Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy, for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.
He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret-it leads only to evil.
During the past ten years, Mississippi as a society reached a condition which can only be described, in an analogous but exact sense of the word, as insane.
-Walker Percy in 1965
Guidance from another time
From family and friends, I received a bounty of books this Christmas. I’m eager to read them all, now stacked on my bedside table, backed up like planes circling LaGuardia for a landing. As I write, I’m halfway through Jon Meacham’s book entitled His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope.
This weekend, after watching too much news about the events in Washington, I retired to continue reading Meacham’s book. Dog-eared page led me to the chapter which begins by recounting the bombing of the church in Birmingham in the midst of the civil rights movement. Four young girls died after hearing a Sunday School lesson on this subject: The Love That Forgives. As I read this account of that event which is said to have altered the course of our history, I did wonder how much had actually changed. Last week’s image of the confederate flag marched through the capitol cannot be unseen. A gallows with a noose was set up outside the Capitol. Too many searing images.
Those images and what they reveal about who we are make it hard for me to know what to say this Monday morning. So I’ll turn it over to Mr. Lewis and Dr. King to learn from the way they responded to the desecration of that holy place in Birmingham. The circumstances differ, but I sense there are lessons for us as we navigate the desecration of another kind of holy place, the U.S. Capitol. I believe that Mr. Lewis and Dr. King provide guidance, as they fought for justice and peace, refusing to back down to evil, daring greatly, getting in good trouble, risking everything, all the while guided by principles of nonviolence, by the Sermon on the Mount, by prayer to the God of the exodus, by the spirit of Jesus, by the way of love.
Mr. Meacham reports that the bombing gave the debate over nonviolence new resonance. There were questions of whether the guiding principles of non-violence could do any good. They were fighting with love and the haters were using dynamite. Mr. Lewis recalled: That was always a question during the movement. After the church bombing, after so many violent episodes, people would say, “How can nonviolence defeat violence? The Klansmen don’t go to funerals. We’re the ones who go to funerals. But we couldn’t give up. Violence was not an option for us- not if we wanted to prevail, not if we wanted the Beloved Community.”
Dr. King preached at the funeral for three of the four girls. He said: “God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city…And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter, nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of human personality.”
I don’t know how these men found their grace and courage. I don’t know how they found strength to hold onto faith. I’m not sure how they kept hope alive. I’m pretty sure I would have folded or fled. But they kept on. They suffered for it. We are better for it. They speak to us from one crazy decade to another, calling us to find a way to move towards beloved community.
Is there something, even a small thing, you can do this week to move toward that place? If so, just do it. If you can’t think of anything, pray for God’s spirit to show you a way, to show you the way. And echo the prayer of the psalmist: Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy.