A Rebellious House Cannot Stand

A reflection for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time by FAN Staff, Rhett Engelking

This reflection was originally published in our June 29th newsletter


“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”


It was mid-June of 1858, Republican State Senator Abraham Lincoln echoed the Gospel of Mark (3:25) when he delivered his famous “House Divided” speech and launched a campaign for the U.S. Senate. Like Jesus in this week’s readings he invoked scripture, stood in the Illinois Capitol and spoke prophetically about unity beyond the institution of slavery, and he lost his election. Prophesy is unconcerned with popularity or measurable outcomes, it is simply an opportunity for the Spirit of God to speak directly through us. Every call to be a prophet, it seems, carries with it the call to some form of martyrdom, some death of self. In Lincoln’s case, the hope of a unity beyond division was not realized in his lifetime.
I cried when I heard Republican State Senator Paul Thurmond deliver his speech on the floor of the State Senate in which he paid tribute to the Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, his colleague in the State Senate, who was brutally slain in the South’s most hallowed Black Church along with 8 other church members. He stated “I have often wondered what is my purpose here, in the Senate. I’ve asked God to guide me and strengthen me. I have prayed that I will leave this place better for future generations.” No one man has been a more rebellious thorn in the side of American progress on racial justice than Paul’s father, Strom Thurmond, who died at the age of 100 as America’s oldest and longest serving U.S. senator. Strom ran for president in 1948 on a platform of segregation and his 24 hour filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957 is still the longest in America’s history. The symbol of the rebellious house that Strom Thurmond fought so obstinately to preserve has been the Confederate battle flag that still flies at full staff outside the State Capitol. “Heritage” is the word that has been used to justify why the flag of a seditionist military army still flies on state land. Recently, Paul Thurmond publicly renounced this heritage.

If we are ever to perform truly mighty deeds or if the Spirit is ever to speak through us, we must first identify the privileges conferred by our heritage and renounce all of those aspects that separate us from our neighbor, be they flags or instruments of injury. If we sense any resistance to this renunciation within, we can know that it embedded itself within us from the outside. Heritage is a thorn in the flesh of the American people that was given to us by an angel of Satan. White Privilege, as Anglo-American heritage is also called, is little more than an obstinacy of heart that is largely unconscious to most of us. The obstinate heart says, “This privilege protects me from weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, and I don’t want to give it up” Certainly, as in the case of the flag, the law may give us the right to exercise such privileges and appear strong when inside we know we are weak. For the sake of Christ, however, Paul reminds us that we are not called to feign strength, but rather to embrace our weakness. Nowhere is this feigned strength more evident than in America’s relationship with arms.

When a confirmed racist shoots up a black Southern church or a Midwestern Sikh temple, we are not only seeing an act of terrorism, but a legacy of weakness feigning strength. True strength could be seen when, in likely the weakest moment in her life, Nadine Collier faced the man accused of shooting her mother to death in church and stated with a soft, vulnerable heart, “I just want everyone to know, to you, I forgive you. You took something precious away from me. I will never be able to hold her again. You hurt me. But God forgives you, and I forgive you.” Ms. Collier was robbed of her heritage, but her lack of violent rebellion seems contrary to the reflex that most of us have to the loss of our loved ones. The spirit of God descends upon us when we have left our comfortable native place behind and embraced our vulnerability. Spiritual strength appears when we are no longer fearfully clinging to the privilege of our heritage and depend entirely upon the perfecting power of God’s grace. Likewise, the healing wisdom of Jesus comes from faith in our one common heritage as sons and daughters of God.

Rhett Engelking
Director of Franciscan Earth Corps

Published in: on June 30, 2015 at 8:56 am  Leave a Comment  

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