We have told ourselves the story that somehow benevolent white folks acquiesced (and perhaps even saw the error of our ways) and, after a court case, “let” Mrs. Parks and all black folks sit wherever they wanted to on a bus. And, golly, looking back perhaps we were a little stringent in fussing about who sat where on a bus—but that’s all behind us now. Goodness—it sure would be nice if people would just stop talking about race!
The problem with this narrative is that it isn’t true. We in America haven’t dealt with the complicated history of what happened on Dec. 1, 1955 — or what happened before, or after. Many Americans have heard the name “Rosa Parks,” and they may have heard something about a bus. But they don’t know the history. As we look at the profound unrest and distrust in our nation, it is important to know the history.
I WALKED THROUGH the halls of the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Ala.—slowly. Original documents lined the walls of the nation’s central memorial to the local actions that helped trigger the national mass movement for civil rights. To skim would have been a sacrilege. Each document was evidence. Evidence of struggle. Evidence that America’s apartheid happened. Evidence of a miracle.
The museum is like a labyrinth. Each room builds on the last, adding color and depth to a reality most of the nation has only experienced in the two-dimensional contours of sepia-toned documentary footage and pictures.
I entered the room with the kitchen table where Martin Luther King Jr. dropped to his knees and prayed, weeping, scared, and still holding onto the last vestiges of his personal dream for a middle-class preacher’s life. For my tour group, the room was about that table, but the documents lining the walls like wallpaper caught my eye.
One stood out. It was a full-page newspaper ad with a letter from the White Citizens’ Council of Montgomery to the blacks of Montgomery. The letter pleaded with the black citizens to “stop their violent attack on their city.”
The first time I read “Stop this violence,” I was befuddled. What violence?
I scanned my memory for any trace of violence in the Montgomery bus boycott by the blacks who engaged in economic protest, refusing a public service that proclaimed and enforced a spiritual lie: Blacks are less than human. They had dropped one too many coins into the slot only to have to give up their seat to a white person if the bus was too full. The blacks of Montgomery refused to comply any longer with their society’s sin. They couldn’t continue taking up the public shovel to heap another pile of dirt on the carcass of their deadened dignity. So they walked.
And weeks into walking, the White Citizens’ Council called their protest “violent.”
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Richard Foster writes about it in his seminal book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. Healing prayer is different than prayers of supplication or intercession — the kind of prayer where we get to ask God for stuff. It’s different from contemplative prayer — the kind where we get to sit and soak in the presence of God.
Healing prayer goes deep into the soul of the prayer with one purpose — to heal hearts and souls broken by life. In healing prayer, the one on their knees invites Jesus to go deep — to reveal core lies she or he has believed about themselves, God, the world, their relationships; to identify the point when that lie took root in the soul; and then to renounce the lie and invite in the truth.
I was in the middle of my second year as a volunteer staff member with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship in 1996, when I had my first experience of healing prayer. It was a hard year for various reasons, so a good friend offered to pray for me. She starting by asking Jesus to come a join our circle of prayer — to sit with us and talk with us in the spiritual realm.
Then she got down to it: “Reveal the lies, Jesus,” she prayed.
We met weekly for spiritual surgery. One by one over the course of a year, Jesus revealed lie after lie that I had believed about myself, God, and my relationships. And the good doctor (Mark 2:17) took out the scalpel and cut that cancer from my soul and replaced lies with truth. The affect was dramatic.
Today (Jan. 16), we celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — a man who called America to face the lies embedded in its soul.