By Curtis K. Shelburne: Local Columnist
Years ago now, I wrote a series of short essays entitled “Triumphant in Trouble.” How good it was, I don’t know, but I do know one truth came through at least to me, if to no one else. To be “triumphant in trouble” requires far more than that we physically survive the pain life sometimes throws at us. It means that we survive without bitterness. That can be difficult.
The early Christians were not ashamed of physical scars. For thousands of them, the scars left by pagan whips were badges of pride, not shame. And those who died, burned on stakes to serve as the ghastly light for Nero’s garden, torn apart by wild beasts to sate the bloodlust of Roman mobs? The Apostle John calls them “those who conquered.”
The early church not only survived persecution; it thrived under it. Early Christian author Tertullian could truly write that the blood of the martyrs was seed and that everywhere it was shed, new Christians seemed to spring up.
Christians can survive scars left by swords and shackles, pain and problems, unless deeper than those scars is the spiritual deformity wrought by bitterness. Physical scars are one thing. The scars of the spirit are another.
I thought of these things as I read in Christianity Today about a little girl, who happened to be black, named Ruby Bridges. Six-year-old Ruby lived in New Orleans in 1960, a turbulent time when black was far from beautiful in the minds of many in New Orleans. Every morning as she walked to school flanked by federal marshals, Ruby Bridges was greeted by bigots hurling insults and curse words. (What kind of moral and mental pygmy hurls his fury at a six-year-old?)
Day after day.
Same pathetic scene.
How did this little girl face the stupidity and cowardice of racism? She prayed. She prayed for the people who daily threatened to kill her.
When psychiatrist Robert Coles asked her why on earth she would even begin to pray for such people, she told him what she had learned in church: “The minister said that Jesus went through a lot of trouble, and he said about the people who were causing the trouble, ‘Forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.’”
And so a little girl prayed for hate-twisted men. Ruby Bridges faced trouble, and she faced it without bitterness. Like her Lord, she was triumphant in trouble.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at