Thursday, August 30, 2012

Slavery: its feeling tone lurks in the American political shadows –and in my mind, yours, too?

When you are googling, do you ever turn to the innovative topics on Lisa Kristine’s “Photos That Bear Witness to Modern Slavery” got to me. 27,000,000 world wide. Many are enslaved financially, especially so in Africa and India. Some women – and even children – are enslaved sexually, including some young women lured to America by false promises. 

 When words in the political campaign turned to “enslaved” and “chains,” surprise! - the issue glowed. Shadows stirring in many minds, mine, too. Go back only two generations and there was a grandfather growing up as a child on a small southern farm, with all that implies. 

Feelings over slavery may have lurked for years. The person learning most from a book, of course, is the one writing it. Thinking through the Letter to Philemon was slow moving. It may be the shortest in the New Testament, but not the shortest to work through if you think about Paul’s concernss. Try reading it contextually – even if it leads to a little “mind reading.” Oh, good grief:  it was on such a letter that slavery was justified in some Christian circles for centuries afterwards. Poor Paul: to be damned “in absence” in that way. Don’t you wish he could come back and see how we finally did away with legalized slavery - even if some of his followers killed and were killed to keep it.

What also hit me was an urge to read through the Bible once again; I react to such an urge, don’t you? When I started in Genesis 1:1, it began to gnaw. I couldn’t hear it now as subconsciously I had been hearing it since my mother started reading stories to me at bedtime. After we did that book on Paul and he became alive to me as a man, I suddenly wasn’t reading devotionly, yet I was also not reading it academically – even though I had studied it all my adult life. I realized I had held those perspectives apart. Now I was reading the old myths as myths, but also experiencing them as about living persons. Abraham was a man, a person, so were those women. I thought about the aching wife who had aged, but I suddenly felt for that poor adolescent girl slave handed over to an old man. Those are tough stories, friend; try rereading them once more. I realized suddenly how I had changed over the years; my ethical sensibilities had shifted, grown in ways I had not recognized.

In many an American political campaign there is so often a fist-banging speech of “The Bible says.”  I think we are all being invited to re-think and re-think, not to disbelieve but to respond to that Creative Spirit we experience welling up in us – although what one of us doesn’t have to own up to a little kicking and screaming?

27,000,000 more to go.

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