March on Washington. August 28, 1963
"I dunno, man, I mean what's the point?" my friend said to me as he took a long drag on his cigarette.
"What do you mean?" I asked him as he mindlessly flicked the smoldering butt away and reached for a fresh one.
"Well, you say try to do good, try to make a difference. But there's too many problems in the world to solve. There's too big of a gap between poor folk and rich folk. There's too many people sleepin' on the street goin' hungry and nobody gives a *blank* because there's not *blank* we can do about it. If we were super rich or crazy famous then maybe we could start feeding kids in Cambodia or where the *blank* ever. But just regular Joe's like you n me? We can't make any kinda difference in this craphole world so why even try?"
I thought about his words for moment before responding. I let silence hang in the air, the pause pregnant and heavy with his despair. Finally I said to him "You're right, there's no point trying to fix the world. That's too big, one man can't bear the weight of the entire world. You can't control others and the way that they behave. But you can look to your own sphere of influence. You can look at the people around you and ask 'Is there any need that I can meet right now that makes a bad situation better?' Make things better as best you can and hopefully inspire others to do the same."
He looked at me for awhile and said "You're right. We can't expect the world to be a more positive place if we do nothing but make it more negative."
* * *
Yesterday marked the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's march on Washington DC.
They were facing down injustice on a grand scale. They faced hatred and looked the evils of bigotry in the eye. What amazes me about Dr. King's legacy is that he called people to return hatred and injustice with love.
He could have said these problems are far too big to ever change, so what's the point? Instead he attacked hatred with love. Which is exactly what Christ has called each and everyone one of us to do. Christ said of his followers that we would be known by our love.
He looked at people that were denying his people rights, even attacking and killing them. He said people that were treating others as less than human and noticed that in doing so they were losing their own humanity. He was trying to save the racist white people from themselves as well as gain social equality for his own.
Things aren't perfect now, but I was talking to one of my friends yesterday about the march on Washington. He told me he was trying to explain it to his children and they couldn't understand it. The idea of segregation didn't make sense to them. It's a beautiful story that proves that children are born to love and not hate, and I never would have heard it if not for Dr. King because my friend is black and I am white. Because of the sacrifice of Dr. King and his peers my life is richer, my humanity more intact.
How do we respond to great sacrifice like that? We try to make the world a better place.
How is that possible when the evil is so great? We start with what's in front of us.
"And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we're free at last!'"
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
If you ask pretty much anyone what their favorite class was in school most would answer gym or recess. This was not true for me. I dreaded gym. I loathed the "free periods" in gym most of all. The source of my hatred for these classes was not hard to find. It was always towards the beginning of the class.
When it was time to pick teams.
Most everyone I know has a story about how tough it is to get picked last. How the rejection can eat at a soul. I was pretty much always picked last. Even more than twenty years later I can remember the "cool" kids arguing over who would be stuck with me on their team. "I got stuck with him last time, it's your turn!" "No way! He's the last one you HAVE to pick him!"
I would usually excuse myself to sidelines. I would offer to "sit this one out" so I wouldn't bring anyone down with my presence.
I understood why I wasn't chosen. I was never particularly athletic. I was slow and uncoordinated, I had terrible asthma that led to horrible coughing fits.
Still, understanding why I was left out didn't make it hurt less. It didn't make me feel less isolated. Less like a waste of space.
This is why I am drawn to Christ. He picks those that would be picked last, or not at all. When Christ walked the earth he picked dirty uneducated fishermen for his team. He picked those that would betray him, those that would pretend like they had never met him. He picked one that murdered Christians before being knocked from his horse. He picked the liars and the left out.
He chose to surround himself with prostitutes and tax collectors (traitors). People that were called notorious sinners. Those that the religious establishment wrote off as rejects, scum, losers, unclean.
He chose me for his team. He hasn't given me the option to sit from the sidelines and watch. He doesn't let anyone just watch. He knew my ups and downs. My shortcomings and failures, and still he chose me to be seated with him in heavenly places. He chose this uncoordinated loser to run the good race and fight the good fight.
And because he chose me I will go to my grave singing his praises.
*photo Credit Andrei Shailkhau
I believe in visions.
I don't have them personally but I believe in them. I believe God uses pictures to speak to His children. He is the consummate artist. The one true creative force. He uses images and actions to tell us stories, modern day parables to teach His children hungry for His voice.
Dreams and Visions are all throughout the Bible. Both Old Testament and New and He's promised us that in the last days He is going to pour out His Spirit on all flesh.
The old men are going to dream new dreams and the young are going prophesy like those of old.
All flesh...everyone. The saved and unsaved. The beautiful and the ragged. That'll be a day worth seeing. But I'll leave that for later.
The closest thing I've ever had to a vision was not when I was praying or reading my bible. It wasn't when I was at that perfect moment of the church service when the music swells and the preacher promises new life. It was when I was riding the famous Chicago El train.
One of the things I love most about the El train is that while you are on it you will see a real cross section of humanity. Young. Old. Black. White. Latino. Yuppie moms pushing strollers. Young gangster wannabe types rapping far too loudly than to be just for themselves. Street preachers. Hedonists. Businessmen in suits. Working stiffs just trying to get home after a long exhausting day.
I was riding the Green line going in towards the loop. Going to hang out with an old friend, maybe catch a movie. I wasn't praying or straining to hear God speak. I wasn't feeling particularly holy. Just going about my day.
I was holding tightly to the railing as the train jostled over the tracks and picked up speed. Images flashed unbidden through my mind. I was still present and still looking out over the tops of houses and apartments but inside I was watching a movie. It felt like strong imaginings but nothing I was thinking about or seemed relevant to what was actually going through my mind.
In my mind's eye I saw roots shoot of the bottom of my feet. They burst through the bottom of the train, weaving themselves between the tracks and ties. Snaking themselves down the old iron girders that had held up these tracks for so long. They broke up the concrete of sidewalks and streets and dug themselves deep in the Illinois soil.
And then it was done. I was coming close to my stop and was left wondering why on earth I would be imagining roots coming out of the bottom of my feet.
That was years ago but I'm still now coming to understand what God was trying to show me that day on the train. Since I moved to Chicago I have been wanting to move back to North Carolina, the state I had known my whole life. I was living with my body in Illinois, but my heart and soul in North Carolina. I was wrong to live that way. Unless you put down roots in your community, unless you live present in where you are, where God has you, you cannot make a difference. True change comes from love. And it's hard to love a place you only want to escape.
Sometimes you have to put down roots before you can love a place.
And you have to love a place if you want to make it better.
When I read my Bible I find that one of the most compelling characters in the book is David. It could be that I'm simply narcissistic and am drawn to the one that shares my name. But I hope that it's deeper than that.
What I love most about his story is that we get everything. The highs. The lows. The times when he has killed a giant and the people sing songs about him. The times when he running for his life and pretending to be insane. When he becomes king of a nation. When he commits adultery and murder (two of the commandments in one go).
Throughout all that we know about him (and we know allot), he is remembered through history as "the man after God's own heart". The man that built an inside out temple of praise when the theology of the day said you only get go into the holy of holies once a year and even then you might die.
How did he get this understanding of God's nature? How did he become the "man after God's heart"? I honestly think it was his time alone in the fields.
Before he was famous, before he was a giant killer or the great musician that could calm Saul's murderous rage he was just a kid out in the field taking care of his father's flocks. Mostly forgotten even by his own family.
His father didn't even bring him in from the field when the prophet came to the house. He was alone out in the wilderness.
Those quiet nights under the stars. Those hot days under the middle eastern sun. All alone with a bunch of smelly sheep. These were the moments that forged his character. These were the times when he prayed to an invisible God and came to know Him like none before him.
I imagine David alone in the fields under a vast and starry sky, singing praises to an unseen God. I imagine tears streaming down his dirty shepard's cheeks as he feels God singing back over Him. David realizing that God delights in him, that God "knit him together in his mother's womb."
How else does a boy get the courage to kill a giant? To stand before kings? He knew who he was as the beloved of God.
If we all knew who we were...if we could see how God sees us. We would do great things.
But it requires time in the wilderness. Time alone that no one else sees. We shouldn't despise the days of small beginnings because these are the days that make greatness possible.
I dare you to be brave enough to ask God how he sees you. Ask Him what He thinks of you.
I bet it's allot because his own son shed his blood for you.
And once He tells you what He thinks of you...I dare you to believe Him.