Thursday, January 21, 2016
"MLKJ Day," as Caroline calls it, gives our family the opportunity to remember that we wouldn't even exist if it weren't for the courage of those who led the charge in the civil rights movement.
"MLKJ Day" also gives us the chance to celebrate the realization of his dream that "one day little black boys will join hands with little white girls as sisters and brothers."
Of course there's much more to MLK Jr's influence than just his "I Have a Dream" speech, though that is probably his most well-known. Dr. King's insistence upon using love to drive out hate through nonviolence is what changed the face of society as we know it.
(By the way, I'd encourage you to watch the movie "Selma" to gain perspective of the Civil Rights era if you haven't seen it.)
Even though Dr. King walked hundreds of miles in peaceful protests, I honestly never thought I'd be engaging in one. But God is growing me and taking me out of comfortable places to teach me what it means to follow Him. He's been showing Marc and I our own idols of fear and comfort, and how we have placed those above Him.
In his letter from a Birmingham jail, Dr. King wrote:
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not . . . the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace, which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direction action.” . . . Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. . . . We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
Marc and I see ourselves SO MUCH in Dr. King's words. Who knows how many people have been hurt by our preference to have this "negative peace," as he puts it. So in this particular instance, when an RUF student of ours began forming this peaceful protest, we decided we could not continue in our silence.
And we didn't have time to make a sign, so we literally took the artwork I made that hangs above our couch off the wall and used that as our sign. (haha!)
As Marc and I drove onto campus, my heart was beating a hundred times a minute. I'd never done anything like this before. And I didn't know how it would go or be received.
We got out of our car and began walking towards the protestors' location, a place the police had designated which was ironically, not visible to anyone going to the Trump convocation. At every point, we found ourselves blocked off by barricades and police officers.
How were we supposed to find our group?
We had to circle back through the university's largest building, and wouldn't you know, the long hallway we had to walk down was brimming with everyone standing in line to see Mr. Trump.
Just imagine it-- a hallway as long as an airport concourse filled to capacity with THOUSANDS of people, and Marc and I's only option of finding our small protest group was to walk that hallway AGAINST THE FLOW OF TRAFFIC.
"Sorry, excuse us," we repeated over and over again as we squished through the masses of bodies with our large MLK sign. (Can we say AWKWARD?!?) It was quite a picture-- thousands of people waiting in conformity, and the two of us working so hard to swim upstream for what we believed in.
After walking for what felt like an eternity, we finally found our group! It was small, as I expected, yet it was beautifully diverse, as I had hoped. Tears came to my eyes as I beheld it all: black, white, young, old, student, community member, disabled, and walkers. All joining together to honor the legacy of MLK in the face of the university's racial insensitivity on such a day. We were instantly welcomed, and it was such a bonding experience to be around like-minded folks who were also not going to continue the silence.
But on a frigid day, there's only so long you can stand in the shade unnoticed in a silent protest. So we decided to take a little walk around campus and find a small spot of public land near the entrance to the university.
I guess I expected something like this to feel very "extraordinary." Radical. Dangerous, even. (I think the images of violent protests on tv worked a number on my anxious mind!)
But it didn't. It felt really normal. Ordinary. Just standing on streets I've been on hundreds of times, this time holding up words of love and getting to know the people standing around me.
I know there was a consensus around Liberty that the protest was disrespectful and created problems. I would humbly disagree.
MLK said, "Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with."
I didn't expect the "you're going to hell" comments, but hey, it's okay. Just because something isn't received well doesn't mean it shouldn't be done.
Because even though our group was small and the protest was rather uneventful, there were hundreds and thousands across the country who chimed in to support our efforts and Marc's article. Some folks came up and spoke to us, offering us their support. Others honked in support as they drove by. One black Liberty student commented on the article about the protest,
"I cried reading this because sometimes I know people don't get it and I know people don't care to get it. My friends, leaders, those leading me to Christ are completely unaware and it's terrifying. So thank you. I cannot protest because of the organizations I'm apart of, but I support and encourage you to keep going."
Perhaps many would say the protest was a waste of time and that it didn't accomplish anything. I'll admit, it was tempting to feel that way when I came home. But it certainly gave everyone plenty to talk about around campus and the country, and the discussions it raised are the only way change can even begin. (It's interesting to me that those who are Protestants have the word "protest" in our very name. Our faith and our churches were born out of an important protest that changed society as we know it.)
Social activism certainly wasn't on my bucket list for 2016, but the more God is teaching me, the more I'm seeing it as Kingdom work. Because all humans are made in the image of God, Christians work to end oppression and injustice and we desire that all people be treated with the dignity which they have already been given by their Creator.