My friend Will takes his shoes off whenever he finds himself in sacred, holy spaces.
Every time I see him do this, I am reminded of the time God spoke audibly to Moses so that he could lead the Hebrew people out of slavery and into covenant relationship with their Creator and Redeemer.
The recognition that he is standing on holy ground affords Will the opportunity to listen intently to what the Spirit is saying in that particular space and time. He stands, anticipating the very real possibility that God will make God-self known. And he stands as an acknowledgement of his own humble state as a created being.
The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are full of triumphant stories where God shows up and does something to set people free. But they are also filled with stories of failure, loss, evil, violence, corruption and oppression.
Why is this important?
Because it’s honest.
History is most often written by the victor. And when the victor writes history, you might say they like to convince the reader that they were good, and their (defeated) enemy was bad.
But we read something very different in the Bible.
The scriptures do not pretend that we are somehow “good”. Truth is, the people of God messed up from the very beginning. The Law was good, but they had very little capability of following it to the fullest extent. The scriptures, our sacred text, keep us grounded, aware of our connection to the fragile and imperfect people who’ve gone before us, and challenge us to become more and more like our Messiah.
The flaws within our sacred text help us to remember and move forward.
In fact, the Jewish people (authors of scripture) are constantly being told to remember where they’ve been; to retell the story about how God had set them free to be good news in a world of domination, conquest and oppression.
A few days ago, I was at a family fun day (Tower Fest) in Brockton at DW Fields Park. There were pony rides, balloon animals, face painting and hot dogs. They also opened up the tower for us all to climb (the tower is normally locked shut). Within the tower, there is a plaque that reads, “On March 23, 1649 for 7 coats, 9 hatchets, 2 hoes, 20 knives, 4 moose skins, and 104 yards of cotton cloth, Myles Standish, Samuel Nash, Constance Southworth, purchased from the Massasoit Indians, the town of Bridgewater….”.
Essentially, indigenous people were given a few things they could have acquired on their own in exchange for a gigantic piece of land that we know today as Brockton and the Bridgewaters (East & West included). Basically, people from Europe arrived on their land, gave them a few trinkets and took over.
I didn’t need the reminder, especially with “Columbus Day” on the horizon, but it stood out as a stark reality in the midst of a day designated for family and fun.
Today, there are many folks determined to preserve a sanitized version of American history. They want to believe and convince others that we were founded as a “Christian” nation and that our founders were good and godly men.
Truth is, we are standing on blood-stained ground.
We live in a country that looks more like Cain’s than Christ’s. The blood of righteous Abel cries out against us and we are doing our very best to ignore it. We seek Christ’s sacrificial outpouring of blood to redeem us, but all we are doing is crucifying him over and over again, mingling his blood with the blood of indigenous people, slaves and heretics.
As people of faith, we are compelled to remember the truth of our past so we can move beyond it.
Until we are honest, until we remember our history, we will continue to try to make this place “great again”. Unless we recognize that it was never actually great, but mortally flawed from its very beginning, we will not be open (as Moses and my friend Will seek to be) to hear from the God who calls us to stand against the oppressive forces that have caused this world to be overrun by blood-stained ground.
So when we remember, let’s be honest. Let’s remember our intentions (which are frequently good), but let’s also remember our follow through (not always as good). Let’s remember the ground we stand on. Let’s remember that it is soaked in blood. And let’s move forward with the redemptive power of the blood that sets us free to be honest about our transgressions because they no longer have power over us.