I used to spend MLK Day on the ski lifts and groomed white snow of a central Minnesota bump, I mean hill.
I was there, together, with my friends from church.
Thanks to Martin Luther King, we were free from of the restraints of school. Our youth group would spend the day having fun either bombing down a hill or robot-ing around the chalet in ski boots eating fried food.
I hope I can do that again some day, but I can’t see that day happening anytime soon.
You see, my blinders of “a negative peace which is the absence of tension” have been traded in for the polarized lenses of “a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
Polarized lenses make everything pop…
…like the blood of Jamar Clark on Plymouth Avenue.
…like the red lines that still surround North Minneapolis and Rondo.
…like the “white”-ness that had bleached out my own roots – the immigrant stories of my anscestors – for a dominant and dehumanizing narrative that is destroying America.
…like the diluted image of a MLK I had been fed.One that called me and my white moderate community to an impotent sentimentality. One that allowed for the distancing of myself from the realities of injustice that deny people of color and my own self of our full and shared humanity.
I wasn’t skiing this year. Instead, I spent this MLK Day with hundreds of others at Luther Seminary.
We gathered to hear Nekima Levy-Pounds honor the disruptive/creative/powerful social reformer and person of faith-in-action that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. truly is. She did this in the telling of her own story.
She spoke of her life experiences and the images coming out of Ferguson that would agitate her to action. She spoke of the the tank stenciled with the word POLICE she watched rolling down the streets of a Twin Cities suburb. She spoke of adolescent black males who walk the sidewalks feeling like 2nd and 3rd class citizens.
She witnessed to her fear as she heard God and Ferguson calling, but she also witnessed to a love that is stronger than fear, a love that “called [her] out of the ivory tower of academia” and onto the streets of Ferguson and North Minneapolis where she discovered “beloved community.”
All these images and experiences, all her time in prayer and conversation with family and friends moved her to act.
She said, “I just showed up…”
She showed up big. Her leadership and her voice have moved thousands forward in the work of deconstructing racist systems.
Like Dr. King, Levy-Pounds knows that “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”
Her story is powerful. And, like the real story of Martin Luther King, her story challenged me. It left me feeling uncomfortable.
I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.
This year has been a year of the blinders coming off. I’ve discovered and continue to discover why “Black Lives Matter.” I’ve been moved by the story of Jamar Clark, and continued to witness unchecked police violence towards people of color. I’ve become more aware of the systemic injustices that non-whites face, like our out of control and racist prison system. I’ve met new friends, people of color, who have put flesh on statistics and stories of discrimination and intimidation.
I can’t hop on that ski lift of white privilege that would allow me to ignore the plight of my sister and brother of color anymore.
I can’t, in good conscience, ascribe to some sentimentalized image of MLK that would allow me to well-wish from afar, to keep my distance from the suffering and injustice of experienced by black lives, Native lives, Latina/0 lives, Asian lives, queer lives…
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or 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 direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” ~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
Maybe you’re afraid, too.
I don’t know what wearing these polarized lenses will continue to reveal to me. I don’t know what an increasing awareness of my own privilege will require of me. But Nekima’s vulnerability, her admittance of the fear she wrestled/s with, is a story that creates space for my own different-but-related fear to be named and known, to be held in community.
That is the beauty of showing up.
You discover a love that is stronger than fear.
You discover that you’re not alone.
You discover that there is a “beloved community” that gathers and works together to create a positive, beautiful, generative peace that is the presence of justice.
A community that I am a part of, Jacob’s Well Minneapolis, is entering into a maybe scary but certainly constructive and necessary conversation called “Human Race.” Here’s what it’s about:
Race is a social construct without biological justification. True, but that doesn’t make it go away. One’s identified race often determines more about a person’s life than that person’s choices and actions. Race is hard to talk about – we feel misunderstood, judged, hurt, discriminated and worse – all of which is a sign we need to. So let’s leave our fears behind and learn who we and others are and together discover why [God] welcomes us all to The Human Race.
Whether you’re a person of faith, un-faith, or “I don’t know”, you certainly are a human being, and you’re welcome to join us in the conversation and the discovery/healing/hope/action that will come of it.
We’re all in the process of becoming something. Let’s become “beloved community” together.
Jacob’s Well gathers on Sundays at 10:30am – Field Middle School (4645 4th Ave S. MPLS)