Meditation Monday: D-Day in May

The first week in May is an annual reminder of what became known in the civil rights movement as D-Day, May 2, 1963. This was the first day of the “Children’s Crusade” in which thousands of elementary through high school aged children participated in non-violent direct action during the Birmingham campaign to desegregate public accommodations. Most Americans have seen images of police dogs and fire hoses used against the protesters. What many people do not know or realize is that this violent response by those wanting to maintain segregation was directed mostly at children. By remaining non-violent in the face of oppression and arrest, the images struck the conscience of the nation and resulted in changes to legal segregation laws that were seen as a permanent “way of life’ in Birmingham. The non-violent training and spiritual foundation for the witness of the children and adults in the Birmingham campaign was summarized in a commitment card that each person signed before participating in any direct action. In his book Why We Can’t Wait about the pivotal year of 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. included a copy of that card. Here are the commitments they made then and that still serve as a foundation for Christian faith-based witness for justice today:

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 video posted below features some of the original D-Day participants. How can we benefit from their witness and continue to build on that legacy of commitment to justice today?


Meditation Monday - More Powerful Than Hate

Once again the power of hate is in the national news as a white supremacist opened fire in a synagogue in Poway, CA killing a woman and wounding three others. Lori Kaye lost her life when she put herself between the gunman and the rabbi who was the intended target. Even as we denounce the racist bigotry that led to her death, may we also lift up the courage and love that allowed Lori Kaye to give her life to save others. This tragedy happened on the last day of Passover, the Jewish celebration that commemorates God’s deliverance of the Hebrew people from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Up to that point, the power of domination and violence represented by Pharaoh seemed invincible. Yet Moses dared to believe that God was more powerful than Pharaoh and that God called him to act on that belief by confronting Pharaoh and leading the Hebrew people out of Egypt.

The power of hate seems nearly invincible today. In our country and around the world, words and acts of racist and religious violence happen with alarming regularity. We are tempted to “normalize” this situation as “the way it is.” Yet the presence of God is still at work in our world calling us to believe and act on a power greater than hate. Most of us will never face the situation of literally giving our lives for another as Lori Kaye did. Yet each of us is called to commit our lives to the power of God’s non-violent, self-sacrificial, inclusive love. As stories of hate and violence fill the airwaves, I urge us to ask this question, “What is one step I can take today to show my commitment to the power of God’s love?” I believe that if we ask that question sincerely, God will show each of us the step we need to take individually and in community. Whether that step seems small or big, it will be more powerful than hate.

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Lori Kaye

Meditation Monday: Resurrection Partners

Yesterday was the high point of the Christian year as we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus on Easter. Yet the resurrection is not a one time event or an annual celebration. In the great chapter about the resurrection in I Corinthians 15, Paul proclaims that Jesus’ resurrection is the “first fruits.” In other words, God’s resurrection power continues to be at work in our lives and in our world. This is true not only for us as individuals but also for our society as we are open and committed to God’s will for our lives and our world. Last week on Good Friday, I read an article from the April 19, 1968 edition of Life magazine. It was written by Coretta Scott King 51 years ago just a few days after the murder of her husband Martin Luther King, Jr. Here are some of her words:

How many times have I heard him (Martin) say that with every Good Friday there comes Easter. When Good Friday comes there are moments in life when we feel that all is lost, and there is no hope. But then Easter comes as a time of resurrection, of rebirth, of hope and fulfillment. We must carry on because this is the way he would have wanted it to have been. We are not going to get bogged down, I hope, and this moment when we are going to go forward, we are going to continue his work to make all people truly free and to make every person feel that he is a human being.

The power of the resurrection is not just or even primarily about going to heaven after death. It is the way of new life right now. At the time of greatest loss and grief in her own life, Mrs. King reminds us to trust God’s power to bring new life out of what seem the most hopeless situations. She also reminds us that God calls us to be resurrection partners by committing our lives to working for love and justice for all people. Easter Sunday is past for this year. The power resurrection continues today and every day. The question of each of us is, How is God calling me to be a “Resurrection Partn

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MLK - Coretta with MLK Portrait.jpg



Mediation Monday: Accused, Executed, and Innocent

For millions of Christians around the world, this is Holy Week when we reflect on the last week of Jesus’ life from the time he entered Jerusalem to his death and resurrection. This story is so foundational and familiar that it is easy to “go through the motions” of observing this sacred time. Yet as we enter this Holy Week, I was struck by the realization that Jesus is the most famous victim of the death penalty. He was tortured and executed by the Romans based on false charges brought by religious authorities who accused him of claiming to be a new king challenging the authority of Caesar. Even though the Roman governor Pilate believed Jesus was innocent, he gave into political pressure and authorized Jesus’ horrifying execution by crucifixion. Although God redeemed this tremendous miscarriage of justice through the resurrection, it is a vivid example of the reality that the death penalty is liable to human error and manipulation. This is just as true in the United States of 2019 as it was in first century Israel. Organizations such as the Equal Justice Initiative and The Innocence Project have worked to exonerate innocent people on death rows in various states showing that innocent people continue to be accused of capital crimes. Even when defendants are guilty as charged, there is an obvious disparity in who receives the death penalty based on racial and economic factors. The video by Bryan Stevenson posted below is a brief introduction to this ongoing injustice. As followers of our Lord who was falsely accused, tortured, and executed; we are called to advocate for justice that is truly fair and equal. The death penalty throughout history including our own nation has never been fair or equal.

Meditation Monday - Justice vs. Law and Order

In April 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote what has become one of the iconic pieces of the modern civil rights movement - The Letter From the Birmingham City Jail. Not as well known is the piece to which Dr. King’s powerful letter was the response. Eight prominent white clergymen including Episcopal bishops and, Methodist bishops among several others published a letter in support of the goal of desegregation but critical of the campaign of non-violent direct action. They appealed to “law and order” without recognizing that the status quo maintained by that law and order was the source of racial injustice and oppression. Here are some of their words:

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…Just as we formerly pointed out that "hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political traditions," we also point out that such actions as incite to hatred and violence, however technically peaceful those actions may be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems. We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham .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.

As well intentioned as they were, these Christian leaders and the majority of white Christians they represented were on the wrong side of history. This continues to be instructive for our day and time. Appeals to maintain” law and order” in ways that dehumanize and oppress people are contrary to the justice that God desires for all people. It also discounts the lives and stories of those impacted by injustice that consistently favors the status quo. We have seen this at work on the southern border of our country, on the streets of our cities, and in our criminal justice system. As followers of Jesus, we have the call and responsibility to discern and resist when justice is inconsistent with our systems of “law and order.” The events in Birmingham in 1963 challenge us to ask the hard question of whether or not we are on the right side of history from the perspective of God’s justice and love.

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