Much attention is being paid right now to the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma-to-Montgomery March. And rightly so. 50 years ago injustice was named and reforms were mandated. With some exceptions it seems that most people, black and white, are working hard at reconciliation. Division still exists. But our community is trying to do the right thing. Progress is evident to most eyes. Perhaps what is most encouraging is that the need for progress is still seen. There is much left to do to establish true justice for all God’s children.
Fewer and fewer people actually remember the events of 50 years ago. That’s two generations, after all. Some are alive who personally helped create the problems of racial inequality and an atmosphere of cruelty. Some are alive who personally fought against cruelty and injustice. Most have inherited the on-going struggle, however, and had no part personally in that critical era. Even those who are old enough to remember that time will confess a feeling of helplessness. The unjust system was complex and had been around for a long time.
Sometimes I am very aware that my age and skin color represent things I do not want to be associated with, things I may even say I spend time and energy trying to change. Yet, to many, I represent oppression and injustice. When I notice that, it feels like we have not made much progress at all. It’s easy to get impatient and cynical. It’s easy to think that I should be seen in a different light. I didn’t do anything to deserve that resentment. When people associate me with racial oppression and injustice, they are not seeing me for who I am. They are projecting a lot on to me. They aren’t giving me a chance. They are judging me by my skin color and making assumptions.
And, of course, that is what those whose skin color is black have historically dealt with, and in a much harder way than I ever have. They have been misjudged, projected onto, not been given a chance. They have not been seen for who they are. Assumptions have been made about them, inaccurate and unfair assumptions.
I held an hours-old baby a few days ago, a little girl as beautiful as I have seen anywhere or anytime. It is powerful in that moment to feel the goodness and hope that a brand new life exudes. All feels good with the world when a new child is born. It didn’t take long, however, to get hit with the struggles of the world as I left the hospital. Sickness, violence, anxiety, and stress make themselves known. They are not greater than the signs of hope but they never go away. Evil lurks and lingers in this good and beautiful world.
We inherit that kind of world. We didn’t cause all the evil that is here, though we unwittingly participate in it. Evil is pretty complicated. We’re helping it continue even when we don’t want to. And, yet, goodness abounds and the light shines on in the darkness. We inherit the light too. And we help it continue, sometimes even when we have no idea that we are.
Alcoholics and addicts come to a place of thanksgiving. They become grateful for their addiction because it leads them to acknowledge their need of God’s grace. They come to see that the struggle is far beyond their capacity to control, that their own wills are not strong enough to make the situation different. Perhaps it is true as well that our racial divisions are places which might lead us to a similar sort of humility. We want the situation to be different, better, resolved. But things keep on being divided. We make different choices in the midst of that struggle. We are friendly and kind and generous on certain occasions, hateful, petty, and mean-spirited on other occasions. Often we’re not really aware which side of the struggle we are aiding and abetting. That’s the nature of the good vs. evil struggle we inherit.
And, so, we humbly ask for God’s help. We ask for his peace and guidance. We ask him to change us, to change others, to change things as only God can know how they need to change. Struggle and division humble us. And a humble heart is fertile ground for God’s seeds of grace and healing.
The Daughters of the King, a group dedicated to prayer and service, has a motto which I have always liked. It reads: For His Sake…I am but one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do. What I ought to do, by the grace of God I will do. Lord, what will you have me do?
This 50 year anniversary of a tumultuous time may both encourage us and discourage us. Things are better. But things are still not good. We may feel overwhelmed and powerless which could lead us to acknowledge our dependence on God alone. We may feel renewed in our efforts to perform those small acts of kindness and justice which truly bring about change.
We cannot do everything. But we are called to do something. What is God calling you to do? Do that. And trust the love of God to renew the face of the earth.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Civil Rights: A 50 Year Reflection – Monday, March 9, at 6:00 pm
The Rev. Dr. Iain Whyte
On Monday, March 9, at 6:00, in cooperation with Alabama State University, St. John’s will host a special presentation by the Rev. Dr. Iain Whyte, from the Church of Scotland, entitled Civil Rights: A 50 Year Reflection. Dr. Whyte has written extensively on the abolitionist movement in Scotland and the work of Dr. Martin Luther King from a European perspective. He will be in Montgomery participating in the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March and this event will allow our parish to join in that observation as well. Join as we seek to deepen our ties with our community and grow in our relationship with people of all races.