Rarely in history have things felt more urgent than they do right now. The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in his “I Have A Dream” speech delivered at the march on Washington on August 28, 1963, says this, but also reminds us “There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, when will you be satisfied?”
He follows this quote by addressing police brutality, and the necessity for Blacks and Whites to work together to see an end to the injustices in our communities. I surmise that if Dr. King were delivering this speech today, in addition to race, he would include in his naming: Christians and Atheists, protestors and police, poor and rich, franchised and disenfranchised, pro-life and pro-choice, democrat and republican, and any of the categories that have defined, and continue to define us as a people and a nation.
Our nation is in discord. More discord than I’ve experienced in my lifetime, and likely more than most living in our country have experienced in their lifetimes. In an answer to those who are still asking activists, “When will you be satisfied?” I say, “The urgency of the situation means I am not satisfied and will continue to be dissatisfied while we are eeking out meager existences adjusting and readjusting to the injustices that continue to be heaped upon our heads.
In his speech, Dr. King asserts that the Bank of justice isn’t bankrupt. I posit that though it might not be bankrupt, the bank of justice is being run by the corrupt, and eventually, the justice will run out. It ran out for Tamir Rice and Breonna Taylor. It ran out for Amadou Diallo and Sandra Bland. It ran out for Andrew Brown. It has run out through Supreme Court decisions and gerrymandering. This is why it’s so important for us to work toward justice. Justice running out for the few can and will lead to justice running out for many. As followers of Christ, we need to seek justice for the least of these, not just when it is convenient because there will always be the marginalized and the disenfranchised in our communities.
I was recently asked by a man I met while traveling across the state, “Do you think white people are doing enough to fight injustice(s)? I paused, wondering about his question. We had only just met. He was white. We hadn’t even been talking about race. I answered him vaguely. “I do sometimes wonder if some people are doing the best they can.”
He looked at me and laughed. “We’re not.” He continued, “We are doing the bare minimum if that. We are only doing what is comfortable for us. When George Floyd got killed, people like me, got our signs and came out to protest. We protested right here in this community, all up and down this street. And then you know what we did?” He paused for effect.
I looked at him and raised an eyebrow
“We finished the protest, took our signs, threw them in the trash, and went right back to what we were doing before the protests started.”
I asked, “Why do you think that is?”
He replied, “Because we live comfortable lives, and we don’t want to give up that comfort. We don’t want our children to become uncomfortable, and we don’t want to give up our power.” He went on. “You can ask anybody in here.” We were in a tiny coffee shop that was teeming with people. They were acting like they weren’t listening. I looked around but didn’t ask anyone, and looked back at him.
“The trash cans on the street were overflowing with Black Lives Matter signs. Yeah he said, we white people can do better.”
I understand being comfortable. Being comfortable is nice. As I write this, I think about all the things in the world that have brought me comfort over the years.
The embrace of a loved one. Snuggling up on a cold day in front of a fireplace with a good book, or on the couch while watching a movie on a rainy day. The sun on my skin when I’m at the beach, or the gentle waves crashing over me.
On more than one occasion Jesus reminds the hearer that this new way of believing/following will make them uncomfortable. This is what Jesus is speaking to in Luke when he commissions the 70 to go out and make disciples. They are challenged to leave behind their homes and belongings, they are challenged to be uncomfortable. That’s right, we are supposed to be so focused on following our faith, making disciples, and loving the people we encounter, that we should be uncomfortable. We should be uncomfortable with the injustices that surround us. The injustices we see and encounter in our communities should make us uncomfortable, as should the work we do to right the wrongs.
In addressing King’s work fighting injustice, and his subsequent martyrdom, Dr. James Cone in his work “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” reminded us of the words of the Rev. Benjamin Mays when he talked about King’s Martyrdom after asking if it was inevitable, “Inevitable, not that God willed it. Inevitable in that any man who takes the position King did… if he persists in that long enough, he’ll get killed. Now. Anytime. That was the chief trouble with Jesus. He was a troublemaker and if you rebel against the wrongs and injustices of society and organize against that, then what may happen is inevitable.”
Between 230 and 250 million people in the United States claim to be Christians. If even half of this number actively worked against the injustices in our society, we would be living in completely different communities. We would be living in communities that instead of being burdened with the injustices of the day, death, and desperation, would be communities filled with hope.
They can’t kill us all.
By Rev. Dr. Michelle Lewis