29 August 2013

Meditation: "Justice and Family Friction"

For Dallas UMC folks, this is a re-print of my article in the September 2013 newsletter.
“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I have come instead to bring division. From now on, a household of five will be divided—three against two and two against three. Father will square off against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law…” Luke 12:51-53 (CEB)

So much for so-called Christian family values.

These words of Jesus are confusing. He is, after all, the Prince of Peace, the one who calms storms, the holy child “meek and mild” born that silent night of long ago.

But they make sense to me when I think about a little piece of my own family’s past. The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington (originally known as the “March for Jobs and Justice”) was August 28, 1963. My father, 22 years old at the time, was there. He’d graduated from college the spring before and was heading off to Yale Divinity School. Dad was deeply committed to civil rights (still is). And I know that his Christian convictions were one reason, maybe the reason, that he cared about civil rights. Unfortunately, my grandparents, his future in-laws, were not quite so enamored with Dr. King and the people in our country who were calling for an end to segregation and greater justice for minorities. To avoid telling private family stories, let’s just say that my father’s involvement in the civil rights movement—such as it was—caused a measure of friction within the family.

One common misunderstanding of Christianity is that it is a private religion that should only focus on individual salvation. But it’s very clear that Jesus wasn’t focused only on individuals. He came to usher in the “Kingdom of God” which was about building a community of people faithful to the love, grace, and justice of God. Dr. King called this “the Beloved community.” Sometimes a deep commitment to Jesus’ vision for the world causes tension, even conflict, with friends and family who cannot understand why someone’s commitment to Jesus might cause them to march or protest or get arrested.

One of the remarkable things about the March on Washington was how peaceful it was. There was an expectation of violence and chaos on the part of many who were suspicious of the motives of the organizers of the march. Afterwards, there was broad recognition—even among detractors—that the march had been peaceful and, therefore, powerful in promoting its message of economic justice and racial equality.

I have a deep respect for the Christians who—motivated by their commitment to the way of Jesus—put their lives on the line for justice and fairness in the world, even if it causes tension within their own family.

And I’m proud of my Dad, who marched on Washington 50 years ago for “jobs and justice” and heard with his own ears those famous words of Dr. King, “I have a dream…”

Grace and Peace,