Okay. So I know we've already talked a little about Selma, but you all know me. It takes a while for the deep emotions I feel to wrap themselves in words. I wanted to give voice to how impacted I was by the Selma movie, but knew it would take time for me to share the extant to wish I was moved. It has taken a few days, but I want to share with you one of the gems I will carry with me for a long, long time.
When the credits rolled, and the song Glory transitioned into This Little Light Of Mine I realized I was viewing this movie as a black woman. I know that sounds silly because I watch everything in this body of mine, but I was so utterly aware of my embodied experience in America. Ava's opening scene, listening to the little girls discuss hair, immediately drew me in. For the rest of the movie I was identifying with black women- young and old, overwhelmed and frustrated, persistent and strategic, fiery and intelligent, loving and defiant, crying and fighting on. I was all in, friends.
And this would have been enough. It would have been enough to see myself so represented on the screen. Its not often that I go to a movie and identify with so many characters. Feeling seen, known, respected, understood is not typical of a movie-going experience for me. So this was a gift all by itself. But then something about the movie sunk deeper.
It happened as the movie grew increasingly dramatic. The focus shifting to MLK and the desire of various government officials to convince him to end the crusade, to drop the demonstration. I was not surprised to witness the various tactics used to stop MLK: insertion of fear, promises of compromise, weight of responsibility. There was a never ending onslaught of strategy to silence him. And each time he resisted.
The President of the United States has never called me. The FBI is not recording me. No one has bombed my home. US government officials are unconcerned about my... blog. So I do not suggest here today that I am living MLKs life in any way. What I do want to validate, on a smaller but important scale, are the ways in which black women continue this work of strategy within the Church.
"If you would just slow down, I really think that pastor is closer to moving on that decision than you think. Don't ruin it."
"I appreciate your passion, and I get it, but you have to know we are just not there yet. Perhaps if you tried something else- changed your tone perhaps- you would see more movement."
"You are just so strong. Thank you for your strength as you push this conversation to the forefront. We hope you will continue to use your strength..." but there is no talk of change.
"This campaign of yours is starting to get a little toxic. Are you sure you this is the place God really wants you to be?"
"You know how much I care about this issue. I just have a number of other values to juggle, too. We just cant move on this right now. But why don't you think about MLK Day and what might be done then?"
"Our congregation has already moved so far on this issue. What else would you like us to do, exactly?"
"Perhaps you should read more about MLK and really understand how he... [something incomprehensible]."
I could go on and on, friends. While these certainly do not amount to the pressure, the fog of death, described in the movie, these experiences are no less real. At first they are disheartening. We bend trying to find the hopefulness buried in the words. And then we recognize them for what they are- political maneuverings, self-protection of the organization. This is the point where my disappointment, frustration, and yes anger become overwhelming. But then I watched Selma.
Ava let me watch MLK resist taking on responsibility for the deaths of civilians and hand it back to a government who refused to demand police protection over police brutality. Ava let me watch MLK remind the white power structure that the subject of the conversation was not the noise of the demonstrations but the lack of action on their part. Ava let me watch MLK strategically reframe every "legitimate" reason to stop. Ava let me watch MLK remain resistant not just in the big ways- huge demonstrations and soaring speeches. She let me see him on the phone, in meetings, in small rooms, in one-on-one conversations. She let me see him where I live my life, where I love the Church.
As you participate in holy resistance, I hope you, too, will be invigorated by these small but signifcant scenes. I hope you will see your role as quite political. I hope you will see yourself as capable of strategizing and reframing. I hope that you will own your power to see clearly. I hope that you will speak truth to power, fully embodied in who you are and what you have been called to do. I hope you let your little light shine.