Meditation Monday: Citizens of a Country That Does Not Yet Exist

This has been a disturbing week for many of us who work for racial justice/reconciliation in our country. The ongoing crisis of dehumanizing conditions of detention along our southern border, the fear of increased ICE raids, and the racist tweets of the President aimed at four duly elected women members of Congress combine to promote discouragement at best and cynicism at worst about what it means to be people of faith and justice at this time in our nation’s history. So it was an unexpected gift when I read the recent email from the Children’s Defense Fund that included a link to a short video by the late Dr. Vincent Harding who was a colleague of Dr. King, a person of deep Christian faith, a teacher of non-violence, and a life long advocate for peace and justice. The video is posted below. It was recorded at the 2012 Children’s Defense Fund’s National Conference. Dr. Harding died a little over a year later. Although he didn’t live to experience our present struggles with fear and racism, his words speak directly to us today. He begins with the captivating line, “I am a citizen of a country that does not yet exist.” He goes on the explain that Americans have always had to struggle with living into our espoused principles of freedom and justice for all. When it comes to living fully into these principles, our country has not yet existed. Yet we are called to continue that journey despite any and all obstacles along the way. This harkens back to a poem by Langston Hughes called “Let American Be America Again.” Here is a section of the poem that connects with the message of Dr. Harding:

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

You can read the entire poem by clicking here.

Please take a few minutes to view and reflect on Dr. Harding’s video posted below. As people of faith, we are called to continue the journey toward freedom and justice for all people realizing that we are indeed citizens of a country that does not yet exist. How is God calling you and me to take steps to bring that country into existence? We are not alone on the journey. Thanks be to God.


Meditation Monday: Patriotic Prophets

Last Thursday we celebrated the 4th of July, a national holiday commemorating the 243rd anniversary of The Declaration of Independence. This founding document of our nation proclaimed that “all men are created equal” and have the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Perhaps more than any other national holiday, the 4th of July is a time for patriotic celebrations throughout the nation from small rural towns to large urban centers. Yet even as we celebrate our nation’s independence and founding principles, we need to remember that patriotism is not only about celebration and national pride but also confession and repentance. Throughout our history, brave people have dared to speak up when our nation’s deeds did not live up to our espoused principles. These are our “American Prophets” who were often rejected in their own times but whose witness helped us to make progress toward greater integrity. I want to share quotes by two of these prophets, one from the nineteenth century and one from the twentieth century. Their words still speak to us today, and I hope you will take time to reflect on them in light of our current struggles to affirm the God given dignity of all people regardless of race, gender, national origin, or economic status. How is God calling you, me, and the Church to be the patriotic prophets of the 21st century?

On July 5th 1852, Frederick Douglass gave a speech called “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Here is an excerpt from that challenging prophetic speech:

Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. 

On February 4, 1968 exactly two months before he was murdered, Martin Luther King, Jr. preached a sermon called “The Drum Major Instinct.” Here is an excerpt from that sermon:

  …nations are caught up with the drum major instinct. "I must be first." "I must be supreme." "Our nation must rule the world." And I am sad to say that the nation in which we live is the supreme culprit. And I'm going to continue to say it to America, because I love this country too much to see the drift that it has taken.

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Meditation Monday - 18 Years One Step at a Time

Cornelius Corps is 18 years old today! Since July 1, 2001 we have followed God’s call to invite people on the journey of spiritual formation and racial justice/reconciliation. This has taken many forms over the years and connected to people in many places including not only our home base in Washington, DC, but also North Carolina, Maine, and all the way to South Korea to name just a few. I want to thank all those who have joined us on this journey through participating in Cornelius Corps ministries as well as through your prayers and financial support. As I reflect on the last 18 years, I want to share two quotes that have helped me in following God’s call. The first comes from a book called Listening Hearts:

“Discernment can be like driving an automobile at night: the headlights cast only enough light for us to see the next small bit of road immediately in front of us…What is important is that we act on what we have discerned. In obedience to discernment, more discernment will come.”

When God calls, we are asked to take a step in faith without knowing how it will turn out. The good news is that God’s way is greater than any way we can predict or accomplish on our own. Yet that way only emerges one step at a time as we trust the love of God that created us and calls us.

The second quote is by Gordon Cosby who was a wonderful spiritual mentor to me as I discerned and followed God’s call to form Cornelius Corps. Gordon and his wife Mary founded The Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. Cornelius Corps is based at New Community Church which is one of the faith communities related to The Church of the Saviour. In the book By Grace Transformed Gordon said:

“There is no need to possess anything, to cling, to control. Anything needed will be given in the next moment. It will appear as surprise; there is no need to clutch…This journey into the deeps is extremely costly. But it is the one journey which is worth reflecting on every waking moment and dreaming about whenever we sleep.”

As I look back over the last 18 years, I realize the truth of Gordon’s words. We never had a detailed five or ten year plan. In fact there were times when we did not know if the ministry would survive the next five or ten weeks. But God always provided what was necessary to continue following the call. That’s a hard and essential lesson for me and any of us conditioned to desire certainty and control. I still don’t know how it worked out over the years or what to expect in the days and years ahead. What I do know is that God is faithful amid all the ups and downs of the journey of life and following God’s call. So 18 years later the journey continues. Thanks be to God and to the many wonderful people who have joined us along the way and those we will meet as we take the next steps - one at a time.

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Meditation Monday - A Legacy of Pain and Hope

I recently returned from a week long Civil Rights Pilgrimage in Alabama. It was a deeply moving experience that will take me some time to process. Today I begin that processing by reflecting on two new sites in Montgomery established by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). The Legacy Museum tells the story of African Americans from slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, and up to the current reality of mass incarceration. The National Memorial For Peace and Justice is a vivid and powerful memorial to over 4,000 victims of lynching from the 1870’s to 1950. The names of lynching victims are engraved on pillars for each county where they were killed. The combined impact of the hundreds of pillars makes it clear that racial terror was practiced throughout the country, not just in the deep south. Yet with all the pain represented in the Museum and Memorial, there is also a sense of hope. When we as individuals and as a nation are confronted with the true story of racism in our nation’s history, there is hope to repent and to find ways to heal the legacy of pain and damage suffered by the African American community. The same week of the pilgrimage, a committee of the House of Representatives held hearings on H.R. 40 authorizing a study about reparations to address this painful legacy. This will not be an easy or uncomplicated process, but it could be a significant step toward the kind of truth and reconciliation that our nation needs. In the section below, you will see some pictures from the Memorial For Peace and Justice and a video that addresses the subject of reparations. As followers of Jesus we believe that any sin, individual or collective, can be forgiven and healed through repentance and making amends whenever possible. This may be the time for our nation to finally face our original sin.

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Meditation Monday - Wisdom From a Man Named Wise

This past weekend I participated in an event sponsored by a group of inter-racial Christians called DC Unity and Justice Fellowship. The weekend included a presentation and workshop by Tim Wise who is a nationally known anti-racist educator and activist. Much of what Tim presented encouraged me, because it was consistent with the calling of Cornelius Corps. Two aspects of what he shared were especially meaningful to me. First he emphasized the need for Americans to deepen our understanding of the racial history of our country. The challenge is that the importance of history is downplayed in most current educational settings. Tim made the point that most of us function on the basis of memory (what we remember or think happened) vs. history (what actually happened). Progress in racial justice and reconciliation depends on an in-depth knowledge of where we have been as a foundation for working toward a vision of greater justice for all. Secondly, Tim emphasized that the work of racial justice/reconciliation is a journey that lasts a lifetime. We need communities of care and support to stay with it over the long haul. Deepening understanding of our nation’s racial history and developing groups for spiritual growth and support are two foundational principles of the ministry of Cornelius Corps. I am grateful for leaders such as Tim Wise and groups such as DC Unity and Justice Fellowship who are partners in the life long journey of racial justice/reconciliation. I am posting a video of Tim Wise from an appearance on CNN earlier this year. It is an example of the insight and frank honesty that we need in facing and learning from our nation’s racial legacy in order to move toward greater levels of justice for all.