I’m inadequate. I know that’s not a shock, but most particularly this day I feel inadequate to comprehensively speak on Martin Luther King Jr. and the ongoing conflictual state of race relations in the United States and our local community. As we approach the day set aside to celebrate the life of one who was a prophet and represented and advocated love as the power for the change needed to live together peacefully in the midst of our differences, I am aware of how much I have left to learn from his leadership and voice.
I don’t know what it’s like to be afraid because of the color of the skin with which I was born. In terms of racial prejudice, it seems ludicrous that we judge ourselves or others less than or superior to because of the color of the skin with which we were born. But we do – as individuals, as communities, and as a nation. It’s a little uncomfortable to say “we,” right? Because “we” want to think that as fairly well-educated folk living in a metropolitan area among a diverse community, “we” shouldn’t have to claim a racial bias or prejudice because “we” don’t proactively feel that distinction of difference toward others because of the color of skin.
Okay, but what are “we” who don’t have a greater quantity of melanin in our skin proactively doing to advocate for those who are judged to be unequal by some because of that difference? Are we actively working to break down barriers of race that show us statistically that far more folk of color live in poverty, receive less adequate healthcare, are not considered as equally for professional positions for which they qualify, and whether we like it or not, have a far greater rate of being victims of violence and higher rates of incarceration than folks with lesser amounts of melanin in our skin? You and I may not be personally doing anything that make these situations happen, but is our “not personally doing anything” extending into not helping our communities take action to make things better for those for whom the playing field of life and education and work and home is not level?
Perhaps because it happened in a church, and perhaps because it happened the summer I was on spiritual leave from my work at Grace, and perhaps because the pastor who was shot along with the other church members in the Bible study was also working on his Doctorate at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC where I graduated, the shooting on June 17, 2015, at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, feels ongoingly close to my soul.
And perhaps because the shooter was judged less than a month ago competent to stand trial, and because his writings are very clearly focused on his hatred for people of color and his desire to destroy such, and because I cannot understand how a young person can be filled with so much hate, and because he has now been sentenced to death for his actions, violence begets violence, the shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, feels ongoingly close to my soul.
And perhaps because I want to believe that the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, signed by President Abraham Lincoln; and the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, May 17, 1954; and the “I Have a Dream” Speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. on August 28, 1963; and the Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964; all solved and resolved all the race relation issues in the United States, the shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, feels ongoingly close to my soul.
And perhaps because, as the news clip at the head of this blog illustrates, our first African American President referred back to the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. trying to comfort the community after 4 young girls lost their lives in a racially motivated bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963, as he tried to comfort another community over 50 years later because of another racially motivated hate crime which killed 9 people at a Bible study, the shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, feels ongoingly close to my soul.
Does it connect with you, too? Does it resonate and echo and reverberate in the marrow of our bones and the depths of our hearts and our claims of a faith that follows the one who, when asked who was our neighbor, responded with a parable known as the Good Samaritan and ends with Jesus asking “’Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10:36-37)
Hmmm, “Go and Do Likewise.” Have we? You know, gone and done likewise? Or have we waited to see if things might get better with time? Have we gone and done likewise? Or have we figured the people who are actively causing bad things to happen are the ones who need to change? Have we gone and done likewise? Or have we buried ourselves in the challenges of our own lives and decided we don’t want to make the people with whom we work, and live, and worship uncomfortable with a decision for active advocacy? Interestingly Jesus doesn’t say, stay quiet and wait likewise, he says to go and do likewise.
What if we don’t know how? Interestingly there are both Children’s and Adult Peace Academy Classes beginning at Grace the first week of February, open to all children and parents on Sunday mornings and open to all adults on Wednesday evenings, beginning Feb 5 and 8 respectively. This spring, the classes are focused on learning ways to love our neighbor regardless of differences. It may be a place to start, and I say start because only when we walk beside those for whom racial inequality is a daily way of life and hear and see and seek to understand what such a life is like, will we perhaps truly understand what it will take for us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
For a listing of Martin Luther King Day/Week recognitions, celebrations, worship services, and service activities in and around the Kansas City area on both sides of the state line, the local media outlets have comprehensive schedules and information.
Tensions in our communities are at a high level for so many different reasons right now – if we each can make a commitment to “go and do likewise”, even just one thing that witnesses our peaceful support for one another amidst our “difference”, maybe we and the world begin to change. Finally, inadequacy is not an excuse not to learn and not to do and not to speak that which makes for peace. That’s my confession and call to action for myself. What’s yours?