Jesus recrosses the Sea of Galilee after some local unpleasantness cuts short his visit to the Decapolis. “[The Gerasenes] began to beg him to leave their neighborhood” (Mark 5:17). Are these pig farmers afraid because he commands unclean spirits? Or are they worried about their livelihood?
The ex-con was finally heading home. He ignored the noisy college kids on the bus and stared out the window until, after a rest stop, a young woman sat down next to him and struck up a conversation. He told her that he’d been in prison for four years and that his wife hadn’t written in three and a half.
Americans celebrate freedom as a national right and immortalize its twin sister liberty in the glorious statue that many of our ancestors saw as they came to this country. For me, the great-great grandson of enslaved Africans, freedom is a cherished gift long withheld from those in my familial lineage.
In the mid-1980s I attended a church that still honored “Money Sunday,” a practice begun in the 1950s. Once a year members of the congregation gathered to make financial pledges to support missions efforts. As the pledges were collected, the minister would read the amounts aloud from the pulpit: “Here’s one for $50. . . . Here’s another for $100 and one for $1,000!” Occasionally a pledge came in for, say, $10,000, eliciting all sorts of approving oohs and aahs from the congregation.
In 1863 the Emancipation Proclamation marked the beginning of the end of slavery. The new air of freedom brought an unintoxicated euphoria. But a century later, freedom was redefined, this time as an absence of responsibility. The new air of license was inhaled and produced an intoxicated forgetfulness of anything that smacked of authoritarian inhibitions or paralyzing parameters.
Most people think of politics as a regrettable but necessary business. Necessary, because we live in a world of scarce resources, there are many of us, and our needs, interests and desires conflict. We need agreements as to the fair distribution of these limited goods, and an established authority to ensure the policing of those agreements.In the fight over these scarce resources, each of us fears being revealed as greedy, insecure, envious and deceitful. But imagine a different kind of politics—a politics of love.
"The past is not over,” said Odessa Woolfolk of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Speaking to my divinity school class, Woolfolk spoke of systems that continue to oppress and seriously limit access to resources that are basic to any human being. With slavery a thing of the past, with segregation banned, with the right to vote for everyone, what is the problem? It is access.