This morning, my heart breaks. Because hate came to town. And I am still dazed by the tragedy in Charlottesville.
I had a very different Sabbath Moment already written. Now, it can wait.
There is no place for hatred and intolerance. Period. There is no other side of this argument. Let’s be clear about that. And I will continue to invite us to sanctuary, because it is from places of sanctuary that we choose to call on our better angels.
So, today, I need an antidote to hatred. I need David Wilcox’s reminder, “In this scene set in sadness like the night is here to stay, there is evil cast around us but it’s Love that wrote the play, and through this darkness Love will show the way.”
In March 2013, I walked across a bridge.
Let me take you there…
The sun shines down from a bleached blue sky. The air may by cool, but our spirits don’t notice, as we stand and sing under the sign, Edmund Pettus Bridge. We are in Selma, Alabama on bloody Sunday.
And no, after today I will never be the same.
I came to Alabama for a pilgrimage.
As it turned out, I walked smack dab into an epiphany.
Or perhaps, the epiphany walked into me.
Either way, it wasn’t in my plans.
I find that I navigate my days a little easier when I have some semblance of control. It’s just that epiphany and control are not to be found in the same sentence.
On Friday morning I was honored to join a group of new friends on the13th Annual Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage. We gathered at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. (I want to reassure my friends from Notre Dame that the football national championship game was not mentioned. At least not more than twice.)
On June 11, 1963, history was made when James Hood and Vivian Malone walked through two white wood doors at Foster Auditorium to enroll at the University, the first African American students in the school’s history.
Their action proved all the more courageous, given that they needed to pass the Governor himself as he stood in that doorway, defiant in his intolerance and the fanaticism that still reverberated from his inaugural address, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” said Governor George Wallace.
I cannot imagine their courage or their fear. I can imagine that they shook more than just a little on the inside, and wondered, if only fleetingly, “Is it worth it? Maybe, this is a good time to turn around.”
I walk past the ordinary white wood doors–now enshrined in the lobby of the renovated Foster Auditorium–into a gymnasium with fellow pilgrims to hear the words of Dr. Sharon Malone (Vivian Malone’s sister) and Peggy Wallace Kennedy (the daughter of Governor George Wallace).
Diminutive in stature, Peggy is still youthful and carries a Southern grace in her face and demeanor. I had no expectations for her address (save for my skepticism radar in all matters having to do with the heart and reconciliation). In story form she took me to a swing-set outside a family home where a 13-year-old girl swung, unaware of the fateful remarks made by her father, a 13-year-old girl who would grow up pondering and wrestling with what it would mean to live under the shadow of her father’s words.
While her story is a long way from that of a nine-year-old boy in rural Michigan, we did have one thing in common: the realization that just because a parent lives from certain script, it does not mean that script is binding to the child. At some point in her life Peggy Wallace Kennedy knew that she could choose her path, choose her script, and that she must stand where her father stood with her own son as a testament to change, to bear witness as to why she chose to say NO to exclusion and YES to the need to protect the least among us.
“So today I rise,” she told us in the gymnasium. “Today I rise to stand in the schoolhouse door. Every day I rise… to speak to a child. To comfort a parent. To offer a hand. To enable justice.”
The doors she walked through were not literal, but real nonetheless. Each and every one of us fashions a life by the choices we honor–or more fundamentally, by the doors we open, and the doors we close.
Here’s the deal: There will always be a door to hope or gratitude or respect or worth or kindness or delight or compassion or mercy or dignity or vulnerability or value or opportunity or dreams. And, we must first open that door to our self. Only then do we realize that when we walk through that door, we say NO to shame or resentment or self-righteousness or fear or indifference or detachment or numbness or hopelessness or humiliation or hatred or despair.
“Count me in,” I said (on the inside), knowing full well that this will be easier said than done. Because, I tell myself, courage is not easy to come by.
On Saturday morning I stood in the kitchen of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church Parsonage, the home to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his family from 1954 to 1960. By the time the Montgomery bus strike was achieving both success and national attention, Dr. King began receiving telephone death threats (as many as 40 a day).
“One night very late around midnight–and you can have some strange experiences at midnight–the telephone rang.” Dr. King relates the story in a later sermon. “On the other end was an ugly voice.”
“For some reason, it got to me. I was weak. Sometimes, I feel discouraged… You can’t call on Daddy anymore. You could only call on the Something your Daddy told you about, that Power that can make a way out of no way.”
And at that kitchen table, he prayed. “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right… But I must confess… I’m losing my courage.”
King explained what happened next: “I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for truth. Stand up for justice. Stand up for righteousness.'”
Maybe that’s what clicked. When I see acts of courage I see heroism, and I don’t see myself. Or I see how far I have to go. Or I see how far short I have fallen.
But I do understand tired.
And I do understand discouraged.
And I do understand the end of my resources.
Mother Pollard was one of the elders of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, during the bus boycott of 1955-56. When her pastor Dr. King, suggested she go back to the buses because she was too old to keep walking, she told him, “I’m gonna walk just as long as everybody else walks. I’m gonna walk till it’s over.”
King marveled. “But aren’t your feet tired?” he asked.
“My feet is tired,” she replied. “But my soul is rested.”
So tired is one thing. Being soulless is something else altogether. Mother Pollard knew this. I doubt she went to a workshop to figure it out. She just knew in her bones; that she is whole, and filled with grace and sufficiency.
Which meant that for Mother Pollard, her rested soul allowed her to live fully into this life. (I read that the best beauty product is to actually have a life.) She walked toward, and not away from, life. This life, her life, with its contradictions, frustrations, weariness, tired feet and injustices.
Mother Pollard knew who she was. Her strength came from that place. Because she did see herself as a victim, she could live with intention, beyond circumstance or public opinion. In other words, tired feet was not an impediment. And from that soul flows tenderness, tenacity, compassion, joy, passion and justice.
With the witness of James Hood, Vivian Malone, Peggy Wallace Kennedy, Mother Pollard and Dr. King, I do know that I will be on the lookout for doors–of compassion, forgiveness, second changes, understanding–that I can open. And I will look for more bridges–reconciliation, grace, hope–that I can cross.
(1) The Pilgrimage is sponsored by The Faith and Politics Institute
POEMS AND PRAYERS
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” Fred Rogers
Show the Way
You say you see no hope
You say you see no reason we should dream
That the world would ever change
You say the love is foolish to believe
‘Cause they’ll always be some crazy
With an army or a knife
To wake you from your daydream
Put the fear back in your life
If someone wrote a play
To just to glorify what’s stronger than hate
Would they not arrange the stage
To look as if the hero came too late?
He’s almost in defeat
It’s looking like the evil side will when
So on the edge of every seat
From the moment that the whole thing begins
It is love who mixed the mortar
And it’s love who stacked these stones
And it’s love who made the stage here
Although it looks like we’re alone
In this scene, set in shadows,
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it’s love that wrote the play
For in this darkness love can show the way
Now the stage is set
You can feel your own heart beating in your chest
This life’s not over yet
So we get up on our feet and do our best
We play against the fear
We play against the reasons not to try
We’re playing for the tears
Burning in the happy angel’s eyes
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen
St. Francis of Assisi