Near the end of December, I had the joy of visiting my son and daughter-in-law who live just outside D.C. When asked what I would like to do while there, I said, “Well, I’ve stood in lines twice before that never moved a foot in an hour, in order to see the new African American Museum. Is there any chance we could try once more?” We did, and due to the gift of extended hours that did not include the need for a timed pass, we only waited in lines for about an hour – but we all got inside.
It was an experience I will long remember. We started at a below-ground floor with the story of the first slaves to cross the Atlantic in 1619, bound for Jamestown. When we entered that room, we were crowded close together and we moved shoulder to shoulder in utter silence, peering to read unknown or ill-remembered statistics about the hundreds of thousands, even millions of slaves that were brought to our shores from Europe and Africa. Occasionally whispers came, “O my God! Did you see this? Did you know this? I can’t believe this.”
We progressed through floors, 1, 2 and 3 which marked abolition and the amazing work of women like Harriet Tubman. We found ourselves not wanting to linger at Jim Crow-era photos of lynchings from trees and telephone poles and hurried up ramps only to literally meet face-to-face those who participated in the Civil Rights marches, and who began to push new legislation after the assasinations of JF Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Up we walked into the lighter, brighter floors where the African legacies in music, science, literature, entrepeneurship, fashion and beyond were on display until at last, we trudged up a ramp, that ran alongside a marbled wall.
We turned the corner and entered a room where, from the middle, hung a circle-shaped veil of falling water that plunked and splashed into a burbling pool below, lit from within. I didn’t know just how much my mind and heart needed to sit and watch this cascading veil that gave me the hope that we could all be baptized into new relationships that were more just and honorable.
I didn’t know how much I needed to pray for new ways for all of us to become fully human. I sat in tears for several moments, feeling as if I, for perhaps the first time, had really had a sensory experience of the journey so many blacks made from the slave galleys below deck to the clearstory of justice that rolls like a never-ending stream. It made me ashamed at my collective part in their centuries-old humiliation as a people and it made me want more than ever to ask for forgiveness and to take every effort to learn more loving ways of being brothers and sisters together!
On the four walls surrounding the circular water falls were several quotes. Once quote was this from African American abolitionist, poet and suffragist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, who died in 1911:
“I ask no monument, proud and high to arrest the gaze of the passers-by; all that my yearning spirit craves is bury me not in a land of slaves.”
That quote hit home when I realized it means one thing for an African American to wish NOT to be buried in a ‘land of slaves.’ It means another for me to wish that I am not buried in a land of slaves as a white person – since I am part of the collective of persons who are guilty of supporting enslavement, even if by ignorance, indifference, inaction or family ties that go back to slave-owning days. I need to keep before me many questions, but at least the question, “In what ways do I unconciously or conciously keep others from power that I fear losing?” AND its consequent question, “How will I act fearlessly to change my behavior so this oppresion can cease?” Fear is so often the culprit of our sin and that may be the very reason that the angels of our advent into new life never hesitate to cry out, “Fear not! Fear not!”
In this new year ahead, may we yearn to greet each new day thinking not about the stone-firm legacies that we deserve for our accomplishments, but yearn, rather for the new paths we need to explore to rid our communities of unconfronted sins that yet cry out for healing, forgiveness, peace-making and restored justice. That could make for a very Happy New Year! Love, Rev. Deb
January 2020 Lectionary Readings and Sermon Titles
January 5 Epiphany Sunday – Sacrament of Communion
Scripture Reading: John 1:10-18
Sermon: “Another Road”
Ecumenical Epiphany Service – Epicopal Church, Porsmouth, 3PM
January 12 First Sunday after Epiphany/Baptism of Jesus
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 42:1-9 and Matthew 3:13-17
Sermon: “Baptized for What?”
January 19 Ecumenical Sunday
Scripture Readings: Psalm 40:1-11 and John 1:29-42
Sermon: “Don’t Be A Crybaby!”
January 26 – New Members’ Class/Beloved Elders Bags
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7 and Matthew 4:12-23
Sermon: “Called Together by Fearlessness”
Two Winter Adult Study Opportunities You Won’t Want to Miss!
Beginning on Wednesday, January 8 at noon:
A study entitled, “Twelve Extraordinary Women in Scripture” – by John McCarthur. A look at twelve women of both Testaments and their contributions of faith.
Beginning Monday, January 20 at 7PM – Adam Hamilton’s study guide – “Christianity and World Religions” will be the adult study choice. All are invited to both studies.