I wonder what the dust would feel like. If one would have stood just outside the blast radius, arriving at the scene moments after the explosion, what would it be like to breathe in that cloud of swirling debris? What strength would pulse through one as one frantically pitched through the rubble of the Birmingham Baptist church? When I was little, I remember going over small rises in speeding cars, and I remember that feeling in my stomach, the feeling of the road falling out from under me.
I can’t help think of my three-year-old boy. He has a delicate rib cage. When he raises his arms, I can count the ribs. I can’t help think of my one-year-old boy. If I press my fingers slightly into the soft skin just below his sternum, I can discern the precocious organs beneath, driving him into the next second of existence. He is a small butterfly in my hands, and I marvel at how close he, and indeed we all are to mortality every second, and yet how resilient we are in spite of the fact. I wonder what it would feel like to see a child’s hand jutting out from under the rubble, and to know that the delicate wings lay hopelessly crushed, that they will never beat again.
After watching Selma, it struck me that it is this perspective that may have driven Dr. King to march. It led men and women, both white and black, to their graves, cutting them down in the heat of the southern harvest season, and in the mild cool of the southern winter. This is why he preached. It is why he prayed.
Watching that streaming debris of that bomb, my mind took me to another place of worship thrown into chaos with flying debris – coins bouncing off the floor, shouts echoing in the chamber. “You have turned my house into a den of thieves!”
Some question Dr. King’s theology. Some claim that Jesus was not involved with the politics of this world, but rather was only focused on building the world He would bring after the second coming. One could make that argument, if one ignores every statement about the religious leaders of Israel – about their hypocrisy, about their political manipulations. In order to make the argument that Jesus was not political, one must remain ignorant of the reality that Rome granted the Sadducees real political power to wield in Judea in exchange for the Sadducees keeping any Jewish rebellions at bay. When Jesus challenged the religious rulers, He simultaneously challenged the political establishment. Jesus’ dream realized meant an upheaval to the socio-political order of Judea. It is impossible to advocate for service to the least of these without putting one’s self in opposition to the powers that create the least of these. It is impossible to make social justice a false god, replacing God’s kingdom with a desire for mercy and justice because God’s kingdom IS mercy and justice. One may as well say that we should be drinking water instead of dihydrogen monoxide. Jesus was fundamentally political because His primary concern was politēs – citizens – free persons – for He came to make us ALL free persons.
At the center of Jesus’ call for evangelism is His commission to baptize and teach men to obey what HE commanded, and what are His greatest commands? Love God with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself. What did Jesus do for those He loved? He defended them against the political powers conspiring to crush them. He overturned tables. He wrote in the sand. He changed the world.
Dr. King spoke of a dream. He used the metaphor of a mountain top to which he was climbing. Jesus built the mountain. He promised us the mountain. The question, however, is how much do I want the mountain? If I want the mountain, and yet I care not to follow in Christ’s footsteps to climb it, I show myself to be as sincere as the rich young ruler, who said he wanted a stake in the Kingdom, but turned away sad.
The work of the Seventh-day Adventist church has traditionally been one of evangelism, and so now, after the GC vote, people are calling for a refocusing on the mission of the Church, to bring people into God’s Kingdom. They are calling for unity. The question that the vote on women’s ordination belies is this: what is the nature of the Kingdom to which we are calling people? Is the church’s vision for God’s realm one in which certain souls are relegated to being under the instruction and authority of other souls based upon no conscious choice that they have made? Such a premise is as foreign a concept to justice as darkness is a foreign concept to light.
Racial hierarchy has no place nor part in my understanding of the Kingdom. Sexual hierarchy has no place nor part in my understanding of the Kingdom. There can be no unity under such ideals.
Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. What of the humility? The humility lives in the truth that, though Jesus called me to lead people to the mountain, first he calls me there myself, and when I look into the deepness of my soul, I’m not there yet. I need to be mentored in justice and mercy. Dr. King mentored a whole nation in justice and mercy, bringing the social consciences of a whole nation to admit with their tongues that all persons truly should be treated equally. This nation still does not acknowledge this with its actions, but at least King’s mentoring set its ideals as the North Star. I need mentoring. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t march – I should. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t work for justice wherever I can lay my hands to it – I should. It does mean that I must mentor those around me rather than write them off, just as Jesus mentors me without writing me off. The dream is only realized for me if I want it. If I want it, I should fight for it. In Christ’s Kingdom, fighting comes in the form of mentorship, and mentorship only happens if I walk humbly, yet persistently.