Last week a sprinkling of leaves covered the well-trodden path through the still-green grass to my front door. This week that path is a mud-filled ditch. The front lawn is gored by tractor tracks. And when I fetch the mail, my shoes sink into a driveway that is as soft and soupy as a slough.
All this because my husband borrowed a friend’s tractor to do a little digging during what has surely been the rainiest week of fall. Hopefully the work will be worth it when the field stones I’ve accumulated are properly set to form a new path and the drainage ditches he’s digging divert next spring’s rain. Because sometimes you have to demolish something in order to fix it.
“For everything there is a season,” the writer of Ecclesiastes says. “A time to tear down and a time to build up,” (3:3). But before we can rebuild, we must recognize the underlying problem. Today, there’s one problem I’d like to see repaired more than any other, and it’s bigger than my yard: Two-thousand years of anti-Semitism and violence toward people of other religions by the historically Christian church.
Sure, I knew about the organized massacres of Jews during the 19th and 20th centuries. I knew about the Spanish Inquisition, which tortured and killed people of Jewish ancestry and others for having supposedly corrupted the Catholic Church. I knew of the Crusaders who slaughtered Muslims and caged and burned Jews in a temple. But only recently did I realize that Hitler—the greatest anti-Semite of all time—had based his plan to annihilate the Jewish people on the writings of Martin Luther, who launched the Protestant Reformation, the tradition of which I am a part.
And suddenly, I no longer saw the cross as a symbol of faith reflecting the risen Lord. I saw it as the instrument of torture for which it was designed. I saw how it has been used by the church to torture others. And I have been praying, “God forgive us.” If we were to apologize for the rest of human history, it would not be enough.
I recently came across the story of a 12-year-old boy who tried to do just that. In 1996, Texan Benjamin Gibson organized a “Reconciliation Walk” to apologize for how Christians have misused the name of Jesus to slaughter people. With more than 1,000 participants from 25 nations covering various portions of the walk, Gibson set out to retrace the path of the First Crusade from Cologne, Germany, to Jerusalem. Along the way, he and his followers wore shirts printed with “We apologize” in local languages and handed out letters saying, “We deeply regret the atrocities committed in the name of Christ by our predecessors.”
The walk, which reached Lebanon in 1998, was scheduled to end in Jerusalem the following year to mark the 900th anniversary of the city’s capture by Crusaders. Whether Gibson and his group made it, I don’t know. But I do know that before we can set stones to lay a new path, we must dig up the old one. And we must recognize the underlying problem.
Yes, the work will be messy, but it will be worth it.
I am sorry.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. The Lantern Hill Light Parade is one of five books in her Lantern Hill Farm picture-book series, celebrating the holidays in a way that build children’s faith. Connect at www.meadowrue.com