Meditation Monday - Sitting Down for Justice

February 1960 was a pivotal month in the modern civil rights movement. Yet it is often overlooked, because it is not associated with a major campaign led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Instead it started on February 1 when four African American college freshmen at North Carolina A&T decided to sit-in to be served at a segregated lunch counter at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, NC. Although they were not served due to the racist policy that was common throughout the South, their witness spread to other cities where college and high school students participated in similar sit-ins. In Nashville, TN students from four local schools led sit-ins that resulted in desegregated lunch counters in that city by the end of the month. The Nashville sit-ins were also notable because of the leadership of several people who continued to give leadership to the national civil rights movement including John Lewis, Diane Nash, and James Lawson. The video posted below is a brief summary of the Nashville sit-in movement that emphasizes their commitment to training and practice of non-violence as the key to the success of the sit-ins. This is a powerful witness to living the way of Jesus in the face of hate and violence. As we continue to face and deal with the ongoing legacy of racism in our time, the witness of these young people reminds us that it is possible to confront injustice and advocate for justice with a spirit of love.

Meditation Monday - Black History Month: American History Now

Most Americans know that February is Black History Month. What many do not know is that it started in 1926 as Negro History Week under the leadership of the black historian and scholar Carter G. Woodson. The week was selected because it included the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12) and Frederick Douglass (Feb. 14). At the time, this was a way of lifting up the contributions of African Americans to the history of our country that were largely ignored by nearly all “mainline” sources. Sadly today, Black History Month is too often seen as limited to the African American community or given some wider attention just during February. Yet as we are experiencing in Virginia over the last few days, limiting or ignoring the history of the achievements and traumas of African Americans directly impacts all Americans. Even though Governor Northam advocated policies supported by the vast majority of African Americans in Virginia, his failure to recognize and confess the deep legacy of pain and trauma caused by wearing “black face” is leading to growing legitimate calls for his resignation. The video below this post summarizes the shameful events of the last few days. Yet this is not just about Governor Northam just as the tragedy in Charlottesville in 2017 was not just about denouncing Neo-Nazis. Both are symptoms of a much greater national sickness. Until Black History is recognized and treated as an essential part of American History, our nation will not face the truth of our founding sin of racism (starting in 1619). Yet facing that painful truth is the only path forward to reconciliation. As the acclaimed writer William Faulkner said, “The past is not dead, it’s not even past.” For individuals, communities, and nations, our hope for forgiveness, justice, and reconciliation comes only by going through the pain rather than avoiding it.

Meditation Monday - Remembering MLK, Jr.'s Transforming Spiritual Experience

January 27, 1956 is a significant date in the life and ministry of Martin Luther King, Jr. Just after midnight, he had a transforming spiritual experience that set the tone for the rest of his time as a leader of the civil rights movement. It was during the early days of the Montgomery bus boycott, and Dr. King was regularly receiving threatening phone calls at this home. On this particular night, one such call triggered a spiritual crisis that he later described in a sermon titled “Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool.” Here are some of his words describing that fateful night:

And immediately the telephone started ringing and I picked it up. On the other end was an ugly voice. That voice said to me, in substance, "Nigger, we are tired of you and your mess now. And if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out and blow up your house." 

Dr. King goes on to tell how he prayed to God at that moment of fear and weakness.

And I bowed down over that cup of coffee—I never will forget it. And oh yes, I prayed a prayer and I prayed out loud that night. I said, "Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right; I think the cause that we represent is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now; I’m faltering; I’m losing my courage. And I can’t let the people see me like this because if they see me weak and losing my courage, they will begin to get weak.".

What followed was a transforming spiritual experience in which God provided the assurance necessary for Dr. King to go on and endure the opposition and even violent resistance that he encountered not only in Montgomery but constantly over the next twelve years until his assassination in 1968:

And it seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, "Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world." And I’ll tell you, I’ve seen the lightning flash. I’ve heard the thunder roll. I felt sin- breakers dashing, trying to conquer my soul. But I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No, never alone. No, never alone. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. And I’m going on in believing in him. 

January 27, 1956 may not be a very widely known time in Dr. King’s life especially when compared to milestones such as the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act or the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Yet January 27 was the foundation for these milestones. It reminds me that our spiritual formation is at the heart of following God’s call to racial justice so that we know and claim God’s promise to always be with us and never leave us alone.

The video below is the audio of Dr. King’s sermon “Why Jesus Calls a Man a Fool.”

Meditation Monday - Celebrating MLK, Jr. in Word and Spirit

Today is a national holiday in honor of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. He is now celebrated as an American hero who helped our nation to live more deeply into our ideals of freedom and justice for all people. He has an honored place with a memorial in our nation’s capital along with hundreds of other places around the country named after him. Yet this is the same person who at the time of his assassination in April 1968 was perhaps the most hated man in America. His leadership of a faith based non-violent movement for social change came to oppose what he called the “giant triplets of evil” - racism, poverty, and war. This threatened the status quo not only of those who wanted to maintain racial segregation but also the policy of the national government that was escalating the war in Vietnam. So to celebrate Dr. King with integrity, we cannot simply choose our favorite quotes from his speeches and sermons without also being open to the spirit of his words in the context of the opposition he faced throughout his 12 years as a leader of the civil rights movement. It is with this in mind, that I lift up the following event from this year’s MKL, Jr. Holiday weekend when Vice President Pence referred to Dr. King in an attempt to support the Trump administration’s immigration agenda that includes funding for building a larger wall along our southern border. The following is a summary from a news source that includes both Pence’s words and Dr. King’s own words about the Berlin Wall during a visit to Berlin in 1964:

Pence quoted King on Sunday during an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” in an attempt to sell Trump’s long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall.

“One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King was, ‘Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy,’” Pence said. “You think of how he changed America, he inspired us to change through the legislative process.”

But King did not support using walls to divide people, as he stated in a speech to over 20,000 people during a visit to East and West Berlin in 1964.

“It is indeed an honor to be in this city, which stands as a symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth,” King told East Berliners. “For here on either side of the wall are God’s children, and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact.”

Dr. King and thousands of others in the civil rights movement struggled and suffered to bring change through national legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Dr. King also opposed what he considered to be unjust legislation and went to jail on multiple occasions, because he refused on obey unjust laws. It does not take much historical knowledge or imagination to know that Dr. King would not go along with using his words to support a legislative process that results in a huge barrier that is not a part of just immigration policy but a symbol of ongoing and dehumanizing separation. Neither should we.

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Meditation Monday - Why We Needed and Need a Movement

January 15 is the 90th birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. He became the most famous leader of what became known as the Civil Rights Movement that started in the late 1950’s. Yet the struggle against racism did not begin with Dr. King. This week in the news there was a graphic example from the 1940’s of the pervasive system of legalized racism known as Jim Crow and the struggle for justice and equality that predated the modern civil rights movement. In Florida the Groveland Four received posthumous pardons after being wrongly accused of raping a white woman nearly 70 years ago in 1949. At that time one of the four young men was lynched by a mob before their trial. Two others were later shot by a local sheriff who falsely claimed that they were trying to escape, and one of them died. The remaining two endured two trials and were falsely convicted twice despite the best efforts of their attorney Thurgood Marshall who would go on to become the first African American Supreme Court justice. The video posted below is a brief report about the posthumous pardon of the Groveland Four. It is a story of racism, unjust suffering, and a seven decade struggle for justice. As we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday and give thanks for the civil rights movement, it is important to remember that the struggle against racism goes back to the very foundation of our country and continues today. The story of the Groveland Four is an example of why we needed the civil rights movement. Their posthumous pardon is a witness to the persistence of those who fought for justice against overwhelming odds and a call for us to resist unjust actions and systems regardless of how popular they may be. Organizations such as the Equal Justice Initiative and the Poor People’s Campaign are contemporary examples of the ongoing need to continue the movement for racial justice 90 years after the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. and 70 years after the Groveland Four.