One of the books I’ve read this spring was called Jefferson: The Art of Power. It was a deep study of both Jefferson’s inner life and public life. He did write the Declaration of Independence. It originally contained a paragraph relating to slavery and its evils. He repeatedly made efforts to take steps toward ending slavery in America. That was part of his Enlightenment commitment.
And yet, he was a Virginian. He inherited several thousand slaves. He tried to treat them differently than many of the slave holders. But his efforts were always stricken from the documents where he raised the question. And, we know today, that after the death of his wife, an intimate relation did develop between himself and Sally Hemingway, a young slave girl in his household.
The Pulitzer Prize winning author of Jefferson’s story worked deeply and delicately with these conflicting facts of Jefferson’s life, and his own human justifications of his behavior.
Public Radio this Independence Day week aired a fascinating interview, called “The Hidden Brain,” with a woman who had written a book on these very issues in the life of Thomas Jefferson. She is a Harvard history professor. She too, looked deeply and persuasively at the inconsistencies in the mind and heart of this founding father of our American democracy.
It has been said that the American Civil War was the last Battle of the American Revolution. It was a heroic, yet flawed, attempt to “do justly,” in relation to slavery as the unfinished work of the American revolution.
Yet, the heritage of slavery still haunts America’s soul, and this summer of 2020 sees us exploding as a society over injustices done to our black brothers by power structures which are in place to serve and defend, and keep safe all people in our whole society.
The charge to all of us is to learn to do right – and to understand the surprising and unexpected ways right can be done. Clearly, “right” is very unlikely to be done by an angry heart, or by the violent smashing of buildings and businesses which, for the moment, seem to represent “the enemy.”
There is a way, given us long ago, that can change the whole dynamic of hate, and revenge, and destruction, and death. And that is FORGIVENESS. Forgiveness that brings with it, understanding. And compassion. And truth.
I plead not only that we have faith, and the transforming possibility of forgiveness. But also that we restore the study of learning of history, as part of the way to give us balance, and humility, and a way back to get at what is really true about those who went before us. Learning the good and the bad. Looking at the world around our ancestors, and so better seeing the balanced truth of their lives and decisions. And, giving us compassion for them as they dealt with their times.
Many schools and colleges have disparaged and dismissed the study of America’s history – making us vulnerable to ideologies build upon half-truths.
Jesus followers need to be in the vanguard of those who seek truth, seeking to be humane and just in their views of the world around them, and the world that preceded them.
What a good time is this stay-at-home summer for the rethinking of our whole life and world by the very best that we know. Dare we to take the lead, as we our able?
Bless you, good friends.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES