I jumped off the bus and ran into a local and much-loved church. Sliding into the century old oak pews in the back of the chapel, I arrived just in time for a meeting with a sweet acquaintance turned friend. This was back in August on a day when the stubborn NYC heat made me long for the relief promised in early Fall. This was back in August and after I’d returned from a trip to Memphis that forever shifted how I saw systemic oppression.
Southern and northern oppression are different. I know the monster, know what it looks like in the North. I wasn’t prepared for the beast I encountered in the South. Poverty in the south, broke my heart. Poverty in the south felt tragic and desperate, largely because there was no place to hide it.
But I digress, back to the meeting.
We’ve been casual friends for the past 2 years. She’s an over 80-year-old cradle Episcopalian, a brilliant and kind soul-friend of sorts but we only saw each other at social events. When she reached out to me, I didn’t know what to expect. In the middle of the discernment process for ordination, I hoped she’d offer encouragement, a little of her life-story, the truths and memories from her past. This was a summer of reckoning of all sorts and that story I told you about Memphis is, in some ways part of it. Still, I didn’t know what to expect.
I did not expect the question she asked. She, a white woman in her 80’s, silver haired and slightly frail could not be more different from me on paper. She and I, we are the beloved community and she wanted to know why, why would I choose to engage with a tradition with such a tarnished past? Why would I, as a Black woman, even bother?
I shifted in my seat before turning my body to fully face her and with a confidence I credit only to the holy spirit, said, “because I’m following a dream”. The beloved community is real to me. It’s a vision I can’t let go of.
I’m responding to a God call, it’s the same “come and see” Jesus prompted – the one bid to all. Come and see. My invitation, the one attached to my particular vision, came from the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. That movement, is driven by love and we (each denomination) is part of it.
Her question that day prompted a series of others as I entered my fall semester, questions I’ve wrestled with for months. Like my understanding of poverty and oppression in Memphis, her question would not let me hide. I answered confidently when my friend asked, but because the answer I gave that day had to become real for me, I had to sit with it for a while. I had to answer it for myself because the weight of this work is daunting. And humbling. It is so much more than I know I how to do. In a world that still struggles to root out the evils of racism and systemic injustice targeted largely at black and brown people, with leadership that blatantly supports those injustices, and a growing community of people of all colors and backgrounds who have absolutely had enough, I see kingdom work, now, more important than ever. It is work we are all called to.
God knows Black women have every reason to turn in our cards on the American version of this Christian project, but that’s never been our theology. We are the makers of the way, when there is no way. We stand and resist and embody space where there is none. I proudly stand on the faith, grace and strength of all the women who came before me. Why have I committed to this tradition? The broader answer is that I’ve committed to “come and see” – to with integrity and with authenticity speak, to the community God’s called me to.
I find myself simultaneously energized and fatigued by this call. Often, it’s equal parts thrill and dread but marinating in this paradox of emotions forces a powerful inward turning, a reflective stillness and perception of new possibilities within the vision and space, to imagine the fulfillment of the dream – even when it’s hard.
I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. – Martin Luther King Jr.
When Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech he tapped into the soul of a nation with encouragement to keep pressing forward – to through faith – believe, to be buoyed by hope – in the middle of not yet.
My response to the dream is an acknowledgment of the process of seeing, and remembering too, that God is working in the sacred holiness of endurance.
I’m reminding myself that my season of “not yet” is golden. It’s where the good work of God begins.
When God invites us on any journey, the invitation is always to come and see – to actively respond with an affirmation to the process of self-revelation. That process includes the refining and defining work God does in the hallowed in-between, the beautifully transformative work that only happens – en route. The invitation is always to come and see. Come and get involved. Come and commit. Come… and understand.