Third Sunday in January

It’s 1963 again. These words ring so true. They speak to what I’m feeling and seeing. It feels like we’ve gone back in time — to an era when I wasn’t even alive — to a time that I have heard about every single year on the third Sunday of January.

Remembering Dr. King, in each church I’ve served, we’ve marveled that there were some who marched in Selma. Some of them sitting in our sanctuaries. Some that were there that saw with their own eyes the injustice that we have never witnessed ourselves in the white communities that I have called home. First in my hometown and then in Maine which was said to be the whitest state in the union and now in Washington where the population of the town I currently call home is 83.7% white. On that third Sunday of January, each and every year, we’ve preached tolerance. We’ve insisted that segregation and brutality and hatred are not God’s way and thanked God that that past is behind us. We’ve come so far. But, now, it feels like 1963 again.

We haven’t come that far. We haven’t realized the justice that we thought we had so that now the nation is exploding in protest. Not just the nation. I was in Canada for Thanksgiving and was startled to see Canadians protesting through the streets with signs proclaiming #blacklivesmatter.

#blacklivesmatter Protest in Victoria, Canada

Black lives matter. It’s something I’ve been longing to say in worship. To preach. To organize. To pray. But, my prayers have been silent. I haven’t raised my voice even though it is the weight upon my shoulders. Even though it is one of the protests that bring to God in this Advent Season. I wonder if I’m on the offense. I wonder how I can be.

My ministry in Olympia is ending in less than two months. As much as I might like to be a leader in the conversation, I know that I can’t. I can’t be the voice of the church. I can only encourage the members of this congregation to find their own way to live out that social justice ideal that we talk about on the third Sunday of January. I’m not even sure how to do that. In the back of my mind, there is this image from before the December 11th protest in Boston and there is this quote from The Daily Beast:

Seeing white people vocalize the value of black lives and oppose racist institutions is great, but only if they are taking those same values into their day-to-day experiences.

Like so many clergy, especially those that are not people of color, I’m taking the long view. And I hate saying that. It sounds horrible even to my own ears. I’m wondering how this will change our conversations about diversity and tolerance. I’m wondering how we will do our ministry differently and how we might actually step outside of our buildings to proclaim a different kind of faith that even the Civil Rights Movement didn’t quite capture. And I know that this makes me part of the problem. Rachel Hackenberg says this way better than I can. Because I’m not being vocal. I’m not stepping out. I’m quietly reflecting. I’m posting articles on Facebook. I’m mostly silent and wondering how to observe that third Sunday in January this year.

Because it will be different. It has to be different.

Our day-to-day experience has to change.

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