This weekend, there has been rich news coverage (and an inspirational Presidential speech) honoring the 50th Anniversary of the historic civil rights march in Selma. While we have come so far in so many ways, the legacy of slavery and segregation continue to remind us that inequity and inequality are a part of the historical foundation of the United States. The fact that society needs to be reminded that “Black Lives Matter” suggests that we have so much more that needs to be spoken. The fact that structural racism maintains social inequities in wealth, education, health, and well-being urges us not to sit passively and allow injustice to prevail; in the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
These are challenging words to wake up to on Monday morning. But, let me remind you that this week’s theme is Rebuild.
What civil rights and religious leaders have been telling us for decades is that in order to truly make lasting changes in inequality, we must name and acknowledge and break down barriers to injustice. In this week’s Gospel, we hear the story of Jesus living into the same kind of activism. Jesus is not singling out one person for unjust behavior; Jesus addresses a system that has become money-focused, and in the process diverts energy and attention away from Divine Love and Grace. Our example of rebuilding also calls for these strong actions in the face of injustice so that we can break down structures that oppress. In order to rebuild, those structures need to be broken down.
There are stories within the history of Selma that show the incredible power of rebuilding.
First, literal rebuilding. I love the story of this church which was constructed just so the required segregated entrance was the grand, usable entrance for its parishioners:
Picture: A Tale of Two Entrances
(reference link: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/selma-50th-anniversary/tale-two-entrances-selmas-tabernacle-baptist-church-n319166)
Next, a story of lifetime rebuilding. I was particularly moved by this reflection of a Japanese-American civil rights activist whose vocational mission changed during that march to one of deep community and civil rights activism. His own reflection on rebuilding in the face of oppression speaks to the transformative core of this week’s Gospel:
“But instead of fear, Endo said he felt emboldened by “being part of something bigger than yourself.”
Story: Fifty Years Later and Still Fighting
(reference link: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/selma-50th-anniversary/fifty-years-later-selma-marcher-still-fights-civil-rights-n282186)
What are the structures in the world around you that need to be broken down?
What is rebuilt in the act of taking action?
It has been powerful for me to watch the reenactments of the civil rights movements. There is part of me that wishes I had been old enough, and brave enough, to have participated in the March in 1965. But there is plenty left to do! I just need to pray for the strength to step forward boldly.