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(c) 2019 Sherman Lambert

Today is what would have been the 91st birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was a worker not just for racial justice, but for justice for all. His words and life’s work sought to turn the collective consciousness of our society toward our nation’s inequities. His dream was that the American dream would be available to all of God’s children in their own country—and he paid the ultimate price for his dedication to improving access to so much of what constitutes the tables of this nation. As Christians, we are called not only to invite everyone to our Lord’s table, but also to full participation in the opportunities in this land.

And we might think we’re doing that just because we try not to harm others who do not look like us. But if we don’t want the sins of this nation’s fathers and mothers to be visited upon us, we have to also really hear those who have lived through different experiences—especially when those experiences have come from systems that appear to be applied differently based upon someone’s outward appearance. It’s easy for us to bristle when we hear the word “privilege” directed at us, especially when we are dedicated to working hard and to treating our neighbors as we like to be treated.

But despite our feelings of discomfort, it’s way past time for us to listen—and to open up to understanding that systems that seem sustaining and helpful to us may not always be applied equally to everyone.

There are stories out there of justice denied—individually and in a systemic manner, as you can read or watch in lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy book that is now also a movie. You can read up on the effects of the New Deal practice that graded neighborhoods based upon desirability for real estate investing, a practice whose long-term effects continue to shape opportunities within communities. According to the Mapping Inequality website: “These grades were a tool for redlining: making it difficult or impossible for people in certain areas to access mortgage financing and thus become homeowners. Redlining directed both public and private capital to native-born white families and away from African American and immigrant families.”

And then there may be stories told to you directly by people you know. In the early 90s, my husband Sherman’s employee—who was African American—cashed his paycheck and drove off down Federal Boulevard. Soon after, he was pulled over by the police who yanked him out of his car and threw him on the side of the road. There he was, a young man in his dress shirt and dress pants, with cash in his pockets, lying face down on that summer night as the commuters drove by. His crime? Apparently he resembled a man who had committed a crime nearby—eventually the police let him go his way. When Sherman and I heard his tale, we were incredulous at the violence of the encounter. After all, we knew the content of this man’s character. He, however, was not surprised—except for the fact that we didn’t seem to know how common such a threat was to him and others who looked like him.

It’s been over 50 years since Martin Luther King was shot down for trying to do something about inequities. I had the luxury of believing that much of what he had fought for had come to pass—because these sorts of challenges didn’t happen to me. That’s privilege. I get to choose whether to turn my outrage into action or not.

What will it take for us as a church to stop feeling umbrage when we hear the word “privilege” and instead take up the mantle of Dr. King’s fight?

This is my prayer—that we will hear those who are attempting to tell us that their experiences in this country have been different than ours and that we will work through our own discomfort and truly fight to break down the barriers that prevent all people from eating at the Lord’s table.

Please join me in speaking –and acting on—the immortal words of Dr. King: “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Because, as he also said and as is engraved on the side of the Justice Center building in downtown Denver, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

 

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