold so well in Christian bookstores a decade and a half ago.

The reviewer, Jackson Cuidon, quotes the director, Vic Armstrong, on the potential for a Christian aspect to Left Behind:

[My agent] David Gersh said, “Well, what about the religious aspect?” And I said, “What religious aspect?” He said, “Didn’t you find it strange when people disappeared on the plane and everything?” I said, “David, I did Starship Troopers, and I didn’t question it when great big bugs came climbing over the hill and ripped people’s heads off. That’s the world I live in!”

“That’s the world I live in!” makes a wonderful contrast to Jesus’ testimony before Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).  Similarly, the book of Hebrews says of believers, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (11:13).

As Cuidon’s Christianity Today review continues, it becomes about more than just a bad movie.  It’s a lament at how Christians are desperate to be at home in this world, for example, wanting movies with the same production value as the summer blockbuster.  So Cuidon asks whether the characters in Left Behind ever do anything Christlike.  He fears the church will accept “Christian movies” and “Christian books” that have no Christ so long as the explosions are thrilling enough.

I think Cuidon raises a relevant question for our own Christian lives.  Jesus asks us to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16).  Cuidon says that Christian life can’t just be looking good and inoffensive.  After all, he says, “Jesus offended the devout more than he did the irreligious.”

Jesus’ unusual witness was marked by two characteristics that become stark on the cross.  Jesus denied self-righteousness (e.g. Matthew 6:1-6), being crucified with criminals.  Jesus offered radical mercy (e.g. Matthew 5:38-48), paying for the guilty on the cross.

While Jesus was considered a sinner because He ate with sinners (Matthew 11:19), the whole theme of Left Behind is that the righteous Christians get pulled out of the world and are therefore known to be holy.  In that sense, Cuidon raises good questions about the Left Behind books to begin with that I think apply also to our Christian lives.  Are we more concerned with looking good than with seeking Christ’s kingdom based on humility and mercy?

A similar theme was raised in the newest Lars Walker novel, Death’s Door.  He writes

It occurred to him that in their passion for listening to musical recordings of the highest technical quality, modern people might have given up something better—the pleasure giving music, rather than receiving it as an indulgence.  When was the last time he’d heard someone sing for joy?  Had he ever?  And what does it say about a culture, if its people never sing for joy?  Maybe that was why America was dying, he thought absurdly.  Maybe it was a simple deficiency of song.

Do we lose something about story, art, and song, when we feast on over-indulgent movies whose only quality is technical?  Or is the problem with a saltless Christianity?  What about in our own lives?  How do you think of being salt and light in your own life?