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Reflecting on past decades and endless opportunities in 2021 to respond to God’s call for the human family to make this world better, I am inspired both by the Christian faith and baptismal vows to be bold followers of Jesus. 

This means that change, individual and collective, will be essential if we want to see glimpses of the kingdom of God, here and now. If we want to experience, celebrate, and pass to future generations a nation and a world that are so radically loving that hate cannot even appear to win, people of faith must practice courage and be willing to act in new ways. Why? We have come far, but we have even farther to go.

In 2012, United States Congressman and Civil Rights Leader John Lewis (1940-2020) offered a book of wisdom, encouragement, and hope for today. Throughout Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America, our brother John provides line-by-line honesty and invitation. I hope that you join me in being inspired by faith and baptismal vow as you reflect on the following excerpts offered by a fellow pilgrim on the Christian journey. 

“We have come a great distance as a society, but we still have a great distance to go. The progress we take for granted today brought on by the successes of the modern-day Civil Rights Movement is just one more step down a very long road toward the realization of our spiritual destiny as a nation of “freedom and justice for all.” There is still much more work to do. One movement will never offer all the growth humanity needs to experience. To expect so is to build your hopes on a puff of smoke, on a whispered breath; it is to anticipate an illusion…Even I, who has looked down the barrel of a gun with only my faith to defend me, would say there is a unique hostility in these times that almost seems worse to me than what we experienced in the 1960s. It is true, we were confronted with state-sponsored brutality, and people died because of the complicity of local government with fearmongering and terror. Yet, in those days, we could look to federal authority as a sympathetic referee in the struggle for civil rights and as an advocate for the need to challenge injustice.” 

Lewis goes on, “I have seen this restlessness among the people before. It was in another millennium, another decade, and at another time in our history, but it pushed through America like a storm…During the Civil Rights Movement, our struggle was not about politics. It was about seeing a philosophy made manifest in our society that recognized the inextricable connection we have to each other. Those ideals represent what is eternally real and they are still true today, though they have receded from the forefront of American imagination…It is my hope the leaders of today will heed the warning the people have so patiently tendered and shake off the shackles of inertia. Let us remove the false burdens of partisanship, personal ambition, and greed, and begin to do the work we were all appointed to do to move this country forward. Let us appeal to our similarities, to the higher standards of integrity, decency, and the common good, rather than to our differences, be they age, gender, sexual preference, class, or color. If not, the people will put aside the business of their lives and turn their attention to the change they are determined to see.”

Finally, Lewis asks that we consider. “What is the purpose of a nation if not to empower human beings to live better together than they could individually?…Each of us has something significant to contribute to society be it physical, material, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual. Each of us is born for a reason, to serve a divine purpose. If the structures of our lives do not contribute to that purpose or if they complicate our ability to live, to be free and to be happy, or even worse, if they lead to the confines of oppression, then we seek change, sometimes radical change, even revolution, to satisfy the yearning of our souls…I understand the sense of helplessness and hopelessness that can surround a people who feel thwarted at every turn…We made a way out of no way to free ourselves from oppression and bring an American society one step closer to realizing its pledge: “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Faithfully and blessings as we try, 

The Rev. Ollie V. Rencher, Rector
901-252-6320 | orencher [at] gracestlukes [dot] org