I recently attended a church service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Martin Luther King Jr. was baptized. I was there to see my friend Rob Lee preach, there to support him as he daily chases after justice and speaks on reconciliation.
For an hour and a half, I was immersed in the experience of the African-American church, and I felt both like a visitor and right at home. We would sway to the music, lift our hands, our voices, our very souls in communal worship. We belonged to one another. We were one.
When Rob, a descendant of Robert E Lee, stood at the podium to speak, he made the point clear that the work of justice in America in 2018 must be done across all dividing lines. He reminded us of King’s own dream, that peace might happen between black and white, slave owner and slave, oppressor and oppressed.
I sat there listening as a woman, born from both European and Potawatomi ancestors, feeling full well the call placed on me to continue the work of seeking justice. There are many of us walking in this tension, answering this call, living in the spaces of tension that keep the world aching for shalom.
During the benediction, the man next to me stood up and scooted over, reaching out his hand. As we joined hands and sang Highest Praise, I felt Kingdom inching closer. I felt us journeying toward shalom together. When the service was over, the man turned to me, looked at the necklace I was wearing, my tribe’s logo, the Potawatomi, People of the Place of Fire. He pulled out a picture of his grandmother. “I’m Martin Luther King’s cousin, on his mama’s side.” I thanked him for having me at his church, and we left the sanctuary, full.
All over the place in American Christianity, we are asking what is appropriate, what will work and what will not work anymore, how women and people of color are to be treated, what is expected of our male leaders. We are re-wiring things and tearing some things down. We’re making room for a new kind of faith, detaching it from the fear-based faith we were taught as children.
Beth Moore said it like this in a recent Tweet:
We have not just caught the world’s fears. We are leading out in them. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be so. We may call ourselves Christians but we cannot call ourselves Jesus followers and be led by fear. They are going polar opposite directions.— Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) May 30, 2018
To break out of this kind of hold, it means toppling the status quo, toppling oppressive systems one church service, protest, written letter, or phone call at a time.
What does it mean to be an activist? And what does that mean as Jesus followers?
It means that we’re unwilling to sit quiet in the face of injustice.
It means we call out fear-mongering in public and private places.
It means we sit in uncomfortable spaces and make room for shalom to blossom.
It means we look at our own privilege and ask what place it has in the world.
It means we make the tables bigger.
And I cannot do it alone.
And you can’t do it alone.
We cannot do it inside an echo chamber.
We cannot do it with people who experience life just like we do.
What does the Kingdom of God look like?
All tribes and tongues.
What does America look like right now?
A place filled with and fueled by fear of the “other.”
We are calling each other “animals,” shouting it at presidential rallies led by the president himself.
We are patting ourselves on the back in those same places as he clamors on about the way “our ancestors tamed a continent.”
This is not shalom. It is a false faith led by fear, fueled by the power of white supremacy.
If we want to embrace the kind of living that the Spirit embodies, we have to honor the work of stepping over boundary lines. We have to honor the work of listening when it’s time to listen and speaking up when it’s time to speak up.
Because the Kingdom has a time and place for everything under the sun, and our time and place is right here, right now, in America in 2018.
What kind of faith is ahead of us?