Thursday, January 29, 2015

Justice and Faith

Where Black Lives Matter and Faith Intersect: Some Thoughts

Tonight we met at church. Many who marched in St Paul on Reclaim MLK day. Others who were present at the Mall of America protest. Others committed to justice who for one reason or another could not attend. White voices and black voices joined in church community

We spoke honestly of where we individually are in the movement. We were asked to reflect on the role of faith community in all of this. So I had to ask myself, what exactly is the role of a faith community? Understand when I speak of faith, it does not require a particular belief, or even a Deity in the traditional sense although that may be a person’s experience. For me, the ideal of a faith community is one brought together by similar values centered in love and committed to community.

I love history. It’s a wonderful source for me to understand today by looking how people have handled it before me. This week we learned of the lifting of the convictions of the Friendship 9 in North Carolina. People so committed to liberty, they approached those lunch counters and were arrested and refused to bail out, working on the chain gang instead, giving witness to injustice and offering solutions rooted in non-violence and love. During the fifties and early sixties, people stepped forward, bravely standing non-violently in the face of dog attacks, water hoses, cattle prods, and active violence. Courageous white people came forward, like our James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, offering their very lives as the price for justice. Think about it. Voices in all communities saying they were wrong, this was not the way to bring about change. But still there they were, in individual and organized acts of audacious faith.

What resonates for me also in those stories was the amazing role played by faith communities during that time. Facing fear is never easy, but much better faced in community together than alone. How in those days, the Black Churches especially, but some of our own Unitarian Universalist churches provided support, strength and succor in very difficult times. How our own John Cummins answered the call following the death of James Reeb to march along side so many others in Selma. Black and brown and white bodies, strengthened in their own faith and communities who supported them even as so many others hurled insults, rocks, spit, and hate their way.

So what is faith? It is not having all the answers? After all, the forces for the status quo will always provide all the doubts one could ask for to remain motionless and non-threatening. No, I think faith is a conviction for justice stepping out into the unknowing uncertainty AND fear, rooted in the principles of compassion shared by virtually every religious body and ethical society. Not knowing what will happen, but firmly rooted in what is right and just. Those people that came before us in Little Rock or North Carolina or Mississippi could not know what the outcome would be. Theirs was an act of love, faith, and hope rooted in compassion. The roots spring from the very best of what we can be as people. Singing the lyrics of We Shall Overcome, each step moving us forward in the void of not knowing.

As we sat together tonight, sharing our own strength and our own fears, I thought how empowering it was to have a community to share with such intimacy. Where we could air our own fears, doubts, along with our hopes. It occurred to me that when we speak of faith, a corollary of that faith is hope. Faith and hope firmly rooted in love. My mind went back to my childhood in East Texas. I would hear the older black men and women speak the most wonderful juxtaposition of words. If one were to say to the other “I’ll help you with that,” the words spoken would be “I’ll HOPE you with that.” To my ear, I heard the prayerful hope as implicit in their help with each other. It resonated within my soul. To me, it strikes at the heart of what faith and justice is all about. Yes, I have fear, and I have trepidation. I’ve also a community that will HOPE me with that as I step forward in faith trying to do the right thing.. Perhaps today through our actions, just as then, we shall overcome. But only if I HOPE it be so.

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