One of the things which we value in our tradition is the stories of the people who have walked the way of Christ ahead of us. Most days of the year have the name of someone whom we especially want to remember attached to them – some are the big, well known, saints like Peter and Mary. Others are lesser known, and May 17 is the commemoration of William Hobart Hare.
Who? You are in the vast majority if you have never heard of him. He was the Episcopal Bishop in the Dakotas at the end of the 1800s. That meant he was overseeing a frontier and missionary Diocese in Sioux land. There were all sorts of expectations around him of what this might mean from both civil and church standpoints.
He is clear – look at who people are, look at their basic needs and wants before you decide what is best for them. Equally, he cautions, do not overlook differences. But he comes down to one definite point of confidence – that God, the true God, the love of God in Jesus Christ is universal and meets the needs of all.
Looking back on this period of history many people have questions about cultural imperialism and colonization. Justice and peace are hard to find in this past. But what about our present? How do we understand ourselves in relation to others, people who are different? How do we make God present and present the story of Christ coherently and yet remain aware of our own cultural assumptions? Do we dare to enter into dialogue which will challenge our thinking? Some may even be asking whether there is a place at all for Christian mission within a pluralistic society.
These are hard questions but important ones. That is why we remember those who have gone before us. Not, necessarily, because they always got it right or conformed to our understandings of life but, rather, because they have entered into the conversations, which we often avoid, with the love of Christ before them. We have to do the same, to bravely step out into what Hobart Hare calls “the hard places of the earth.” Not because we know how, but because we know why and who – God’s love in Jesus Christ.