A Crisis of Faith

A Crisis of Faith

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I confess, I am having a crisis of faith. Not a crisis of my faith in God, but a crisis of my faith in humanity. Sunday my husband Ted and I went to see the film, Selma. Ted wept through the entire film. Even I wept, which is unusual for me during a film. But this film transports you to a moment in time. It asks you, what are you willing to die for? It asks you, would you march? Would you have the courage to march peacefully toward a line of angry men, armed with bats and clubs? I pray that I would have the courage to do so. I wept because a part of me doubts the effectiveness of non-violence in the face of such overwhelming hatred and violence. I wept because part of me agrees with Malcolm X, who urged revolution by any means necessary, violence against violence. I wept because I desire the faith to take the higher road, but my own heart is conflicted with anger, violence, doubt. That’s the cold, hard truth. I believe in God; God help my unbelief in your people. I believe in your goodness, O God; help my unbelief in the inherent goodness of your people.

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I highly recommend the film Selma to everyone. Next Monday we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Many of us are involved in a day of community service, in his honor. But as members of my local interfaith clergy group mentioned, as wonderful as it is that people do a day of community service, in this time of Ferguson and Staten Island, maybe we need to get back to the real message of Dr. King. For we see that today racism is alive and well here in the United States. As the events in France show us, we see that today freedom is still under attack in many places throughout our world.
Our youth group at my church does a Homeless Awareness Campout every Martin Luther King weekend. We set up a bus stop type lean-to on the front lawn of our church in white, upper-class East Greenwich, RI, and camp out from 12 noon on Saturday till 12 noon on Sunday. People coming to one of our four worship services on Saturday or Sunday can’t avoid homelessness, as they have to practically step over us to go to church. This idea was the creation of a clergy friend of mine, Rev. John Hudson, a UCC pastor in Massachusetts. We usually get on the local news.

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To raise the awareness of our youth themselves, we also have them do a service project with homeless people. This year we are going to a new ministry we have gotten involved with, Church Beyond Walls, in downtown Providence, RI. Church Beyond Walls is a weekly outdoor worship service, led by a partnership of Episcopal and Lutheran clergy and church members, which ministers to peoples’ physical and spiritual hunger, by serving the Word and Sacrament, followed by a community meal.

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I have been involved in this ministry since last January. Also to raise the awareness of our youth, we show them a film about Homelessness, followed by conversation. It occurred to me as I watched Selma, however, that young people today may not even know the story of Dr. King. After seeing the film, I texted a close friend, four years younger than I, “Just saw Selma. AMAZING.” He texted me back, “What’s Selma?” I was shocked. I realize we need to keep Dr. King’s message alive for the younger generations, who do not realize the price that was paid for basic human rights by Dr. King and so many others just a short time ago. I realize that our young people hear about Ferguson and Staten Island with different ears than those of us who lived in the sixties.
My husband is fifteen years older than I, so was in college during Selma. I was just four years old. He said to me, “You were too young to do anything, but I should have marched. I should have done something. I did nothing.”
But Selma is still going on today. Selma is Ferguson. Selma is Staten Island.

I think of the kids in my youth group. I think this year they need to see Selma instead of a film about Homelessness. Instead of discussing homelessness, as important as that is, we need to discuss racism.

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The most difficult scene in the film for me personally was the scene of the march across the bridge at the beginning of the march from Selma to Montgomery. Unarmed women, youth, and men, walking peacefully, met with State Police, armed with clubs, and angry white racists, armed with bats, wrapped in barbed wire.

The first question I asked myself was “Where are the white people?” Is there not one frigging white person who would march in solidarity with their sisters and brothers? Ted said, “Wait. It will come.” As television screens across the US showed scenes of older women in dresses being bludgeoned with bats and clubs, anti-racist people throughout the country were outraged. I was relieved to see that people of all persuasions travelled from all over the country to join the march. I confess I was personally relieved that many of them were clergy.

The second question I asked myself, the one we all need to ask ourselves, is, “Would I have had the courage to march?” I pray to God that I would, but the thought of walking toward a line of men with clubs is so horrifying, so sickening… Where does this courage come from?

I think of how Dr. Martin Luther King, following the non-violent teaching of Gandhi, but also of Jesus, said that if we respond to hatred with hatred, then we only contribute to the arsenal of hatred in this world. If we respond to violence with violence, then we only add to the vast amount of violence in this world. We cannot fight what we hate by becoming that very thing. We must choose another way, a higher way.

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When we respond to violence with non-violence, not only do we not add to the amount of violence in the world, but there is also the possibility that our non-violence may dismantle, may diminish, may even transform, some of the violence into non-violence. When we respond to hatred with Christ-like love, not only do we not contribute to the amount of hatred in this world, but we may actually dismantle, diminish, even transform, some of the hatred into compassion.
I believe in this higher nonviolent way; God, Christ, Gandhi, Dr. King, help my unbelief.
This day, may be be the change we wish to see in this world.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright January 13, 2015

Photo credits:  Linda in Turkey; Night Sky at Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico; Sign for Church Beyond Walls; Altar at Church Beyond Walls; Guard, Turkey; Cross at Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monastery, Abiquiu, New Mexico, taken by Ted

7 thoughts on “A Crisis of Faith”

  1. Dear Linda,

    I’ve been enjoying your blogs! And, yes, I saw Selma on Saturday at the private showing set up by the NAACP. Couldn’t agree with your comments more!!!

    Betsy

  2. In January of 1965 I was accepted to Livingston State Teacher’s College in Livingston, Alabama.. I was not able to get into URI. A friend of mine from Newport suggested I apply (he was a student) there and he rode the train with me to enter that college after Christmas break.
    I was, at first, “jokingly”- labeled the 26th “yankee” on campus. In time, I found it was not “jokingly”… there was such prejudice there. I was 18 and did not understand the hatred and the segregation that existed.. It was a surprise to me – Never experienced that.. I was amongst a society that thought differently… I didn’t know why – except to listen to ridiculous portrayals of what people thought about “Negroes”?? What? I came from Newport and my best friends were Negroes?? Did I dare even say that?
    There were no black students in the college..There were no black people in the population I was with. There were no bathrooms in public that didn’t have two signs on two doors designating what color you had to be to go to the bathroom….There were areas of the town with “shanty’s” where the blacks existed. What? Were they just poor? Why were there stores for blacks and stores for whites? Long story short – and many unbelievable stories..I was recruited in my senior year by a school called
    Sumpter County Training School – to teach classes when I completed enough credits for graduation. I was told I would be used to desegregate their schools by working there so they could become eligible to get government funds.. Note – they didn’t have any high schools with blacks in it.. they were called “Training Schools”.
    It’s now 50 years later and I have friends in Alabama that are among the nicest and friendliest people I have ever met..
    That attitude during the 60’s was evolved out of past slavery in the south..So many families learned to be like that. It was passed on and evolved…The people in Selma are the heroes – and the violence against them was criminal. But they changed that evolution. Many areas of the south have changed a lot.. There are people that have not evolved and the hatred seems to turn with the passing of their generations.
    To be honest with you, I think the violence is setting back that evolution in some ..I am concerned about our law enforcement, about the lack of leadership and role models in police forces and in many communities..
    I won’t mention names, but my best friend once said – the more mixed marriages there are the sooner people will get over their issues with color..It’s so true.
    I can remember when I was very young – our next door neighbor had a mentally retarded teenage girl that she would never take any place – she was hidden. No one ever talked about her – the reason I know about her was because that woman asked me to come up to her kitchen to meet her daughter.. I saw her only that once… that was the 50’s and how society has evolved.
    Pray for evolving…into a society that can be respectful of one another. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

    D

    1. David, Thank you so much for that. I will share it with Ted when he wakes up. It gave me a bit of hope. The recent instances of racism have been so horrifying and discouraging. I do like to believe that people can change. Your friend was right:) Predictions now say that in the next twenty years “whites” will be the minority, in that we will all become mixed. But isn’t it amazing to think how things were so bad just during our lifetimes? And also, on a more positive side, we could say, how amazing the progress we have seen just during our lifetimes? Thank you, dear friend. Linda

  3. Great reflections Linda,
    I am currently reading “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. A must read! Wonder what it might be like to have congregational studies of this book throughout the synod.

    Oh to have a change of heart and consciousness. Reminds me of a quote:

    We think too small, like the frog at the bottom of the well. He thinks the sky is only as big as the top of the well. If he surfaced, he would have an entirely different view.

    Mao Zedong

    Warmest of regards
    Dave

    1. Hi, Dave, Thanks so much for your response. I will look for that book, as I am finishing up a few things. I have been immersed in Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” which sure is a different version of history than the one we got in school! Have you read it? If not, I think you would love. it. Perhaps you, Steph and I could do a book study of “The New Jim Crow”? What do you think? I also am starting a kind of group for folks who want to read, learn, expand, discuss, challenge each other, etc. Not “church” people but “regular” people:) Maybe we could even schedule something at Snowbird? Maybe we could even call it continuing ed? I feel that I need a place to question, struggle, be challenged, and feel free to not have to be “Pastor” Linda, if you know what I mean. Let me know if you would be interested in something like that. Linda

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