We Have Known Water

"When Bull Connor would say, 'Turn on the fire hoses.'

Bull Connor didn't know history.

He knew a kind of physics that somehow did not relate

to the trans-physics that we knew about.

And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire no water could put out.

And when we went through the fire hoses.

We have known water.

If we were a Baptist or some other denomination, we had been immersed.

If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled,

but either way...WE KNEW WATER."              ---The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Memphis, Tennessee, April 3, 1968

When I was a freshman in high school, my father agreed to teach my Sunday School class. Not thrilled with the David C. Cook curriculum he had been given, Dad decided he would create his own. Several of the most memorable lessons were those he based on Taylor Branch's book, Parting the Waters.

In those Sunday School sessions, we talked openly and honestly about racism in America. Although we had certainly studied the civil rights movement in school, our discussions in the context and framework of our faith centered around being confessional of the ways we had not loved and accepted others or the way we gave lip service in the Church. 

We also spoke intensely about how it was our obligation and responsibility as people of faith to name and stand up against injustice, oppression and discrimination. We talked about our own experiences of bearing witness to discrimination in our schools and times when we were not brave enough to speak up, correct, or not to join in. This sparked further discussions about actions we might take and ways we could make a difference in our little piece of the world. These were powerful and transformative conversations.

One particular lesson that I will never forget was when Dad showed us the video based on Branch's book which featured real footage of protesters being sprayed with fire hoses. We then read the section in the book that explained that King was often on the front lines of the marches and the recipient of the full strength of the fire hoses. As Taylor Branch explained, King knew the power of water and spoke about it powerfully in a speech he gave on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.

So what gave King and the others the strength to march and protest the next time after facing the flesh-tearing blows of the fire hoses? The power of water. They remembered the waters of their baptisms. They remembered that they were first and foremost God's beloved, God's sons and daughters, and their resistance, their marching was to remind others of the same.

The conversations we had in that Sunday School class were sacred and holy conversations.

Just as holy and sacred were the conversations we had at home when Mom would talk about how a racist joke or racial slur someone made (whether it occurred on tv or at an extended family gathering) was not only inappropriate, but also denied the beauty and equality of all of God's children.

I am grateful that I grew up having sacred and holy conversations on race, gender and equality in church and in my home. I believe this is where the most important conversations must start and continue if we, too, are to remember our own baptisms...remembering who we are and whose we are as sons and daughters of the One who created us all.

Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, Conference Minister