Destined for Excellence: A Meditation on 2 Peter 1

On June 27, 2015, Dylann Roof entered a Bible study at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. He participated in the Bible study, even discussing his view of Scripture. As the participants closed in prayer, Dylann Roof took out a gun from his fanny pack and pointed it at 87 year old Susie Jackson. Her nephew, Tywanza Sanders, intervened and was shot first. By the time Roof finished, eight other people had died from multiple gunshot wounds at close range. It was evil, heartbreaking, and shocking.

What was more shocking was the response to Dylann Roof by some of the members of the AME Church. At the bond hearing, Roof had to face the families of the victims. As reported by USA Today:

First up was Nadine Collier, who lost her mother Ethel Lance.

“I forgive you … You took something really precious from me. I will never talk to her ever again, I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you and have mercy on your soul,” Collier says while fighting back tears.

Not all the family members could bring themselves to do that, which is completely understandable, but several did.

One who did was Chris Singleton, a minor league baseball player in the Chicago Cubs farm system. His mother was murdered in the Charleston Massacre. He was in the middle of playing a baseball game when he decided to show grace to Dylann Roof.

So far, Dylann Roof does not seem to have been moved by these demonstrations of grace and forgiveness. However, he is not the only one involved. This was a point brought out by Singleton:

“After seeing what happened and the reason why it happened, and after seeing how people could forgive, I truly hope that people will see that it wasn’t just us saying words,” Singleton says. “I know, for a fact, that it was something greater than us, using us to bring our city together.”

The demonstration of grace was a testimony of love to the whole city. It was an amazing act of love that contributed to building a loving community in a way that few other things could.

And here we have God’s plan for building a loving community. What He does is create specific excellent traits or virtues within His people that build the loving community. He transforms them into the type of people who build a loving community. Continue reading “Destined for Excellence: A Meditation on 2 Peter 1”

To Be Brave Is Not the Same As to Have No Fear

Josef Pieper (1904–1997) was a Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher from Elte, Westphalia, Germany. He imbibed the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas but thought deeply about the rest of the Western tradition, ancient and modern (read a little more about him here). I have found his work a particularly helpful guide to thinking deeply and clearly about what it means to live rightly as a human being. His most famous work is Leisure: the Basis of Culture. If you want to get a sense of the breadth of his work, An Anthology, which he compiled at the end of his life is a great place to start.

In his book, The Four Cardinal Virtues, he describes the four virtues that the ancients considered basic to any good and virtuous life: wisdom, justice, courage (which he calls fortitude here), and temperance or self-control. In this scary time, I think we need very clear thinking about courage and fear. I found these few paragraphs a really good summary of the best I have read on the subject in the Western tradition:

To be brave is not the same as to have no fear. Indeed, fortitude actually rules out a certain kind of fearlessness that is based upon a false appraisal and evaluation of reality. Such fearlessness is either blind or deaf to real danger, or else is the result of a perversion of love. For fear and love depend on each other, and he who loves falsely, fears falsely. One who has lost the will to live does not fear death. But this indifference to life is far removed from genuine fortitude, it is, indeed, an inversion of the natural order. Fortitude recognizes, acknowledges, and maintains the natural order of things. The brave man is not deluded; he sees that the injury he suffers is an evil. He does not undervalue and falsify reality; he “likes the taste” of reality as it is, real; he does not love death nor does he despise life. Fortitude presupposes in a certain sense that a man is afraid of evil; its essence lies not in knowing no fear, but in not allowing oneself to be forced into evil by fear, or to be kept by fear from the realization of good. Continue reading “To Be Brave Is Not the Same As to Have No Fear”