Sarah Smarsh, author of Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth (2018) and She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs (2020), spoke Nov. 5, 2020, as part of the Peace Lecture Series of the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan. I wasn’t able to tune in live, but I listened to Smarsh’s talk later on YouTube.
At one point, she said something to the effect of: Integrity is about wholeness. That word “wholeness” made me think of “shalom” – the Hebrew term that comprises harmony, unity, justice, peace, salvation, wholeness.
God’s greatest desire for the earth and all peoples of the earth is shalom; that is to say, wholeness. Wholeness is why God freed the people from enslavement in Egypt. Wholeness is why God called Moses. Wholeness is why Jesus came to earth, to be God with us, Immanuel. Shalom, wholeness, is why Jesus said, You have heard that it was said, but I say to you…
Our Scripture today comes from the Sermon on the Mount. In this particular part (Matthew 5:38-48), Jesus says to his followers, who were living under an oppressive regime: Turn the other cheek. Walk the extra mile. Give to whoever asks. Love the enemy. Pray.
This was Jesus giving voice to what the late Congressman John Lewis would have called “good trouble.” This teaching communicated to people living under the enslavement of oppression how to hold their oppressors accountable, and highlighted that oppression in a nonviolent way.
It should be noted that Jesus did not tell the oppressed people to make nice with their oppressors. And neither should those who are oppressed today be expected to make nice.
To quote writer, historian and activist Rebecca Solnit: The people who were harmed don’t have to reach out to those who did the harming. The people who told the truth don’t need to make liars feel better about themselves or what they said. Those who were targeted by this war don’t have to do all the peacemaking.
Jesus pushed oppressed people to hold their oppressors accountable for their death-dealing actions. In doing so, the oppressed (and even the oppressors) would find and experience freedom. Wholeness – shalom – does not happen by sweeping that which harms under the rug and pasting a smile on your face. Wholeness comes when the harm is brought into the light.
It has been said, Joe Biden has won the 2020 U.S. election. It has also been said that, because Biden is now the president, there is no need to protest anymore. Allyship with Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), LGBTQI people and other oppressed communities can be toned down.
But I say to you, Racism still exists. Homophobia still exists. Sexism still exists. Xenophobia still exists. A new president will not change the tide of the last four years, the last 400 years. Change happens when we the people make it happen. And if we consider ourselves Christians, we will spend time in prayer, listening to how God is calling us to bring, with God’s help and direction, shalom to the earth.
If we do not spend time in prayer and instead sweep under the rug the harm that has been done over the last four years, last 400 years, our integrity as Christians is gone. And those of us who identify as white could do just that – our privilege as white people allows us to do so.
Jesus said, Turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give to those in need, pray, love your enemies. Jesus expected the crowds who followed him to live this way. Jesus as the new Moses was a fulfillment of all that God has promised. This is the good news. God is with us through the embodiment of Jesus. Jesus, God with us, is freedom and shows us the way to freedom. Jesus expects those who call themselves Christian to follow and to spread the freedom found in following Jesus.
The good news: God is with us through the embodiment of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit. The challenge: Following Jesus is hard, and it has always been hard.
Remember, it was the privileged, the powerful, who wanted Jesus dead, not the ones bearing the brunt of the actions of the powerful in both the Jewish community and imperial Rome. The majority of us at Shalom Mennonite Church are in the ranks of the privileged. The challenge of following Jesus is why our mission statement remains relevant: Following Jesus, we risk love.
Living lives of integrity, of wholeness, is the challenge we face when we commit to following Jesus. It requires us to take risks, to not fear losing or sharing our privilege but instead focus on bringing heaven to earth.
So if during these last four years, you were writing and/or visiting your members of Congress about immigration policies, keep doing it.
If you were reading books on white supremacy and learning about white privilege, keep doing it.
If you were attending protests or were part of a grassroots organization working towards justice, keep doing it.
If you spent time in prayer for our country, keep doing it.
We Christians are to be in this for the long haul. We may never see the wholeness that we are working towards and praying for, but that is not the point, to see the fruits of our labor.
Our main objective is to follow Jesus.
Keep it doing it.