As I reflect this year on the birth, life, and death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I have mixed emotions. I am overwhelmed with awe and respect for his leadership, his courage, his faith, and his sacrifice. I am ashamed of my white European and American ancestors who participated in perpetuating systems of injustice and denied the humanity of our brothers and sisters that required such leadership from Rev. King and countless others. I am heartbroken that we continue to need to fight for true freedom and opportunity and justice for one another here in our nation and all over the globe. And I am wondering about what the call from God is to me and to us regarding the work that needs to be done here and now.
It is hard for me to swallow the bitter pill of truth, I believe, that we still need to say out loud that #BlackLivesMatter. We need to say it because some still don’t believe it. Our social systems like public education, criminal justice, social helps, etc. have edges and corners and detours that work best for those whom are white, straight, and male. Studies and statistics continue to prove that to us in wide varieties of ways. And so do our first hand experiences.
But, the thing that’s extra tough in places like Iowa, even more so in the UCC of Iowa, is that many of us don’t have first-hand experiences to tell regarding the intersection of race and social injustice. Most of us are white. Most of us have only white friends and only white neighbors. A friend and colleague said to me this week, “You know, MLK Day kind of snuck up on me this year. If one of our mutual friends hadn’t posted something on her Facebook page about it yesterday, I would have completely forgotten about it.” It can be easy to forget about. For many of us. But for many of our brothers and sisters, it is not easily forgotten because it is a daily lived struggle.
Now the hard question: what are we called to do now? What does God require of us, here in the United Church of Christ of Iowa? Where does Jesus invite us to walk with him, in light of the needs, the wounds, the struggles, and the pain of our people, God’s people? What should this day of remembrance of Rev. King’s birthday spur us to do and to be?
I wish I knew the full answer to those questions. I believe that the first part of the answers lie in the beginning, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…,’…And it was so. God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:1, 26a, 31, NRSV) God made us all, each and every one of us, and saw that we are good, very good indeed.
But being human, we didn’t all believe it. From very close in time to the beginning, we relied on our fears of scarcity and mistrust of God’s good intentions and provisions, instead of God’s abundance and grace and love. We started trusting our own plans over God’s, stepping on one another, pushing each other out of the way, and created stories and systems and institutions to justify our actions. Since just about as early as the beginning, all of humankind has been struggling with our inability to receive and revel in God’s abundant gifts of life, love, and grace for us ALL.
We, the church, followers of Jesus Christ, believers of the gifts of God’s grace, love, and life for us ALL, need to tell the world that black lives matter, because some still don’t believe it. And some, even some of us, don’t know or believe the deep pain and suffering that still happens daily for our brown-skinned brothers and sisters. We need to tell the world that black lives matter because we believe that they do. We need to tell the world that black lives matter because God believes that they do.
And we need to work to make the systems of our society to truly reflect that belief so that we may one day move closer to Rev. Dr. King’s dream, embedded as he said in the American dream, and may I be so bold as to claim it is God’s dream for us as well, the dream of when we will see that day, “when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’” (King, Jr., Dr. Martin Luther. “I Have a Dream.” Council on Foreign Relations. 28 August 1963. Web. 15 January 2015.)
—Brigit Stevens, Associate Conference Minister