The bright young professional was a great new hire for our university. We searched far and wide and found the perfect fit. Now, in our casual conversation, he was telling me about his decision.
“As an African-American I was taken aback. When I told my friends I was thinking of accepting a position in Marion, they said, ‘Why would you go to Marion. They hang black people there.”
And just like that, we were caught once again in the snare of Marion’s wounded history.
Thankfully, our new employee found good reasons to come to Marion despite that wounded history. And therein lies the seed of hope for our future.
In his book, Healing Wounded History, Russ Parker suggests principles that point the way toward the healing of our city’s wounded history.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
This verse has become a promise of healing and blessing for many people. Parker points out that this is the only verse in the Bible when God promises to “heal the land.”
Yet the well-being of God’s people was always inextricably linked to the land in which they lived. As Parker says, “The land was not a passive bystander to the affairs of human society but a player in the game.”
And so I find myself reflecting on the land that gives our city of Marion its distinctive character. Do I believe this land, our city, is blessed or cursed by our past? How does our city, the physical land in which we live, reflect the way we feel about ourselves, the way have treated each other over the years, the way we care for what is dear to us?
As yet another Martin Luther King Jr. Day comes around, it is a time to reflect on the way that generations of black and white neighbors have lived together on this land – the land of this little city nestled beside the Mississinewa River.
Parker suggests three truths that give me hope for the future of our city.
“The presence of God makes land a blessing.” Almost every city has some wounded history. The memory of that pain can, almost imperceptibly cause us to despise the land where it occurred. And yet, God is present in every wounded landscape. The world is not a dark and empty place. Every city has within it the capacity for healing, forgiveness and harmony. If you aren’t given to a religious point of view, think of it like this. No matter how majestic or how humble the framing of the house, it is the spirit that makes the house a home.
“Land is a gift.” I have been blessed to live in some of the world’s most beautiful places. I have seen great cities, towering mountains, and beautiful oceans that take one’s breath away. But I have always come back to Grant County because here I have been given the gift of a home. Though many might say our city is humble, it is our home, and it is ours. These are truly immeasurable gifts.
“Land must be managed by the principles of justice and care.” I often wonder how much the physical appearance of our city is a reflection of our commitment to care for our land, and for each other, with fairness and diligence. We will inevitably find at the root of our past’s deepest wounds breaches of justice and care. They were moments when we failed to act on our own best principles, when we harmed one another, and betrayed our land. But those do not have to be our defining moments. We have sought, and given, forgiveness to each other. Our brightest future lies in our willingness to care for our city with justice and diligence.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day when I celebrate the joyful vision of neighbors of all races and cultures living together in harmony, acknowledging our imperfections, seeking each other’s best interests, creating a spirit of respect, honoring the gift of our land and caring for our city with justice and diligence.