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Posted November 1, 2010

Book: Living into Hope: A Call to Spiritual Action for Such a Time as This
Author: Joan Brown Campbell
Skylight Paths. Woodstock, Vermont. 2010. Pp. 180

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Drawing on her amazing life experience, Joan Brown Campbell speaks out on the pressing issues that face us today: love, justice, reconciliation, forgiveness and community. With a bold, distinctive voice, this visionary asserts that we have the capacity to transcend the barriers that separate us form one another. She poses that “Who is my neighbor?” may be the most crucial question in our world where so many are hungry and hurting and weary of war. She calls us to live fully — not carefully or cautiously, but wholly engaged with the world and with the messiness of humanity. She dares us to act as the people we are called and created to be — to claim our freedom to care, to risk and to step out into the unknown.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Bearing Down in Love

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4: 1-2

A house divided against itself cannot stand. Matthew 12:25

On the eve of the Civil War, America was locked in a struggle so deep, a conflict of values so profound, that the life — even the soul — of the nation was at stake. Abraham Lincoln, borrowing from the Gospel of Matthew, spoke one of history’s oft-quoted lines when he won the nomination for the Illinois Senate seat in 1858: “I believe this government cannot endure permanently,” he said, “half slave and half free.” From the depths of his being, Lincoln understood the need for unity.

The system of slavery tore everything asunder — political and economic structures, religious bodies, friendships, families. Many years ago, I saw a movie called The Slaves and I have never forgotten it. The images from one scene of a family torn apart are seared on my soul. On the steps of a city hall in South Carolina, a sign announced, “Auction today — 2:00 p.m.” The items to be sold, of course were human being — slaves. The camera focused in on a handsome young man and a pregnant woman, holding on to each other for dear life.

The auctioneer called the young man forward. “What am I bid for this handsome young buck?” he demanded. “Take a look at him, he can pull a plow, he can till the soil. Take a very good look at him. Look at that handsome face. He could serve at your table.” The bidding was quick and lively and the man was sold for a very high price. As he was being led away by his new owner, his tear-filled eyes looked back at his sobbing wife and the auctioneer hammered the deal to a close. It was the end of that family. Did they ever see each other again? The movie never reveals the answer, but history tells us that the chances were very slim.

Any nation that so callously disregards family structures — that breaks the unifying bonds of love, caring, and responsibility — must with heart and voice, confess its sinfulness and pray for forgiveness. Abraham Lincoln’s dream of unity was realized: slavery was abolished and the country was reunited. But that’s not the end of the story. History is lived out today, and “the sins of the fathers were visited on the next generation and the next” (Exodus 34:6-7).

Today, America’s noble national dream is still at odds with reality. We are still a nation divided in many ways, even if not so overtly as by slavery. We are at times divided by class, by gender, by religion — and sadly, still by race. Perhaps we are a nation that needs to remind ourselves again of just how crucial unity is.

Think of New York: it is a city as diverse as any metropolis in the world, and that it works at all is one of God’s greatest surprises. The shining jewel of this place isn’t on Wall Street or at the Empire State Building or in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York’s riches are on every street corner, from Brooklyn to the Bronx — they are its people. They come from every place in the world — the Korean greengrocers and the Somali cab drivers and the newly arrived workers from Eastern Europe. They are God’s people who struggle to survive, who fuss and fume with one another, who can sometimes be brutal to one another. They experience ethnic rivalries and racial tensions and economic injustices. But, when push comes to shove, they can reach for the high promise of God’s greatest gift, the gift of unity. On the days after 9/11, this city of eight million pulled together like a small village to help one another grieve and to put life back together again.

As Christians — as human beings — unity must be our polar star. Jesus prayed for it; Lincoln strove toward it; New Yorkers struggle with it day by day. The apostle Paul, ministering to his hodgepodge collection of communities, knew how hard unity could be. “Bear with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2), he wrote to his bickering friends in the city of Ephesus, in what is now Turkey. For human beings to bear with other human beings, Paul knew from experience, can be difficult and painful.

But of course it can also be fruitful. Consider, for example, an alternative meaning of the verb to bear. For anyone who has ever birthed a child or stood at the side of a woman giving burth, the words bear down take on special meaning. When the pain seems unbearable, when the mother believes she cannot go on, just then — in the midst of the chaos — someone tells here to “bear down.” New life breaks through the agony and the suffering blurs into memory, washed away by the joy of life itself.

Today, the noble dream of unity – and the imperfect reality — still seem to be at odds, in America and around the world. We are still divided and torn asunder in many, many ways. Perhaps more than ever we need to turn to the image of family to help us internalize anew the faithful response of unity.

Family, of course, is an important image for all people of faith. Jesus called those who followed him his family: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50). Paul the apostle called the members of his new Christian communities his “Beloved children.” And today, two thousand years later, Christians still gather regularly as family at a common table of love and grace and mercy and forgiveness. Yet some speak of “family values” as if they were describing an exclusive club, for members only. This narrow view is not the one that leads to unity. Our family of faith needs to reach out and embrace everyone.

. . . It is our gift and our inescapable calling to be one people.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Love is the most durable power in the world. This creative force, so beautifully exemplified in the life of our Christ is the most potent instrument available in mankind’s quest for peace and security.” Perhaps, just perhaps, if we could live in the whole world, our smaller world would seem more manageable. For as we grasp the vision of unity, invest ourselves in the lives of others, and bear down in love, we will give birth to God’s dream for us.

Table of Contents:

Part One: Love and Unity

Love matters

Bearing down in love

Who is my neighbor?

One shepherd, one flock

Part Two: Reconciliation and Renewal

Sacred conversation

Prodigals and the path to peace

For such a time as this

The beloved community

Part Three: Faith in Action

The road to Jerusalem

Dangerous dreams

Science and religion

On prayer

Discussion Guide