Yesterday was a national holiday. It is actually a more recent holiday as the bill to recognize the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, as a federal holiday was not signed until 1983. Yet, even after President Ronald Reagan signed the bill, the action was not put into motion until three years later. Furthermore, it was not until 2000 that all 50 states recognized it, not only as a federal, but also a state holiday.
In thinking about this reality, I find myself thinking about the deep truth of words once spoken by Rev. Theodore Parker from the pulpit. Rev. Parker was an ordained pastor, who was a vocal abolitionist in the 1850s. Rev. Parker, in offering hope to his congregation in which many members were also abolitionists, said this, "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."
His words offer me hope as I often find myself frustrated that, as a people of God, we have not been able to further the work of equality for ALL of God's beloved. Last fall, as I was in Birmingham with my colleagues visiting key historical landmarks of the Civil Rights movement, I wondered about the "moral universe." (I wrote a bit about this trip in a Weekly Connection article on December 3.)
I confess, as I wrestled with our nation's painful and sinful history of slavery, segregation, and continued patterns of racism, I questioned whether it was possible to make true lasting progress. For me, the narrative and reality of inequality and injustice in this country feels like the story of Sisyphus. This story in Greek mythology is one in which the main character, Sisyphus, sets out each day to push a boulder uphill only to watch it roll down hill again in the evening, knowing that the next day he would awake again with the task of pushing the boulder uphill again.
But unlike for Sisyphus (who was cursed to eternally repeat ineffective effort), I believe, with power and moral strength we are given by God, we can choose to continue to move forward to work to bring about God's justice. We also have the opportunity and obligation not to allow the movement of imagining and enacting the kingdom of God, like the boulder, to go backwards.
Yes, we have made great strides. There is still so much work to be done. In the coming weeks, I will be sharing messages from my Conference Minister colleagues and friends, summoning us as a people of God to be actively engaged in the continued work of dismantling racism and inequality in our churches, our communities, and in our world. I invite you to hear their stories, their passion and their messages of both challenge and hope. I also invite you to be in conversation with one another about how we might continue to push onward, trusting that even though the "arc of moral universe is long...it bends towards justice."
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, Conference Minister