Meditation Monday - The Unifying Power of Pentecost

Yesterday churches around the world celebrated Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit was given to the first Christian community as described in Acts 2: 1-21. The power of the Spirit was not just a gift for individuals. It was also the unifying power that brought people together across barriers of race, culture, nationality, and gender. People from all over the known world heard the good news of the gospel spoken in their own languages by people who had never spoken those languages before. This unifying barrier breaking power was a sure sign that God was at work. The same Holy Spirit first given at Pentecost is the same Spirit at work in followers of Jesus today. Like those early disciples, it is essential that we not limit the gift of the Spirit to an individual spiritual experience. Rather this Spirit still calls us to break down barriers that separate people today. This Spirit empowers us to see all people as God sees us, to love all people as God loves us, and to work for the justice that God desires for all people. The video clip below comes from yesterday's worship service at National City Christian Church in Washington, DC. It features the Rev. Dr. William Barber who is a leader of the Poor People's Campaign that started last week and goes through June 23. Take a few minutes to listen to part of his message about the power of Pentecost. Then let us ask ourselves, "How is God calling me to be open to the power of the Holy Spirit in my own life and in the ongoing struggle for justice for all God's children?"

Meditation Monday - Poor People's Campaign 2018

This Mediation Monday comes to you on Tuesday, because I spent yesterday at the opening rally of the Poor People's Campaign 2018 on the grounds of the US Capitol. At that same time, similar rallies were held at over 30 state capitals around the country in which people of faith raised their voices to call our national and state legislators to address the interrelated issues of systemic poverty, racism, war, and environmental devastation. Similar calls for national action were made 50 years ago as part of the original Poor People's Campaign of 1968 which Dr. King was helping to organize at the time of his assassination. The fact that we need to address these same concerns 50 years later reveals the tragic consequences of poverty that impact millions of people, especially women and children in the richest nation on earth. At yesterday's rally, I heard the testimonies of two women whose children died as the direct result of poverty. They represent thousands of others whose voices go largely unheard by policy makers who are disproportionately influenced by campaign contributors rather than constituents' needs. In the face of this tragic reality, I also experienced signs of hope. At one point in the rally, three women faith leaders representing Christianity, Judaism, and Islam stood side by side and raised their voices to testify to God's special concern for the poor that is central to all three faiths. The Poor People's Campaign of 2018 will go on for 40 days. I ask for your prayers for the ongoing ministry of the Cornelius Corps in general and for my engagement with the Poor People's Campaign in particular. Through your prayers and actions, I also hope that you will be part of the great cloud of witnesses calling for economic and racial justice for all God's children, especially the millions who suffer in poverty. The pictures posted below are from yesterday's rally in DC.

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Meditation Monday - 55 Years Ago in Birmingham Part 3

The Birmingham Campaign of 1963 has gone down in history as one of the great successes of the modern civil rights movement. Yet at the time it seemed headed for failure as police brutality under Bull Connor and Klan violence against the black community combined to instill fear that greatly reduced the numbers of people willing to protest. Even Dr. King's arrest and week in the Birmingham city jail did not provide the needed momentum to inspire increased protests. During the first week of May, the leaders of the movement made a fateful decision to allow children to participate in non-violent direct action. They received the same training and were subject to the same treatment as anyone else. The response of the children of Birmingham turned the tide of the campaign. Thousands of children made the commitment to protest non-violently and accept arrest. Eventually the jails were full and even the fair grounds converted into a make shift jail could not hold the numbers of arrested children. That's when the authorities decided to disperse the young protestors with high pressure fire hoses and police dogs. The now famous images from May 1963 were broadcast around the country and convicted the conscience of the nation leading to a negotiated settlement to desegregate public accommodations. At the heart of the witness of the children and all people committed to non-violent direct action in Birmingham was the pledge to which they committed as the foundation for their training. It is a clear statement  of the spiritual foundation of not only the Birmingham campaign but of the whole civil rights movement. 

Birmingham Pledge

I HEREBY PLEDGE MYSELF - MY PERSON AND BODY - TO THE NON-VIOLENT MOVEMENT. THEREFORE I WILL KEEP THE FOLLOWING TEN COMMANDMENTS:

 

  1. MEDITATE daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
  2. REMEMBER always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation - not victory.
  3. WALK and TALK in the manner of love, for God is love.
  4. PRAY daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
  5. SACRIFICE personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
  6. OBSERVE with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  7. SEEK to perform regular service for others and for the world
  8. REFRAIN from the violence of fist, tongue, and heart.
  9. STRIVE to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  10. FOLLOW the directions of the movement and of the captain of a demonstration

I sign this pledge, having seriously considered what I do and with the determination and will to persevere.

 

The Birmingham Pledge is still a great summary of the connection between spiritual formation and the struggle for justice. As we continue that struggle today, may we follow the example of the children who led the way 55 years ago who put their faith into action. One way of living into this legacy today is to support and participate in the 2018 Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival that will take place in DC and around the country from May 13 - June 21. For more information go here.

The video posted below provides a glimpse into the witness of the children of Birmingham in May 1963.

Meditation Monday - 55 Years Ago in Birmingham Part 2

Last Monday our post recalled the civil rights campaign in Birmingham, AL in the spring of 1963. The purpose of the campaign was to desegregate public accommodations in perhaps the most resistant city in the nation at that time. Resistance came not only in the forms of police brutality and KKK bombings but also in the form of opposition from white clergy leaders who criticized the non-violent civil disobedience actions that directly challenged the unjust segregation laws. While Martin Luther King, Jr. joined others in jail who were arrested for their non-violent resistance, he responded to the clergy criticism with what has become known as a masterpiece of American and Church history "The Letter From the Birmingham City Jail." The part of the letter I want to highlight today focuses on some of Dr. King's words to the church in his day:

In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' ... Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Can we read these words and apply them to the church in America in 2018? Are we willing to confess that the church in our society is still mostly seen as a supporter of the status quo even when that status quo perpetuates racial injustice? Are we willing to move from confession to commitment to be non-conformists who challenge injustice in the name and Spirit of Jesus who consistently challenged people to transcend barriers of race, gender, and nationality? The future of the church as faithful followers of Jesus depends on our willingness to say "yes" to both questions with our lips, hearts, and actions. 

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Meditation Monday - 55 Years Ago in Birmingham Part 1

Fifty five years ago in the spring of 1963, a brave and fearless black pastor in Birmingham, AL named Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to come to that city to help organize a campaign against segregated public accommodations. At that time, Birmingham was known as the most staunchly segregationist citiy in the country where that "way of life" was enforced by both local law enforcement led by Eugene "Bull" Connor as well as by the KKK. Yet they were not the only ones to oppose what became known as the Birmingham Campaign. Eight prominent white clergy wrote a letter on April 12 opposing the peaceful demonstrations that were taking place. The following quotes are from their letter:

Excerpts From thePUBLIC STATEMENT BY EIGHT ALABAMA CLERGYMEN

April 12, 1963

We the undersigned clergymen are among those who, in January, issued "An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense," in dealing with racial problems in Alabama. We expressed understanding that honest convictions in racial matters could properly be pursued in the courts, but urged that decisions of those courts should in the meantime be peacefully obeyed.

However, we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.

We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.

In support of those demonstrations, Martin Luther King, Jr. decided to subject himself to arrest. During his week in the local jail, he wrote one of the great pieces of civil rights and church history, "The Letter From the Birmingham City Jail." Here is a link to that letter, and I hope you will take the time to read it this week. What I want to highlight today is the form of racism expressed by those white clergy that downplays the experiences of oppressed people and claims to know how to "help" in better ways than those people developed themselves. This is not the outwardly violent expression of racism practiced by Bull Connor and the KKK. Yet it is racism nonetheless. We see this form of racism today when well meaning white people dismiss the every day experiences of black and brown parents who explain why they need to have "the talk" with their children to try to keep them safe when encountering police. We see this form of racism when movements such as Black Lives Matter are stereotyped as "outside agitators" who are threatening "law and order." Remember that these same terms were used to oppose Dr. King and the civil rights movement of his day. If we are committed to seeing and treating every human being equally as made in the image of God, we are called to not only honor the witness of those who went before us but also to continue the struggle for racial justice in whatever forms it takes in our time. More on Birmingham 1963 in the coming weeks.

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