MONDAY MUSINGS - TUESDAY EDITION
July 21, 2020
We've come this far by faith,
leaning on the Lord;
trusting in his holy word,
he's never failed us yet.
Oh, can't turn around,
we've come this far by faith.
We've come this far by faith.
1 Just remember
the good things God has done,
things that seemed impossible;
oh, praise him for the vict'ries he has won.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #633]
The readings for Sunday, July 26, 2020, the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
My wife, Linda, discovered it and read it at an All-Saints memorial service the year my mother died.
I was reminded of that magnificent poem this past weekend as our nation mourned the deaths of Congressman John Lewis and the Rev. C.T. Vivian, two icons of the Civil Rights Movement of the 50's, 60's, and 70's. Earlier this year, in March, we also lost the Rev. Joseph Lowery. Three giant trees who stood out prominently in the great forest of those often nameless saints who stirred the conscience of our nation, and played a vital role in the struggle for racial equality.
Their accomplishments now become treasured memories, indelibly recorded in history, so that a generation as yet unborn may honor their legacy.
By now you have been deluged with countless written articles and video reports on the life of Lewis and, to a much lesser extent, Vivian. But if you really want to dig deep into these men and others who helped transform racial attitudes, I commend to you a trilogy of books that are well worth the massive amount of time they will take to read. They offer, in my opinion, the most thorough and detailed overview of the peak years of the Civil Rights struggle, 1954 to 1968. I wrote about these works in a "Musing" in February of 2018, and here is a quick recap.
Parting the Waters
, by Taylor Branch, is a chronicle of America during the years 1954-1963, when the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King rose to prominence along with the emergence of the civil rights movement. It is a massive work - 922 pages. Branch followed up his Pulitzer Prize-winning work with Pillar of Fire (1963-1965), and At Canaan's Edge (1965-1968). In all, Branch devotes nearly 3,000 pages to the life of Dr. King and the numerous valiant people who helped change the face of America by helping shape public policy and changes in legislation.
Because of his stature in congress, Lewis is perhaps the best known of the three most recently deceased. He worked tirelessly to gain and maintain voting rights for the disenfranchised. Among his many memorable quotes was, "The right to vote is precious and almost sacred, and one of the most important blessings of our democracy. Today we must be vigilant in protecting that blessing."
He was also the youngest of the trio, and would always be quick to acknowledge that Vivian and Lowry were the two that inspired him in the struggle.
Lewis was but seven years old when C.T. Vivian would lead a sit-in effort to integrate lunch counters in Peoria, Illinois. Two things are worth noting here. One, this sit-in took place in the north, which dispels the myth that segregation and the Civil Rights Movement was the exclusive domain of the southern states. Also, the sit-in happened in 1947, a full eight years before the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was thrust into the national spotlight as the head of the Montgomery (Alabama) Bus Boycott.
Among Vivian's other battle scars was a punch to the face in 1965 when confronting Selma, Alabama Sheriff Jim Clark in his efforts to get its black citizens registered to vote. He was also nearly drowned in St. Augustine, Florida, attempting to integrate the beaches in that historic city. In both cases, the conflicts led to change.
Besides advocating for civil rights, the Rev C. T. Vivian also had a passion for education. He mobilized scholarships for students, and shortly after his experience in Selma, he launched a program called Vision, which laid the groundwork for what eventually became known as Upward Bound, a program that provides learning opportunities for students whose parents have never attended college.
Joseph Lowery is perhaps best remembered for quoting the poet James Weldon Johnson in the opening words of his benediction at the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama, this nation's first African-American President. Outside of the African-American people in the audience, not many others, including journalists, were aware that the words were to the hymn, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," also known as the Negro National Anthem.
These men of faith, all ordained ministers, were the embodiment of the parables that Jesus tells us in our Gospel reading for this upcoming Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.
"The kingdom of heaven is like..." Five times Jesus repeats these words to begin his stories, told in rapid-fire succession, seemingly with a sense of urgency. In all cases, the stories point out that bringing about the kingdom requires some human effort. It is not easily obtained or readily available. It must be sought.
Lowery, Vivian, and Lewis worked tirelessly to bring about God's kingdom on earth, by non-violent means but often at painful cost. We know the beatings and near-death experiences they faced.
Angelou's poem ends with the lines:
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.
We commend the souls of these faithful servants to eternity and give thanks to Almighty God for the sacrifices they made, the change they helped to bring about in our world, and the awareness of the work there is still left for us to do.
I have an unusually light electronic meeting schedule this week:
Conference of Bishops Weekly Check-in
Although this week's closing prayer doesn't directly address our ongoing themes of healing, understanding and reconciliation among God's people of different races, it is a prayer for social justice, taken from our Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal, page 79.
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may move every human heart; that the barriers dividing us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; and that, with our divisions healed, we might live in justice and peace; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
+Bishop Abraham Allende