“Until the killing of black men, black mother’s sons
is as important as the killing of white men, white mother’s sons,
we who believe in freedom cannot rest.”
– Bernice Johnson Reagon in honor of Ella Baker
The last sermon I heard at Wild Goose evoked these words from a beloved Sweet Honey in the Rock Song, words penned in honor of the civil rights activist Ella Baker. Though the song is decades old now it certainly seems as though it could have been penned today. Jim Wallis suggests that racism and white privilege is America’s original sin, and thus, sadly, it seems that these words could have been penned at any moment in American history.
These were interesting words with which to sit while on an extended vacation– taking rest. I appreciated reading our co-moderator’s post upon her re-entry from a lovely vacation– Everybody should get this. Indeed.
But, as she acknowledges, not everybody gets this. In particular, people of color need to maintain constant vigilance– a vigilance that is the opposite of rest. Part of my privilege is being able check out… for an hour, a day, a week, a month… years. Because still, for too many, the killing of black men (and women and boys and girls and those of other colors and those who are queer…) is not as important is the killing of white men, white mother’s sons. And still we are not free. None of us.
The friend I made in the red tent indicated that she went to Wild Goose seeking her Jubilee. She has been in the struggle for racial justice and reconciliation for 50 years and it seems high time that God grant her a year of rest. But as we gathered we were getting the news out of Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas. While together we heard witness to the ways in which mass incarceration is functioning as the new Jim Crow. How can she rest?
She suggested she found some Jubilee in meeting me. And I take from that a charge to be more intentionally vigilant much more of the time, to work on waking up the congregation I serve to the privilege we possess. There is nothing wrong with regular sabbath rest– there is nothing wrong with vacation. Indeed, as God commanded, EVERYBODY should get this. But being lulled into the complacency afforded by my privilege, while others are keeping watch with bloodshot eyes lest they or their children be killed, this is not an option. And I want my friend to have her Jubilee, and all my friends, to have their Jubilee. I think I’m ready to get back to work…