~Remembering What I Did Know~
I was on the cusp of being 8 years old the day Dr. King was assassinated. It wasn’t talked about in our home that I recall. It wasn’t a topic of conversation. I did not know until much later in life that “Just weeks before . . . a presidential commission issued a searing account of the nation’s racial divide.”https://www.christiancentury.org/article/editors/half-century-after-kerner-report-americans-are-still-separate-and-unequal (I encourage you to read the article sited.)
Why was this not part of the conversation in my household, in the schools I attended, college and even seminary? “The Kerner Commission, appointed by President Johnson (and named after its chair, Illinois governor Otto Kerner), had been charged with explaining the racial unrest of the previous summer (1967) It returned a blunt diagnosis: the nation was in effect “two societies, one black, one white-separate and unequal. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”
Recently, I read one person’s reflection on professional football players taking a knee during the national anthem. The players chose to “take a knee” as a way to protest the ongoing racial divide and systemic racial injustice in our country. They chose this form of protest after conferring with veterans. What struck me most about the writer’s observations were two things: 1. There is never in our country a way for black men to protest that will not be seen as threatening and 2. Taking a knee is a form of lament.
Lamentation is rooted in our own faith tradition. Job laments, cries out to God about the unjustness of his circumstances. Lament is a necessary part of finding our way back to genuine wholeness. We cannot heal the sin of slavery and ravages of racism without uncovering the deep wounds that continue to fester.
The Risen Christ appears with his wounds visible. The Crucified Christ and the Risen Christ are the same. Christ comes to his followers after the ugliness of the crucifixion and doesn’t bother to pretty things up. We can’t live with the Resurrected One without recognizing the suffering that came before. We can’t live as the Resurrected Body of Christ without acknowledging the suffering of our fellow human beings: past and present suffering.
Fred Harris, the lone surviving member of the Kerner Commission, recalls that he and his colleagues operated with a simple assumption: “Everyone does better when everyone does better.” That reminds me of a teaching Christians say we hold dear: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream. -Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) (“A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” given at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, December 24, 1967.)