We are losing the giants of the Civil Rights Movement so quickly. My only encouragement in this moment, is that it’s our turn. And after the global uprising that Black + queer + women just led us through, I’m sad but not devastated. It’s our turn to change the world. Austin Channing Brown, author of I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
Wisdom is vindicated by all her children. Jesus from Matthew 7
If you’re like me the best things you do these days are small actions– like wearing a mask when you’re around other people or praying for parents and educators.
This weekend, I’ve been reminded of what can happen when determined people put their lives on the line to change the world.
The documentary was released two weeks before the Georgia congressman and civil rights leader’s death on July 17. If you’ve enjoyed the eulogies and remembrances, you will love seeing the actual footage of young Lewis marching and leading through the American South in the 1960’s.
You will feel a glimmer of hope, because Lewis had huge hopes that the next generation will complete the work God began in the American civil rights movement.
I love how Austin Channing Brown put it in a Facebook post: We are losing the giants of the Civil Rights Movement so quickly. My only encouragement in this moment, is that it’s our turn. And after the global uprising that Black + queer + women just led us through, I’m sad but not devastated. It’s our turn to change the world.
I have four daughters and two sons-in-law– six Millennials and counting. I can’t wait for Austin Channing Brown and my Millennials and a throng of wholehearted young adults to rise up and change the world.
Get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet until a revolution is complete. We must get in this revolution and complete the revolution. John Lewis
Never be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. John Lewis
Christ, who began good work in you, will complete your transformation, day by day and era by era. The Apostle Paul
Today we grieve the loss of a great American hero: Congressman John Lewis, the Conscience of the Congress.
He was a giant of the Civil Rights Movement whose righteousness, faith and courage God used in the moral transformation of this nation. John Lewis was bodily present in the most death-defying scenes of the movement—facing down discrimination at lunch counters, on burning busses and beneath the batons of troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Lewis’s skull was crushed on Bloody Sunday; yet, he marched on to complete the revolution. He served in Congress until his death—revered by colleagues across party lines.
John Lewis never stopped fighting for liberty and justice for all—all ethnicities, all genders, all sexual orientations, all economic capacities. “Our minds, souls, and hearts cannot rest until freedom and justice exist for all the people,” he proclaimed during the March on Washington 57 years ago. Only a week before he died of pancreatic cancer, Congressman Lewis bodily visited peaceful protests in American hamlets to witness the next generation of revolutionaries pour into the streets to join in the work of liberty and justice for ALL.
Lewis lived and taught the spiritual principle of redemptive suffering saying, “[There is] something in the very essence of anguish that is liberating, cleansing, redemptive… [Suffering] touches and changes those around us as well. It opens us and those around us to a force beyond ourselves, a force that is right and moral, the force of righteous truth that is at the basis of human conscience.”
He believed that the secret to the non-violent life is the capacity to forgive.
Now, John Lewis asks US to march on and complete the revolution that he and King and others began in the middle of twentieth century; and if we do so, and if we prevail, it will be as the Apostle Paul observes: God who began the good work of the Civil Rights Movement through the redemptive suffering of prophets and warriors like John Lewis is sure to complete the work through the redemptive self-sacrifice of the next generation.
Lewis’s language around the Civil Rights Movement was shocking to some. By age 23 he was unapologetically clear, “Get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet until a revolution is complete. We must get in this revolution and complete the revolution.”
May Congressman John Lewis, who began this good work for humanity, be eternally blessed. May your family and soul friends be comforted and encouraged. May the next generation finish your work in the power of the Living Christ, who is alive IN every person. Amen
The American dream reminds us—and we should think about it anew on this Independence Day—that every man is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. July 4th Sermon, 1965
It was 1976 when all the fifth graders in the Thompson School District came together for a gigantic Bi-Centennial music program. Our music teachers organized it, we rehearsed for months and we performed it in the Loveland High Gymnasium for parents and the Loveland community.
I loved that program—a montage of pop and patriotic songs ending with Let There be Peace on Earth, and Let it Begin with Me. Parents were crying, teachers were beaming, and every child was singing.
I remember one particular song, Freedom Isn’t Free. I remember the lesson of the song: That we live in the land of the free and home of the brave because people have given their lives in war to keep our country free. I was happy. I was proud to be an American and a Lovelander. I was glad for our shared Independence story and the music of the moment.
The years have flown by, and every time I celebrate our independence on July 4th, I have those same feelings. Gratitude, safety, joy and a bond with my family, friends and neighbors. I am grateful for whatever measure of peace and tranquility does exist in America and for those who lay down their lives to preserve this American life we love.
But over the years my way of understanding the gift of American freedom has changed. As I’ve grown up, I’ve become aware that not all Americans are safe and free—and that we cannot be a free country until everyone is free. In the past decade I’ve learned about mass incarceration of black men as a means of modern-day slavery, stand your ground laws in white neighborhoods as means of modern-day lynching and racial inequality as our American brand of a caste system.
Today we stand in the current of a new racial justice movement, and my growing awareness is in full bloom. My curiosity about the depths of racism and the urgency of this moment is on fire. I can’t stop thinking about this moment.
And so, this July 4th is different for me—a mix of sadness and hope.
Andrea Young, the A.C.L.U. director is the daughter of Andrew Young, Atlanta Mayor, UN ambassador and civil rights giant. When asked if there is reason to hope that this moment could accomplish what the Civil Rights Movement could not, she said, “Nobody has believed more in the promise and mythology of America than blacks. We have believed all people were created equal and fought over generations for the truth of the statement. The fact I am here means I am descended from people who, even enslaved, did not give up hope. To do so now would be a betrayal.”
Andrea Young’s statement reminds me of Rev. MLK Jr.’s sermon, The American Dream. (This is not his I Have a Dream Speech.) This is a sermon King delivered on Sunday July 4, 1965 to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Read it this weekend and notice the brilliance.
King has left us with much inspiration, and it is never easy to choose a favorite passage, so allow me to share a sampling.
He begins by reciting the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by God, Creator, with certain inalienable rights, that among these are the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is a DREAM. It’s a great DREAM.
King continues: The first saying we notice in this dream is an amazing universalism. It doesn’t say, ‘some men’; it says ‘all men.’ It doesn’t say ‘all white men’; it says ‘all men,’ which includes black men. It does not say ‘all Gentiles’; it says ‘all men,’ which includes Jews. It doesn’t say ‘all Protestants’; it says ‘all men,’ which includes Catholics. It doesn’t even say ‘all theists and believers’; it says ‘all men,’ which includes humanists and agnostics.
He continues: Never before in the history of the world has a sociopolitical document expressed in such profound, eloquent and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality. The American dream reminds us—and we should think about it anew on this Independence Day—that every man is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth.
The point of Rev. King’s sermon is that the dream is brilliant, but we are trashing our own dream by oppressing and excluding God’s black children.
He explains the way out of our nightmare and into the light: And so if the American dream is to be a reality, we must work to make it a reality and realize the urgency of the moment. And we must say now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to get rid of segregation and discrimination. Now is the time to make Georgia a better state. Now is the time to make the United States a better nation. (Yes) We must live with that, and we must believe that.
And to close the sermon he addresses his enemies: One day we will win our freedom, but we will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process. And our victory will be a double victory. Oh yes, love is the way. (Yes) Love is the only absolute.
And so for me, Saturday, July 4, 2020 will not be the Independence Day of my youth. It will be a New Independence Day—a day to adopt a beginner’s mind and celebrate the long road to freedom America has yet to choose.
Be safe and happy. Pray for the real American Dream to be true for all God’s children, and don’t forget to bring your mask and wash your hands!
This evening’s drop of hope and spiritual direction comes from my colleagues at the Love Mercy, Do Justice ministry initiative in Chicago:
On June 19, 1865 (over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln), enslaved Africans in Texas finally received word that they had been emancipated. The celebration of their freedom became what is known to us today as “Juneteenth” (a mash-up of the words June and nineteenth).
Jemar Tisby says, “Freedom has always come with an asterisk in America,” and perhaps this year more than any in recent history, we feel that asterisk. We acknowledge and grieve the paradox in today’s celebration of freedom – a freedom that has been underscored by unfulfilled promise; a freedom that has looked different for some than it has for others.
In the early days of celebrating Juneteenth, the day was spent by bringing families and communities together for a time of prayer and thanksgiving. So this evening, gather your family and pray for the brokenness in our nation. Enter into a time of thanksgiving for the freedom we have both as citizens of this nation and as the children of God. And perhaps read or sing these words of James Weldon Johnson’s song “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” the anthem which has become known as the African American National Anthem:
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us Facing the rising sun of our new day begun Let us march on ’til victory is won
We will have change when ALL Americans come to realize this is a problem and black lives DO matter. Jeh Johnson, former secretary of Homeland Security
Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. Jesus, from Matthew 5
God of mercy and wisdom, help us surrender our pride and humbly receive advice and direction from those we have wounded and those who know the path we all must walk to healing. Amen
This morning, Fareed Zakaria discussed the problem of racial injustice with the former secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson. Zakaria asked Johnson, What advice would you give us at this critical moment?
Jeh Johnson began with a legendary leadership story. In March of 1965 in the wake of Bloody Sunday, President Lyndon B. Johnson, a white southerner, went before a joint session of Congress and proclaimed: We shall overcome.
When LBJ embraced the words of the Civil Rights Movement his influence became a factor in turning the tide for civil rights legislation.
Jeh Johnson proposes that the most powerful thing anyone can do today is embrace the grievance of black America and use our respective influence to call others to join in the embrace. If parents, pastors and presidents today went to the podium and embraced the grievance then many more would see and believe that black lives really do matter.
Jeh Johnson said, “A starting point for leadership is to acknowledge the grievance and the validity of the grievance. There are more specific solutions, but it starts with leaders embracing the grievance and teaching others to do the same.”
Johnson’s advice aligns with Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: When you have harmed your neighbor, embrace your neighbor’s grievance early in the ordeal– before the moment of judgment, sentencing and no return.
When asked about how he feels personally about racial injustice in America, Johnson suggested a better question. How does America feel? How does the soccer mom in Oklahoma feel? How does the church elder in California feel? How does your state representative feel? How does our superintendent of schools feel? How do the Rotarians feel? How does the City Council feel? How do your friends feel?
How do you personally feel about the way our black siblings are treated in the streets, the courts, the classroom, the prisons and on the corporate ladder?
As Johnson notes: Minneapolis is not a black problem. It is an American problem. Equality before the law is as American as the flag. We will have change when ALL Americans come to realize this is a problem and black lives DO matter.
I am grateful for the community of Christ followers that I call friends and family. I know how you would answer the questions posed by Jeh Johnson. Please join me in prayerfully considering our answers; and may our actions align until together we turn the tide.
I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 11 & 36; Jeremiah 31; Hebrews 8.
Lord of Creation, create in me a dynamic and resilient heart of flesh. And may my own well-being, and my concern for all your children, be a True Prayer that accomplishes much good. Amen
Brené Brown says that we belong to one another. This universal reality can be forgotten, but it can never be lost. Her research in recent years has confirmed to the world that there is an uncomfortable, life-supporting link between vulnerability and courage.
Dr. Brown has made famous a saying: Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart. The moment I heard the saying and read the full quote by Roshi Joan Halifax, I thought of the voice of God who speaks: I will give all my children One, soft heart. Though you are fractured and hurting, I will replace your broken chards-of-heart with a Whole one–strong, soft, wise, hopeful and full of faith.
All scripture speaks of this vision. When the Apostle Paul wrote about creation groaning and waiting for redemption, I wonder if this is what we he meant– for the heart of stone to become a heart of flesh. These passages and themes are really about the universal healing of creation and can be applied at the individual and communal level any time the user chooses. Our redemption is an ongoing process and God only knows when it will feel finished to us. This renovation of creatures and communities is God’s purpose; and it shall be so.
Remember: The good that God has begun in you will be completed through the Spirit of the Living Christ working in you.
This post is not aimed at racism, protests and violence. Such horrors can only be healed at the level of cause. My reflections pertain to this community and our emotional health and well-being. Never underestimate the healing power of your own humanity-in-Christ and your prayers for the well-being of your neighbors and the whole world.
Be safe. And be a healing presence wherever you are. I happen to be visiting my Dad in Salmon Idaho, looking out the window at the continental divide. Had a good, long, steep hike this morning.
I am pretty adamant about not being a participant in my own dehumanization. Christian Cooper, birdwatcher. New Yorker. black man
Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Hebrews 12
Lord of Love and Justice make us honest enough to tell the truth about racial terror and courageous enough to step into the waters of racial justice. Amen
Last week, a black male birdwatcher in Central Park asked a white female dog walker to observe the leash law in the brambles. Instead of honoring the law and her neighbor, she called 911 and told the dispatcher: A black man is threatening me in the brambles; send the police. Christian Cooper calmly lifted his phone and video recorded her little shit fit. His sister posted the video on the internet and it went viral.
When asked why he stood firm, Mr. Cooper said, I am pretty adamant about not being a participant in my own dehumanization.
Christian Cooper held on to his humanity as well his neighbor’s and lived to tell about it. The attempt on George Floyd’s humanity ended differently. His body was crushed under the knee of an armed bully. Mr. Floyd was unable to escape the terror of a public lynching.
Friends, like it or not, we are inextricably connected to one another. If we don’t stand up to racial terror, we are complicit– and we have become participants in our own dehumanization and the dehumanization of our siblings of color, worldwide.
We have a problem:
We live in a culture that favors its privileged children in every way imaginable. As a result, most white Americans lack some of the discipline needed to become fully responsible adults. Instead of responsibility, we blindly engage in self-protective and indulgent patterns, which act as an opiate—numbing our personal and collective conscience. We are literally swimming in an ocean of unconscious self-interest. Unconsciousness is why white Europeans and Americans enslaved Africans in the first place. Unconsciousness permits the terror of mass incarceration (modern day slavery) and police brutality (modern day lynching) to happen in 2020.
There is Hope
There is a passage in Hebrews Chapter 12 that applies to this situation. The word discipline is used at least nine times. The writer uses the image of a parent disciplining a child. In ancient families, the role of parent was to discipline a child so that the child could grow up to be a responsible member of the family. The Old Testament prophet Amos describes how unaware, religious adults come to “trample on the poor” with unjust economic policy and corrupt judicial process. (Sound familiar for our time? Have you seen the movie Just Mercy?) In Amos’s time, these practices catered to the privileged at the expense of the vulnerable.
In the face of such exploitation, prophets like Amos, Jesus, Nelson Mandela, MLK and Malcolm X name the evil and call the children of God back to responsibility. “Seek the Lord, seek good, hate evil, love good, establish justice.” These are the works of good neighbors everywhere.
The time is now. Americans of all faiths are in a season of discipline by which God is summoning us away from the self-service that furthers racial oppression, and in many situations, racial terror. This problem is more than 500 years old with new permutations and combinations emerging every generation. The call to grow up goes way beyond private character and all the way to public practice.
If we are lucky, we modern culprits will grow up to be like the tax collector in Jesus’s parable: aware of our own sin and hopeful that the LORD of mercy will forgive us and heal us.
Will we put our armor (privilege) down and stand up to racial oppression and terror with true power– our human vulnerability (most effectively exercised by acts of compassion and truth)? Or will we hide behind the lame armor of blaming and scapegoating various individuals, institutions, neighbors of color, non-church-goers, rioters and arsonists?
Each person must ask: What does the LORD require of ME? How will I stand firm in my vulnerability?
Some things I’ve decided to do out of simple discipline: Go all in for #blacklivesmatter. As a Christian pastor, I sometimes stay quiet about subjects that might alienate a parishioner. No more. #blacklivesmatter. PERIOD.
I’m going to re-read and re-watch a whole library of works written and scripted by black leaders and theologians over time. I’ll share the bibliography and watch list with you here in the coming days.
I don’t really care what religion you are. Being a Christian does not make you a conscious person. Many people outside my faith are awake and active and working for justice. Our siblings of color need us all to work together.
Every generous act of giving comes from above. James, the brother of Jesus
Giving God, we are amazed by your creative generosity. Help us to trust and participate in your way of sharing and providing. Give us eyes to see who is being left out; and give us the courage to broaden our circles of care.
Yesterday afternoon I made corned beef and cabbage. I couldn’t find a green cabbage, but I found a red one—good enough. I didn’t have large carrots, but Amy had a small bag of mini carrots—good enough. I was out of onions, and a neighbor gave me her two onions—simply enough.
This ordinary experience has me thinking about the way God moves provisions through people to overcome scarcity and create enough.
Remember the Jesus story where he has the disciples seat a hungry crowd on the green grass? Jesus and his team then create a meal out of next-to-nothing. The story is all about God overcoming scarcity. Everyone was invited to the table, and everyone was fed and satisfied—unlimited inclusion; unlimited food.
Contrast this with the Old Testament story of Joseph, his brothers and an Egyptian Pharaoh during a famine. Joseph tells his brothers to lie to Pharaoh and tell Pharaoh they are cattlemen rather than shepherds when they ask for food. Pharaoh controls the food supply; and he dislikes shepherds.
Walter Brueggemann comments: Pharaoh’s practice is quite ordinary. We are always sorting out people to see who qualifies for abundance, whether by race, class, gender, character, education, performance, or production. This is standard practice in every society. But Jesus is extraordinary. No norms of qualification. No questions asked. All are welcome! All are fed! Jesus’s extraordinary generosity contrasts with the ordinary outlook of Pharaoh.
Consider these things: With whom are you sharing these days? It matters not what you have nor what you need: It matters that we share. God moves resources through people. Period. If our table is open to everyone, our hands are extended for sharing and our hearts are humble for receiving… we simply will have enough.
With whom are you sharing these days? Who shares with you? Leave a comment and tell us about your circle of sharing and how you plan to expand it during our community-wide struggle with the spread of the coronavirus.
Sometimes God’s vision of a new humanity is proclaimed in the world through the life and voice of one ordinary, enlightened person. Their words are so stunning and true, we simply can’t get past this person’s message. We cannot see around the largess of the vision. We can only marvel at the relationship between this person’s imagination and the mind of God.
Jesus is the Ultimate Example of such a life. The message and leadership of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is also an example. Reverend King’s life is a stunning illustration of how every human being might live into a portion of God’s work and imagination.
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann puts it so well:
On this day when we remember Martin Luther King, we recall especially his “dream speech” in which he articulated a version of the kingdom of God when there would be reconciliation and solidarity across all our distinctions. King spoke out of a renovated imagination. He no longer imagined the world according to the corrupt imagination of fear and hate. He summoned his listeners into that renovated imagination through which God’s future could be seen differently… We are invited by Dr. King to engage in the new creation, apart from old ways of wounding and division.
Our hearts are elevated this day, because Divine Love within us identifies with King’s vision and King’s sacrifice.
If we are so graced today, we might empathize with the suffering of the tens of thousands of God’s children who marched and wept and prayed and suffered violence during the Civil Rights Movement in this land. If we are so graced, we might empathize with the millions upon millions of Africans who journeyed through the dark waters of the Middle Passage to this land. If we are so graced, we might agonize with the five thousand who bore the lynching tree even after the Emancipation Proclamation of this land. If we are so graced, we shall face the reality of the mass incarceration of black persons in this land today—and fight it as the plague it is.
This day let us remember the dream. Let it elevate our hearts. And let us contemplate our own true calling.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4)
Prayer for the day:God of all our births, give us in this season [Epiphany] a fresh capacity to see your hope for your world and resolve to live according to that vision. In his name. Amen. (Walter Brueggemann)