Under a quartz-blue sky last October, a procession made its way from Habitat for Humanity’s international headquarters in Americus, Georgia, to a modern gray one-story building a few blocks away. A sign identified the place as Habitat’s Clarence Jordan Center, used for training and programs.
How can hope be sustained when traumatic memories of conflict or oppression haunt a person or group? This question has become central in a course I am teaching with an African-American colleague. In “Remembrance and Reconciliation,” we are examining the legacies of racism and racial division in South Africa and the U.S.
Hardness of heart. Scripture uses this image to describe those who are impenetrably stubborn, those who are unwilling or unable to see God’s glory or to reorient their lives to God’s call and claims. But what causes hardness of heart? Is it always human sin, those things which we have done which ossify our hearts and rigidify our minds? Do tragic accidents sometimes harden us in ways that make it difficult, if not impossible, to remain open to transformation, to sustain a mental, emotional and moral agility?
Those weathering Katrina’s aftermath see no end in sight. “It's going to go on for years,” says United Methodist bishop Hope Morgan Ward. "For years and years." “We’re not back to normal, and I don’t know what that would be like,” says Nelson Roth, pastor of Gulfhaven Mennonite Church in Gulfport, Mississippi.
"What people find out in time” writes Meg Greenfield, “is that the false self they are inhabiting isn’t much of a friend after all. Nor is it any great shakes as a refuge or consolation. They begin to live lives of pantomime, in which gesture is all.
I ran into Perry recently. How many years has it been, I wonder? I came to know Perry when he visited our church. He was a man with no passion of his own, a guy who walked from church to church and seemed to come to life only when he discovered some well-hidden heresy or doctrinal error. For Perry, Christianity was only a means to an end.
Our church has an unwritten rule: we will never ignore a member’s basic need. Whenever our members know of a need in the church, they call me. “Is there any money in the benevolence fund? You know Johnny got cut back on his hours, and his kids need help with school supplies.” The answer is always yes. We’ve yet to encounter a need we couldn’t fill.
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