There are many MLK Jr celebrations going on this weekend, and I imagine that they are all excellent and worth attending. The one I chose to attend this year was held at St. Stephen Baptist Church in West Louisville. I opted for this one for a couple of reasons:
1. It was sponsored by Empower West, an ecumenical coalition of churches and pastors focused on improving economic development in West Louisville, and
2. Because the guest speaker was Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament scholar and my former seminary professor.
I made a wise choice. The morning was inspiring and challenging, and it was good to be with a mix of folks from the west and east ends of Louisville Metro. Here are a few highlights of the conversation (B=Brueggemann, C=Cosby):
B: "If you do not practice economic justice with ALL the neighbors, you cannot imagine that you are right with God."
B: Police are the slave-drivers of our time.
C: Police and Polity come from the same root word. The problem is with the policy. Police are there to enforce the policy. We have to change the policy.
B: Whites are so ingrained in racial superiority, that it is a surprise to them to realize that they are privileged. Every day, Whites have to be intentional about changing their worldview. Every day Blacks have to insist on that change. Racial reconciliation can only happen with insistence from Blacks and intentionality from Whites.
C: One of the privileges of being white is never having to think about [race].
B: "Whites are A race, not THE race."
The presentation was followed by worship, where Dr. Brueggemann preached a powerful sermon based on Mark 7, Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman, using the metaphor of bread to talk about equality and justice. Worship was also led by an ecumenical choir from the participating churches, and included a reading of Dr. King's famous "I have a dream" speech and a couple of video clips about his life and ministry.
The gist of Dr. Brueggemann's sermon was the change that happened in Jesus when the Syro-Phoenician woman challenged his worldview. In Mark 6 Jesus feeds the 5000 in Galilee, a Jewish community. In Mark 8, he feeds a crowd of Gentiles. In between these two feeding stories, is the exchange with the Syro-Phoenician woman.
"Jesus had not fought past is own Jewishness, his racial identity," said Brueggemann. In their exchange, thewoman taught Jesus that "the wonder of God cannot be monopolized by Chosen people."
She forced the issue, and Jesus changed his worldview. "She would not let the Messiah rest in his comfortableness. ... She would not let old racial distinctions determine who would get healthcare."
Brueggemann went on to ask how this could be translated into what is happening in Louisville today. He called for confrontation and re-education to determine how "bread" would be managed in the city. He also gave a word of encouragement to those who are working for change. "No one expects the leadership of privilege to be converted, but it happens." He added that geography is not destiny. The geography of east and west Louisville does not have to define justice and equity.
I left St. Stephen with a greater appreciation of the work of the KY Council of Churches. At our table Blacks and Whites come together to work for the benefit of all the Commonwealth, particularly for those who are "the least of these." I pray that we will always keep that mission before us; that our African American churches will keep insisting on fairness, and our Anglo churches will be intentional about recognizing privilege and working for equity.
In Dr. King's words from his speech, "Don't Sleep Through the Revolution":
"We must get rid of the notion once and for all that there are superior and inferior races. It is out of this notion that the whole doctrine of white supremacy came into being, and the church must take a stand through religious education and other channels to direct the popular mind at this point, for there are some people who still believe this strange doctrine. ...
It is not enough for the church to work in the ideological realm, and to clear up misguided ideas. To remain awake through this social revolution, the church must engage in strong action programs to get rid of the last vestiges of segregation and discrimination." (Delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly, Hollywood, Florida, May 18, 1966)
On this MLK Jr. weekend, however each of us chooses to observe it, may we be inspired and challenged to share the bread and continue working for justice and equality, so that all may be fed. (literally and metaphorically).