By Bishop Douglas Fisher
Posted June 20, 2020 at 3:01 AM
Juneteenth must mean something to us all.
June 19th has been marked by African Americans since 1865 when the last people enslaved in Texas heard the news of The Emancipation Proclamation — two and a half years after it was made law. Why the delay? Many scholars theorize there was a desire to get one more cotton harvest, or that the messenger with the good news had been killed along the way. No one is certain, but for black slaves in Texas, freedom was postponed and justice delayed.
As the events surrounding the brutal killing of George Floyd unfolded, white Americans embrace the same truth. Freedom has been postponed and justice delayed. The cries of the young and old in our streets have moved us to a new level of understanding. Something is happening and people of faith are called to press on into this unknown in-between place. We sense when we are living in a liminal moment — stepping through a doorway beyond which we cannot see. It feels like a leap of faith. And faith is how we keep moving even though we don’t know where all this is going.
A book written in the late 1960s called, “The Transformation of Man,” by Rosemary Haughton, has had a big impact on me. Speaking from a faith perspective, Haughton says there are many things we do for our formation into better people. We study, exercise, pray, get counseling, practice kindness and many other disciplines that make us who we are. But we can’t transform ourselves. Transformation — becoming a new creation — only happens when things fall apart. In Christian language that is the time for death and resurrection. This is not resurrection back to what was before, but a new way of being in the world. Right now, it may seem like our society is falling apart, but God is actively leading us to becoming a new creation.
Haughton insists that our “formation” is not meaningless. It can help us make sense of what is dying and what is rising in our transformation. Part of our formation as believers is a constant and consistent message that God is love. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King says, “When I speak of love, I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all the great religions have seen as the unifying principle of all life. Love is the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.”
Or as Bishop Rob Wright of Atlanta says, “God’s circle of love is expanding. Too often we have painted our fear of others onto God. We have confused being closed to others with being faithful to God. But the Spirit gives us a vision of humanity without distinctions. A Spirit that defies death and opens tombs. A Spirit that whispers to us ‘who are you to hinder God?’”
Boston Globe contributor David Scharfenberg asked a very important question in his piece, “Here come the white people — a new antiracist movement takes flight.” He asked lots of good questions, but this one has stayed with me. “And in the big picture, what is the appropriate role of white people in a movement for Black lives?” I don’t have the answer, but this new Civil Rights moment will lead us all where we need to go. Clearly our hearts have been broken open. White people have work to do that we can only do ourselves. Our Black friends and neighbors are tired and worn out. It’s time for people of every faith, and no faith, to acknowledge the original sin embedded in the soul of our nation. Built on slavery, built by slavery, it’s time — no, it’s past time — for freedom and justice to come. The joy of the last slaves freed should be something we all commemorate. When we all do, we will be a new people forgiven, reconciled, truly free, just and transformed.