Photo Credit: Jo Naylor

The Lectionary and a Legacy; A Letter To Myself

In Church, Spirituality by Caris Adel11 Comments

Photo Credit: Jo Naylor

Photo Credit: Jo Naylor


“Maybe it’s true that we are all descended from the restless, the nervous, the criminals, the arguers and brawlers, but also the brave and independent and generous.” – Steinbeck

The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany


What gaping wounds have you inherited?  What stories have been scabbed over?  What secrets do the scars hold?

“You shall be holy.”

What if you are the one withholding food from hungry people?

What if you are the one profiting from deception?  What if you are the one not paying the worker a livable wage?

What if your lifestyle is built on cheating others out of theirs?

What if you are the one criticizing, insulting, and condemning the unable for not overcoming?  What if you are the one creating hardships in their life?

“You shall fear your God.”

What if you are the one perpetuating an unjust society?  What if you are the one talking about ‘those people’?  What if you are the one enjoying the luxury of a comfortable life because those who challenge the system are killed?

What legacy of life have you been given, will you leave?

What do you do when you find truths buried in your story that are painful, even shameful?  How do you react when you come face to face with the reality that the story of your life creates hardships for other people?

What do you do when you learn your ancestors bear responsibility for the pain in Northern Ireland*?  Forevermore, when you hear stories of this country in the news, you will feel bound.  Bound by the actions of history’s celebrities, of the infamous Cromwell, the venerated King James.

After a lifetime of thinking your family story was simply ‘farmers’, now look at it.  What a story you have.

What is it to be the rich person, the white person, the protestant, the one ordering oppressively-made products from seriously oppressed American workers at the swipe of a finger?

How does one handle the inheritance of oppression, even as they continue to perpetuate it?

“If anyone destroys God’s temple…”

When you look at your life, do you see all the ways in which you have benefited from violence and injustice?  The displacement of Catholics and Native Americans, the Crusades and the Revolution?  400 years of pacifist ancestry and still violence and oppression manage to invade.

“I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it.”

Do you feel the tension of the competing stories, the conflicting histories?  The stubborn Puritans and the sometimes strange Quakers?  Can you feel the blood pulsing inside of you, born of oppression and oppressed?

Do you know how so many people all over the world have good reason to resent you?

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

How do you live into truth when you are caught up in systems so much bigger than you?  You have inherited so much more than a list of names and locations.

Your story is irreversibly linked with local, national and global issues that aren’t issues at all, but people.  People bound in space and time to one another, the fears and thoughts handed down through the ages, affecting the other.

You are tied together, friend and foe, strings so tight that the individual stories cry out with the tension.

“But I tell you love your enemy…”

What do you do when you are the enemy?

What a burden history is.  How heavy the yokes we wear, the millstones we tie.  How pervasive the persecution and the violence, how easily self-preservation leads to denying the humanity of others.

“I thought I had inherited both the scars of the fire and the impurities which made the fire necessary….Maybe you’ll come to know that every man in every generation is refired….All impurities burned out and ready for a glorious flux, and for that – more fire.  And then either the slag heap or, perhaps what no one in the world ever quite gives up on, perfection.” – Steinbeck

Vineyards and employers and temples and walking miles and Gentiles and Irish Catholics and Puritan dissidents and Quaker disowners and love and violence, hate and history, and we’re all mixed up together, all 6 billion of us, inter-connected, blood ties mingling and we pass the peace, but what is peace with blood-stained hands?

“Be perfect, therefore…”


Linking up for the Spirit of the Poor synchroblog

*An excellent movie on this, and on how difficult forgiveness and reconciliation is, is Five Minutes of Heaven


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2 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

  • Susan Schiller

    I think of the Apostle Paul who “got it” – your message – and how he considered himself the worst sinner of all, and all of his goodness was as filthy rags and trash. I feel I’m in close competition with Paul’s claim to be the greatest sinner.

    What will it be like, our first five minutes in heaven… I haven’t seen the movie, but already I’m in love with the thought of those first five minutes! I cannot yearn for heaven, but I also believe we’re to help restore life here on earth… that our business is our Father’s business, of making things right here on earth. To bring heaven to earth.

    Your kingdom come. Your will be done. As it is in heaven, so be it on earth. Thanks, Caris, for your words, for your truth.

  • Wendy Babiak

    My own history is just such a mixed bag of oppressors and the oppressed, and I live every day knowing that the goods I buy and the food I eat, though I try to make the best choices I can, still end up causing someone suffering. All I can says is, good thing Christ saves us, because we sure can’t save ourselves. Love and forgiveness. Give it, and get it.

  • Suzanne Terry

    This hits me in the gut in the most humbling and helpful way.


    “When you look at your life, do you see all the ways in which you have benefited from violence and injustice?”
    That is a huge question. As I reach back into history I am learning more and more about the reasons for my privilege. The book, “The Color of Wealth” was a big eye opener. When I was doing immigration history research, I realized that my farmer grandfather who moved to the San Juaquin Valley of California, benefited greatly by the Chineese immigrants who built all of the irrigation canals (when there was no longer work building the railroads.)
    No, I don’t see all the ways I have benefited from violence and inustice, but I know they are many. It is my constant job to change that legacy. Thanks for this powerful post.

  • Esther Emery

    Caris. You are just as fearless and brave as I thought you were. Look at us speaking truth, and we’re surviving it! We may even be stronger because of it. Hallelujah!

  • Jamie

    One of the first giant steps toward justice is not to look away. Thank you for demonstrating the power of looking truth in the eye even when it does make you flinch. I need some history book recommendations that are not written from the perspective of the oppressor. I suspect I have a lot of re-learning to do.


      I would recommend “The Color of Wealth” written by 5 women from United for a Fair Economy. It goes through US history looking at how government actions have benefited white people.

      • Jamie

        Thank you. That sounds like a good one.

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  • Emily Heitzman

    Wow, powerful questions that so many of us should be asking and challenging ourselves every day.

    I love your quote: “Your story is irreversibly linked with local, national and global issues that aren’t issues at all, but people.” Yes! How often do we forget that these are people – with names, stories, families – who are suffering because of our own privileges and enjoyments. It is difficult to recognize how we are all linked and joined together as fellow members of the human race and as children of God. And it is overwhelming to hear about how much we “have benefited from violence and injustice.” My prayer is that more and more of us are bold enough to ask ourselves these questions and then are challenged by our answers to move forward.

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