“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? . . . You are the light of the world . . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” ~Matthew 5:13-16 (excerpts)
How did last week go for you? I, for one, was exhausted by Thursday night. By the end of the week, I felt ready to become more fully the woman that I am called to be, but that becoming felt like a heavy burden to carry. I finally have greater clarity about how the remainder of 2017 will look. I finally have the tools to build my business. I have gotten a handle on how I can maintain a healthy lifestyle in the year to come. My podcast co-host and I are finally refining our craft and are firming up our brand. There is much excitement, but there is also much heaviness, there is still so much darkness, and I am working out what to do with those things.
For me, the heaviness and darkness have many sources, but I will highlight two of them. The first of my concerns is about the educational failures that belong to all of us. The second of my concerns is about the repercussions of the so-called “Muslim Ban” which is harming not only refugees and their families, but also immigrants who have always known the United States to be their home.
It is now the month that is traditionally called Black History Month here in the United States. I celebrate black history every day. Last week, the President of the United States described the late American hero Frederick Douglass as someone who has done a good job and has become more and more well-known lately. Black Twitter mocked the ignorance of the statement, but I recognize that not all Americans were likely to find the President’s comment egregious. As a seventy-year-old New Yorker who was born a billionaire, it is likely that he received little to no education about the heroes of what is traditionally called “African American history” in primary and secondary school. His comment for me was reminiscent of former President George W. Bush’s description of Africa as a country.
I found no humor in his ignorance. It was an indictment upon all of us because most of us don’t know enough about the history of minority groups in this country. Our learning in secondary school history classes is extraordinarily limited. In Advanced Placement United States History classes, the focus is on teaching to an exam that is almost entirely unconcerned with how much knowledge students have about the histories of black, brown, disabled, and LGBTQIA folks in this country. What good is history if we are told that we know enough when we know so little, when there remain so many “hidden figures?” President Trump’s ignorant comment was a symptom of a much larger problem. Our education teaches us to value Euro-American heterosexual men above other types of people. If we honor a white woman by teaching about her for more than a few minutes, it is usually because of her association with a man we deem relevant. If we honor a man or woman of color by teaching for more than a few minutes about them, it is usually because we deem them to be an “exemplar” of the race. Outside of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was diagnosed with polio as an adult, we never studied a person with a disability, and I don’t recall a single history lesson about a person who was an open member of the LGBT community. I hope that many districts have made updates to their curriculum since I was in high school, but significant adjustments must be made. The erasure of the lives of so many people from our history ought to cause us all great disappointment and horror.
But, the greatest shame of last week was the ongoing drama of the so-called “Muslim Ban,” which prohibited travel from several predominantly Muslim countries because of the presumed risk of terrorism in those areas. As a Baptist minister who is well-acquainted with this nation’s history concerning religious freedom, I found the ban to be disturbing. It did not explicitly ban people from the country because of their religious convictions, but the ban disproportionately impacts Muslim people. The history of Baptists in this nation is a story of religious acceptance. In a nation that was largely Episcopalian and Puritan, the freedom that was inherent in Baptist theology disrupted the status quo. Baptists promoted the free reading of Scripture by all people, allowed for the ordination of women and people of African descent, baptized based on a public affirmation of faith, and allowed believers to come to personal understandings of who Jesus was. It was a faith that was all about freedom. And, while admittedly, Baptists also have a reputation for limiting the freedoms of others, the denomination, at its core upholds spiritual freedom for all people.
So, I was excited this past Wednesday to participate in a rally for immigrant and refugee rights in West Hartford, the town where I serve as a minister at the First Baptist Church. I was excited to be there because as a black, Baptist, woman, who is also an ordained minister, I understand that I am not truly free until all people are free. I am not at home in a place where there is not also a safe home for all other people. I refuse to live in fear because the love of God is greater than fear. I refuse to be afraid of my neighbors. I choose to embrace and love my neighbors instead.
So, as usual, these troubles call me to deepen my faith. I can’t feel this heaviness all the time. I can’t live in darkness all the time. I seek a balm for my weary soul. As a faith leader, I seek a balm for our weary souls. Last week, I said that we would win. The week before, I said that we have to keep marching. But, this world can hurt us so much. How do we win in a world that so often seems bent on the destruction of so many innocent people?
This week, the lectionary turned again to the Sermon on the Mount. It focused on the verses in which Jesus calls His disciples, the salt of the Earth and the light of the world. Salt. Too much salt can be a problem, right? It makes food bitter; it makes people sick. But, just enough salt is essential. It adds flavor, it preserves, it is an effective treatment for icy roads and sore throats. We need just enough salt. And, we can be the salt. And then there’s light. Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night and stumbled around in the darkness, frantically searching for light to guide your way, bumping into things, for a minute panicking because the darkness seems ready to consume you? Too much light can be a problem, right? It can blind your eyes; it can be overpowering. But, we need just enough light to find our way in the darkness, to enjoy a good book, to complete a successful day’s work. And, we can be that light. Free agents, be just salty enough, be just light enough. And remember, when you are feeling weary, plug into the source. You do not have to be the light. You only have to be a reflection of the light! You’ve got this. Get salty. Get light. See you next Monday!