A Twist of Faith

From her small-town Baptist roots to her run for public office, Jeanette Mott Oxford has relied on her religious convictions to overcome fear and prejudice -- including her own.

She thought about Frederick Douglass' remark that people who want change without agitation are like people who want a crop without plowing.

The congregation moved their folding chairs around their guest pastor in a circle, because she said she couldn't preach about overcoming fear when she stood towering above them in a pulpit in the spotlight.

"One of my favorite things about the Bible is that it is full of reluctant and weak disciples, a lot like me," Jeanette began, then jumped into the story of Isaiah's and Nicodemus' face-to-face with God.

For the nine years that she led the Reform Organization for Welfare (ROWEL), Jeanette Mott Oxford's battle against prejudice was as much against her own as it was against society's.
Jennifer Silverberg
For the nine years that she led the Reform Organization for Welfare (ROWEL), Jeanette Mott Oxford's battle against prejudice was as much against her own as it was against society's.

"They each felt pulled toward the mysterious and holy world of spirit. They both had a sense that God had work for them to do. Yet both were full of excuses about why they couldn't say yes to God's call."

Jeanette then said that when Isaiah met God, he felt guilty and ashamed to do what God asked him to do. "Woe is me!" Isaiah said. "I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people with unclean lips." But the seraphim flew around God and Isaiah, proclaiming that God was "holy" -- which, Jeanette explained, is a derivative of the word "whole."

"I think the basic message is that everything is in God, and God is in everything. Where God is, there is wholeness, health and beauty. The whole Earth reflects God's glory. We have no right to deny God's presence in any person or anything. To do so is to lie about God's nature and the nature of creation."

She then told Nicodemus' story in which the Pharisee, afraid to let people know he was talking to Jesus, goes to great lengths to hide their initial meeting. He asks Jesus how one can best serve God, and Jesus tells him that he must be born again. Nicodemus balks -- he can't be reborn from his mother's womb, he replies -- so Jesus has to spell it out slowly for the man. Later, when Jesus stands before his accusers, it is Nicodemus who steps forward and demands a fair trial. Once Jesus has been crucified, Nicodemus openly goes to the graveyard with embalming spices.

"He was no longer willing to deny that he was a follower of Jesus," Jeanette said. "What does it take to get past our own fears? Whatever it takes, God's spirit is there, encouraging us to get beyond our fears, to remember that we do not have to be slaves to our fear but instead can live our primary identity as children of God.... Even when we don't feel able to answer the call to do our own work, our spirit still calls out longingly to God as a dear parent, and God grants us the strength to meet our challenges if we'll just believe this promise: You are God's child, and nothing can change that."

A chorus of "Amens" was heard all around.

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