No time to “wait”

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A homily for the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary time, in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., by Warren K. Leffler, 1963, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-03128.

Readings (Comprehensive Catholic Lectionary): 1 Samuel 3:1–10, 19; Psalm 40:1–3, 6a, 7–8, 9–10; an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail; John 1:35–49.

In 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the famous words: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” He also wrote, from a cell in Birmingham Jail, “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men [and women] are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair.”

He wrote these words after being criticized by white clergymen who published a letter in the Birmingham News following his arrest, entitled, White clergymen urge local negroes to withdraw from protests. The clergymen instead proposed the work of racial equality be done quietly, appealing to legal systems, and that the afflicted not disrupt the peace of the city with public demonstrations.

MLK’s point is clear. When you are the one hurting, the one experiencing desperate poverty, the one ridiculed for your unjustly inherited station in life, the one repeatedly denied human dignity, safe housing, quality education, and freedom from brutality — the matter is urgent. The demonstrators on the cover of your worship aid, also from 1963, say: “Equal rights, NOW. Integrated schools, NOW. Decent housing, NOW. An end to bias, NOW. And to police brutality, NOW.” Now. Now. Now.

There is a tendency in white Christian communities to accept that the work of the Civil Rights Movement was in the past, and that MLK Day is a day of triumph, when really it is a reminder each year of how much work is yet to be done.

As a white cis-woman who grew up in a predominantly white community, I am no different. Ten years ago, I did not understand what I do today. But because I have spent 40–50 hours a week for the past decade in relationship with families afflicted by the systemic injuries of poverty, racism, and gender inequality in America — in Indiana —I share a sense of desperate urgency akin* to what must have compelled the actions of the Black people of Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. [*Though I dare not say equal, as a white cis-person still benefiting from certain privileges and comforts that grant me reprieves that others do not have]. Before, I may have cognitively understood their refusal to let another day pass waiting for justice on someone else’s timeline — admired it, even. But my experience has now granted I feel the urgency of liberation viscerally, as a shared human experience that surges over and over again, and demands: NOW.

The children of today cannot wait. The oppressed cannot wait. They couldn’t in Samuel’s day. They couldn’t in Jesus’s day. They couldn’t in MLK’s day. They can’t in ours.

This week… a young woman called me because she is on the streets again with her three children. The father left them, and she has no economic means to get a job, pay for childcare, and pay rent. They have been evicted again. I have called shelter after shelter trying to find a room for them, but Indianapolis is facing a colossal housing crisis. Our shelters have been operating at full capacity for over a year, and people have to call at strategic times each day hoping to be the one that gets through the line first when another resident vacates. Day after day, morning and night, the answer I hear is: “no.” All this in thanks to Indianapolis’s eviction pipeline, scarcity of housing, low worker wages, and skyrocketing crippling rents.

[Note: there is one shelter in Indianapolis that will not turn anyone away during their winter contingency, but there are no private rooms, and shelter seekers are allowed limited belongings. Families like the one I am talking about are desperate to not depend on this contingency, but on freezing days like the ones we are experiencing, the shelter’s winter contingency is absolutely lifesaving.]

I experience horrors like this day after day, rinse and repeat, as a family support coordinator in the field of high risk pregnancy and newborn ICU. And because NOW is urgent upon my soul, I do everything I can to align myself with and work to elevate the Black led movement for Reproductive Justice that demands all birthing people have (1) the right to have a child, (2) the right to not have a child, and (3) the right to nurture the children we have in safe and healthy environments. It declares that these core tenets must drive social and economic policy for all people, centering communities of color, for a thriving citizenry.

Everyone wants a story of hope, but the reality is, people are suffering NOW. Unless we make policy changes with the collective will to create safe and affordable housing, childcare, living wages, comprehensive gender and reproductive healthcare, and more, this plague of excruciating circumstances affecting families young and old will continue. This echoes the urgency of MLK’s letter from Birmingham Jail.

We will be peaceful, but we will not wait!

The conditions that Civil Rights activists protested in the 60s are core issues that to this day continue to impact child development, health, education, and future household economics that perpetuate cycles of poverty and worsening childhood conditions.

In Indianapolis, over 150,000 people are living at the extremes of poverty (which means a family of four making less than $30,000 a year), and many many more are living in the dreaded gray space where they don’t qualify for [already underfunded] programs like Medicaid, childcare subsidies, and WIC, and also do not have the economic means to afford quality housing, a reliable vehicle, childcare, and food. These social ills span many races, but they disproportionately impact communities of color.

It is dire enough for us all to be in the streets, marching like it’s 1963, but together this time.

The presumption of the melting pot is that we’re all the same, and that’s a good thing. That being ‘color blind’ is kind, but it’s not. Because people of color have a very different lived experience in our communities than we do as the racial majority. And as an inclusive Catholic community, it matters that we learn more, that we embody courage, that we say the things that need said — even when it feels like walking into conflict. Because conflict isn’t the enemy of good, or progress, or healing, or hope. Turning away from cries for justice is.

So how can we honor our readings today, and the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King? How might our texts help us discern how we are encountering the voice of God, and how will we respond?

Early in his time at the Temple, Samuel kept hearing God’s voice, but couldn’t recognize it. Though Eli was a complicated figure, complicit in systemic harm as high priest and judge, he did not cling to self-protection when he understood God was speaking to Samuel. He said “Samuel, go, lie down. If you hear God’s Voice again, say, Speak, Holy One. Your servant is listening.’”

As he sat in Birmingham Jail, white pastors chided Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for daring to lead his people to freedom in an open public way. They tried to say, “that’s not how God works here,” but what they were really saying was, “this is uncomfortable and inconvenient to us.” MLK was secure in his call and persisted.

The day after John baptized Jesus on the banks of the Jordan River, John saw Jesus again approaching, and called out “Look! The Lamb of God!” And because of what John knew, others recognized the Messiah, and followed Jesus.

But not Nathaniel. Nathaniel questions Philip’s claims that Jesus is the son of God. “Could anything good come from Nazareth?” And so Philip says, “come and see.”

It is then that Jesus sees Nathaniel, and says, “here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit,” and Nathaniel is humbled and proclaims Jesus, “Rabbi! You are the son of God!”

All our Biblical characters have their own calls, their own responses, their questions, opportunities, and answers. The question before us is: what is our story?

Are we like Eli, able to recognize God’s presence in others? Like Samuel, are we learning to trust the still small voice that guides us? Are we like the pastors who want to protect our own ways, and tell others to ‘wait’? Like John, do we recognize God incarnate? Are we skeptical like Nathaniel, but open to see and be changed? Are we like Philip, having seen for ourselves, and inviting others to “come and see”? Are we like Jesus who promises: “you will see much greater things”? What else do you hear happening?

Whose voices from our readings stand out to you this morning? How do you feel called?

I’ll give us a moment to reflect, and then welcome your comments.

Our community practices “shared homilies,” where our presiders preach, and then everyone in the community is invited to share their own insights.

I’m going to share a critical question that came up, and some responses.

“What can we do? When I recognize that I have things that others do not, I feel guilty. I want to do something, but it feels so much bigger than me. What can we do, that we don’t feel overcome by despair?”

First, we need to understand there is a difference between perpetuating the standardization of whiteness and having white skin. Our call is to recognize how the culture we have been raised in has perpetuated harmful ideas about other races and systematically oppressed others.

We can be conduits of change by simply being open to learn, to understand, and to be transformed. The process may be uncomfortable, and it might raise feelings of guilt. But guilt is a natural experience related to identifying our own actions or ideas that may have caused harm to others. Guilt is a precursor to repentance and reconciliation (better yet — repair), and it is a feeling we can cope with — though it is a process that needs and deserves support.

What we don’t want to succumb to are feelings of shame — internalized feelings that we are inherently bad, unworthy or unable to change. Feelings of shame harm our own health and relationships with others.

We are are loving, faithful, humans who are products of our environment, prone to mistakes, and who have an opportunity to grow in grace in a very important way by engaging in anti-racist work for collective healing. Jesus does not call us to rest in feelings of shame (i.e. I am not good enough), but to new life — over and over and over again. If you’re feeling shame, you’re not alone, and you deserve support to understand it and heal. Prioritize your healing, and you’ll be contributing to the healing of the world. ❤

How can I get support?

Watch this quick video on guilt and shame by Brene Brown.

Seek out a spiritual director — you may look for one experienced in social transformation. You might check Spiritual Direction International or The Center for Prophetic Imagination.

Seek out a therapist or counselor — it’s awesome to consider how this process is impacting your own mental health, touching on parts of you that need healing, and finding ways to care for yourself. Let me know if you’re looking for recommendations.

Seek out the sacrament of reconciliation — your priests are here for you, ready to facilitate this sacrament of sacred listening, wisdom seeking, healing, and release.

What resources can I use to learn more?

Our community shared many ideas. Building relationships with people who are of other races and cultures is one of the most beautiful ways to build solidarity and hope.

Join the Greater Indianapolis Multifaith Alliance, grow in sacred friendships during their monthly gatherings, and unite in efforts to make Indianapolis “a more just and livable place.”

Develop a sense of love and wonder about others just by submersing yourself in content created by diverse authors and creators. It’s still January and a great time for resolutions. Celebrate the beautiful expanse of God’s creation by choosing diverse books, shows, and movies all year long! As you are able, practice gratitude and economic justice by directly paying for, tipping, or subscribing to content creators’ services and products.

Join RCWP “Conversations” on themes of reproductive dignity and gender justice via Zoom— ask Angela how.

Reading recommendations:

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo — a practical primer for white readers to learn about race and develop skills to navigate difficult, but necessary, conversations.

On Repentance and Repair: Making Amends in an Unapologetic World by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg. I love this book SO MUCH. Rabbi Danya provides wisdom from the Jewish tradition on the process of relational transformation, from the critical step of acknowledging harms to healing. In itself, it is a much needed framework for repairing our relationships and communities. And, bonus for Christian readers, she comments on how this process also relates to Jesus’ guidance in the Gospel of Matthew.

Trust Women by Rebecca Todd Peters — a fantastic entry to the ethics of comprehensive reproductive care, fully crediting the Black led movement for Reproductive Justice.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. — This book is so important for congregations who deeply want to become more diverse and inclusive. By sharing her own journey and heartaches, Channing Brown opens up to show us how our attempts at diversity often fall short of the mark because what we think is needed is still centered in our own perspectives.

See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, by Valarie Kaur. This is another book that touched me to the core. Revolutionary love asks us to look at one another not as strangers, but as “part of me I do not yet know.” If you’re like me, grab the tissues, and prepare for your heart to swell.

all about love, and everything else by bell hooks. ❤

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson – This is a must read that I confess I have not yet read, but our community members put at the top of the list!

We Do This ’Til We Free Us, by Mariame Kaba — When you are ready to take anti-racism work to another level, this book is the stuff of transformation — for the heart and for society. It challenges us to move from retributive justices to restorative justice.

This list is not comprehensive. There are so many amazing books that can deepen our sense of connection, collective wonder, appreciation, and empower us with skills to navigate the broken world we are living in. Got a recommendation? Comment please.

Other resources:
I have run out of time to curate this post, but there are so many amazing shows, movies, and content creators worth following. If you read this and have any to suggest, please add them in the comments.

When you’re searching for content, try key words like: intersectionality, intersectional feminism, womanism, race, racism, anti-racism, systemic racism, colorism, Black history, diversity, inclusion, belonging, equity, equality, liberation, liberation theology. Prioritize the voices of Black, Indigenous, and people of color; aim to include perspectives from people of different religions and faith traditions, neurodivergent writers (i.e. autistic, ADHD, BPD, etc.), disabled writers, LGBTQ+ writers, and more. The more we do this, the more of the world we see, respect, and appreciate! Let me know what else you find and recommend!

Finally:

Breathe.

It’s ok to go take a nap.

“Liberation is a group project,” not a solo act. ❤

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Angela Nevitt Meyer
Brownsburg Inclusive Catholic Community

Catholic priest (RCWP) all about Love & Belonging | Reproductive Dignity | 🌈 | Evolving Church | Healing Work | She/her