This coming weekend we stop—the whole nation stops its work on Monday—to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who called us to connect our faith with our actions, and to remember that even systems of democracy can leave some people out, and hurt others.
My favorite MLK quote is, “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I hope that’s true. Everything we do around the church depends on that statement’s truth, and on trust in God’s promise that “all shall be well”. But the persistence of old wars and senseless violence, like we saw in last week’s news from France, makes me wonder whether we are infusing enough love into the world to counteract the hatred. And the last year of news in this country, about the ways young black men are often treated by the police, has been proof that changing human hearts and minds is a long, complicated process. In fact, the arc will not bend without our tugging on it.
A couple of months ago, I had an experience that I still haven’t stopped thinking about. I was walking through the parsonage’s condominium complex on a Saturday afternoon, and noticed an African-American teen-age boy riding a bicycle. He didn’t look particularly dangerous to me; he was dressed like most teenagers, and he had long dreadlocks and was wearing a cap.
When I got out of the complex and out onto the street, I saw that a policeman had stopped this young man and was talking to him on the sidewalk. I crossed the street and stood for a few moments, to watch what was happening. I couldn’t hear their conversation, but I wondered what would have made a policeman in a car pull over and stop this kid on a bike.
Eventually I walked away. I generally trust the police to be doing their job of protecting the community with integrity and good intentions. I had no idea whether this police officer had good reason to make this stop. But I wondered: would he have pulled this kid over just for looking like he didn’t belong?
I thought about going over and standing closer, so that I could hear what their conversation sounded like, but I wasn’t sure whether my watchful presence would defuse the situation or just antagonize the officer. And so I did what I think many of us who are comfortable and secure and confident that the system treats us fairly would do…nothing. I kept walking. And now I keep wondering whether I should have done something more.
A professor of Business Ethics at Harvard Business School went to work several years ago to find out why, despite all the ethics courses that are required in MBA programs, unethical conduct continues to be part of corporate life. What she realized in her study was that most of the time, it’s not ethical dilemmas with complicated, unclear answers that we need help with; it’s actually doing the right thing. We’re not unsure of what we should do; we’re afraid to do it, because we don’t know how people will react to us. Will they be angry? Will they somehow make us doubt the rightness of our own actions? (Mary Gentile, Giving Voice to Values)
Being a passive consumer of religion’s comfort is pretty easy. But what God needs from us, if we are going to be part of the work of bringing love and justice on earth, is harder. It requires courage. And it requires community, our coming together to en-courage one another to stretch, and to do the things that are hard.
That’s what church is.
Love and blessings, Kathi