"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Friday, December 26, 2008

Howard Thurman and The Real Work of Christmas


Okay; Christmas is over. We've donated to the food bank and some other worthy causes. Now we can make a few resolutions for the new year, and get on with life. But wait! Isn't there something more? Of course there is, and the theologian Howard Thurman said it well in this poem:

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To teach the nations,
To bring Christ to all,
To make music in the heart

Howard Thurman - theologian, proponent of nonviolence, and early leader of the civil rights movement. Thurman reminds us that beyond the often sentimental, candle lit rituals of Advent and Christmas, there is the real work to which we are called by that very Christmas Child who grew into the most wise rabbi. It is not easy work, and not without risk, but then Jesus never said it would be otherwise. But the church often waters it down so that we are left with the comfortable mercy (charity) piece to the exclusion of the other more difficult half - JUSTICE, what one might call the missing piece.

And when Thurman wrote of "teaching the nations" and bringing "Christ to all", he wasn't speaking of many Christians ghastly need to convert others (those heathens) to Christ. No; Thurman was speaking of living like Jesus and bringing his model of nonviolence to the world, of seeking justice for those he referred to as "the disinherited".

If you are interested in Howard Thurman, you should read his book, Jesus and the Disinherited, a book that Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was mentored by Thurman) was said to have carried in his pocket. Thurman understood the historical corruption of Christianity, and while in India was challenged as to why he followed a religion that had been the source of oppression of African Americans for hundreds of years. Jesus and the Disinherited was a respectful response to that challenge, and does a wonderful job of tying the new testament together with non-violent resistance. Just as in the life of Jesus, it's about bringing justice to the oppressed.

My wish for the new year is that the global community of people seeking justice and peace will continue to grow and flourish, being nourished by the rich works of those who have gone before - like Thurman, Gandhi, King, Day, and countless others - building bridges of peace and understanding wherever we go, and bringing justice to the oppressed. May we help fill in the missing piece.



Photo source: http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/WeirdWildWeb/media/galleries/theology/theology_qz.htm

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