Friday, June 26, 2015

Grief and Joy

Why do I feel such mixed emotions about the marriage equality ruling being made public the day the Rev. Clementa Pinkney’s funeral was held in Charleston SC?

·         Because Frederick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. 

Their friendship was strained when Frederick chose to work for abolition first, before women’s suffrage. The friends didn’t speak for several years.  As soon as the fourteenth amendment passed, Frederick went right back to work for women’s suffrage. He said, “My special mission… was the emancipation and enfranchisement of the negro. Mine was a great cause. Yours is a much greater cause, since it comprehends the liberation and elevation of one half of the whole human family.” At his funeral, Susan read the eulogy that Elizabeth had written for their friend Frederick.

·         Because Bayard Rustin and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Bayard was a friend of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and influenced King’s adopting nonviolence. But because Bayard realized his homosexuality was a problem for the civil rights movement, he resigned from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1960.  Yet the civil rights leaders recognized his extraordinary talent, and a few years later made him the deputy in charge of organizing the 1963 March on Washington.  In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded him (posthumously) the Presidential Medal of Freedom and 
presented it to his long-time partner Walter Naegle.

The work for justice, for nondiscrimination, for stopping hate, isn’t a smooth arc but is full of 
many paths and
uneven stops and
starts and
disagreements and
compromises and
attempts and
failures and

            Abolition, suffrage, civil rights, and LGBTQ rights couldn’t happen all at once. Working on one issue at a time requires letting some suffering go on. Whose rights are most important and how do we choose? Those who are pragmatic choose what is easiest first, hoping that momentum will build so we will have the tools and talent to tackle bigger challenges. The prophets keep reminding us that the hard work is still out there, and God’s beloved people are losing out in the meantime.
            So I keep in mind W.E.B. Dubois’ quote: “We have kept an idea alive; we have held to a great ideal, we have established a continuity and some day when unity and cooperation come, the importance of these early steps will be recognized.”
            His quote comforts me when I am frustrated that there is still so much hate and violence in the world. I get tired sometimes, trying to educate people about discrimination. I am ashamed of my own prejudices sometimes, but have learned to admit them and accept criticism.
            I find comfort in the Taizé song, “Where love and caring are, there is God. Ubi caritas, deus ibi est.

June 19 Prayer Vigil

All week long I’ve been thinking about how to answer the television reporter who asked me: "Why did you want to hold a vigil for the Charleston 9 on Friday June 19?"

I had few words that were soundbyte-worthy —fortunately the 60 seconds of live tape was mercifully quick. Here are the answers I wish I had thought of at the time.
·    Because I feel powerless in the face of such a terrible hate crime, such awful violence, such terrorism.
·    Because no one else here was planning a vigil. 
·    Because I wanted to pray and lament with other people who also wanted to pray and lament.
·         Because the Spirit called me to. (Weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15.)
·         Because I want to dismantle racism.
·    Because anything, no matter how tiny, in the face of great evil is better than doing nothing.
·    Because God.  (Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Isaiah 1:16 )
·    Because I wanted to be in solidarity with Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church.
·    Because Jesus. (Love your neighbor as yourself, Matthew 19:19, quoting Leviticus 19:18.)

Why did I want to spend my long overdue day off arranging for an extra worship service, writing press releases, and doing my first ever live television interview (plus two more interviews)?
·    Because letting people know they could come and pray together would make a difference. One pastor friend of mine, raised in North Carolina, drove 80 miles to be here. Another new pastor friend with an incredible schedule that day came. With less than 24 hours notice, a brief newspaper article, a briefer tv promo, and after a terrible hailstorm that knocked electricity out, 21 people came. People who couldn’t come told me they were glad St. Andrew hosted the vigil.
·    Because I hoped taking a photo of us all and sending a card to Emanuel AME would matter to their church as much as the cards our church in Oklahoma received after the Murrah building was bombed in 1995.
·    Because the words to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” were tearing through me. “Shadowed beneath thy hand may we forever stand, true to our God, true to our native land.”

I remain grateful to those people who came to the microphone and shared stories, their prayers, and commitments to stop racism, starting with ourselves.