I am not ashamed.

Wendell Berry

I recently read and listened to a talk Russell Moore presented in October 2021 at the Rabbit Room’s annual arts conference.  The talk is featured on the Plough website, June 24, 2022.  Dr. Moore is Public Theologian at Christianity Today and Director of Christianity Today’s Public Theology Project. Titled “Faith, Fiction, and Christian Nationalism,” I was drawn to the article because I am an avid fan of the main focus of the talk, Wendell Berry who we frequently reference on this website.  In his talk, Dr. Moore derives much of what he surmises that Wendell Berry believes from the characters of Mr. Berry’s many novels and stories set in the fictional town of Port William, Kentucky.

Given that the talk addresses ‘Christian Nationalism,’ I must be clear on where I stand:  I am a Christian based on my desire and efforts to live my life in the manner of Jesus.  I am not a Christian because I am a Catholic, read the Bible, attend church or follow any other precepts of organized religion.  I consider myself a Christian solely on my desire to emulate Jesus.  The fact that I fail daily has nothing to do with it.

I know many Christians without religious affiliation; they are Christians because they live ‘Christ-like’ lives.  They are good people.

Sadly, our society has evolved in such a way that those with the loudest voices force us to be what they are, they debase and ridicule us for our beliefs because our beliefs are not their beliefs.  They spout their vitriolic oratory from both ends of the political spectrum.  I try my best to ignore them, but that becomes more difficult as their angry voices become even louder as they shake clenched fists above their heads.  As Mr. Moore writes, “To prove you’re one of us, you have to be as angry as we are.”  I do not wish to be angry, nor do I wish to be one of them.

Consider this poem Wendell Berry wrote in 1967…

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them
.

And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
“I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron
will rise in his evening flight
from the hilltop.

Mr. Moore concludes his talk by telling us, “Berry says in this poem he’s communicating the kind of shame that comes with being out of step with some enforcing community, which is exactly what we see all around the world right now and maintained by a social media presence that’s able to enforce it.”

I’ll refuse membership in the enforcing community that demands things be ‘its way.’

I am not ashamed that I am a man, that I am married to a woman, that I am white, that I believe life begins at inception, that I believe in Jesus… I am not ashamed of what I am despite my many faults and shortcomings, and I accept you for who and what you are.  All life matters.

Mitakuye Oyasin

 

 

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  1. Russell Moore is one of my favorite theologians. I have a couple of his books on my shelf as well. I am also a fan of Wendell Berry. Very thought provoking poem. My son also likes Wendell Berry and has given me some of his books. We can’t please God if we are intent on pleasing people.