Wednesday, October 26, 2016

B127. Moral Revival Charleston

“Somebody’s hurting my brother and it’s gone on (far too long), and it’s gone on (far too long), and it’s gone on (far too long). Somebody’s hurting my brother and it’s gone on (far too long), and we won’t be silent anymore.”  Yara Allen is powerfully singing the lead, and I’m among the spontaneous back-up singers leading the congregants in the echoes.  “Somebody’s hurting my sister . . .,” we sing, and “Somebody’s hurting our children . . .” Black and white, old and young, rich and poor, singing, clapping, and committing together, “We won’t be silent anymore.”

This Moral Revival movement kicked off in April of this year committed to stop in over 20 states before finishing Nov. 2 in Milwaukee, WI.  Led by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, the Rev. Dr. James Forbes Jr., the Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon, Sister Simone Campbell, and local leaders of all the host cities, the Moral Revival movement is a call to action on social justice issues from economic freedom and education access, to healthcare and legal protections for all. It is a cry for the heart of the message of Jesus, to care for the poor and oppressed who are always among us. It is a call, not to charitable giving, not to political loyalties, but to systemic repair, to changing the underlying systems of oppression and inequality.

I’m not sure how the host cities were first chosen, but as I looked at the list, I saw that many had been historic markers or battlegrounds in the story of our nation’s  road toward social justice.  I drove almost four hours to the Charleston SC event, the closest for me, and arrived early so I could visit some of the sacred sites in our nation’s history of oppression: The Hanging Tree on Ashley Ave., the Old Slave Mart, Mother Emanuel AME Church. I learned that Charleston was the largest and most active slave port in North America for over 100 years.  I learned that Charleston had one of the largest free black populations of any southern city prior to the Civil War. The first shot of the Civil War was fired at Charleston ‘s Fort Sumter. Several Southern plantations are preserved and open to the public, some including slave tours. I learned that the real “Porgy” of Porgy and Bess fame was a Charlestonian. I had a delicious Southern lunch at Jestine’s Kitchen, named for beloved Charleston housekeeper Jestine Matthews, born in 1885, who lived to age 112. And I learned that Charleston was the city where leaders first gathered to plan the Moral Revival movement.

The Revival gathering was lively and welcoming.  Despite wide diversity, there was no division, political, racial, or otherwise. We shared a desire to work together for a better nation. We were family. The three-hour service included clapping and foot-stomping songs, heart-grappling sermons by Dr. Forbes and Dr. Barber, and personal testimonies by local residents (including a member of the Fight for 15, an undocumented immigrant college student, a young trans man, a breast cancer survivor, and 2 others I’ll tell you about later).  A few highlights that especially touched my soul:

1.      1.   The family love. The extended arms and smiles and those who organized and led, the Asheville NC man seated behind me, and Lori who sat beside me.  I’m pretty sure God chose my seat.

2.       2.  Yara Allen’s powerful Micah 6:8 solo: “What does the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” This was indeed the question of the evening.

3.      3.  Dr. Forbes challenged all of our self-righteous indignation, our attitudes toward those who think or vote differently from us. “God’s association,” he said, “is a cosmic association. God doesn’t care for you any more than for them . . . This revival is not our party against theirs or theirs against ours, but a recruitment to join the Cosmic Association of Elimination of Injustice Everywhere.”

4    4. Danielle’s testimony of surviving a childhood where she and her siblings witnessed the constant physical abuse of their mother, and ultimately her murder, and how the system has failed them as they have spent the rest of their lives flailing in the trauma. All abused alcohol and drugs. Her brothers have flashbacks they cannot control. Her younger brother killed his roommate, and her older brother, a pastor, tried to commit suicide. These children and so many like them are lost in our systems, needing someone to come to their rescue and stand up on their behalf.

     5.  Dr. Millicent Brown’s testimony of being among the first black students in 1963 to bring about desegregation in SC public schools, and the guilt she has carried with her since that time. She explained what she perceives as naivete in believing that changing the law could change the hearts. Until we are committed to love all children, we have not made progress from 53 years ago, says Dr. Brown.

6. Dr. Barber's reading of Ezekiel's prophecy (22:27-30). "(Your polititcians) say, 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says, 'when the Lord has not spoken," and "I looked for a man who would stand in the gap, but  found none." State officials, in response to the 2015 Mother Emanuel Church shooting that left nine worshipers dead, including senior pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney, took down the confederate flag from the state house, a flag that should not have been there anyway, says Dr. Barber. If they really wanted to honor the slain, why not make the changes they championed, further the mission for which they passionately fought, he asks.

7.    7.  Dr. Barber likes to talk about hearts and defibrillators. “We don’t have a Democratic problem,” he says, “We don’t have a Republican problem. We have a heart problem . . . nothing to do with left or right.” When someone’s heart stops, Dr. Barber says, there is hope if someone can get there in time with a defibrillator. The heart has to be shocked. We are called to be the moral defibrillators, to shock the heart of the nation. Martin King had his day. Mother Teresa had her day. Dorothy Day and Mother Jones had their day. FDR and Abraham Lincoln had their day. God is calling for someone to stand in the gap now for your day and my day, to shock the heart of this nation with the power of grace andthe power of mercy and the power of justice and the power of equality and the power of prayers. Will God say “I found no one”? 

The Revival organizers call those of the movement “Repairers of the Breach,” (Isa. 58:12), the gap standers of Ezek. 22. Dr. Barber has called this moment in history the beginning of the Third Reconstruction. Indeed, while his movement has had the national stage, thousands of grass-roots movements are emerging across the country, all focused on turning our national soul to a morality that looks like the heart of Jesus. Somebody’s hurting our brother, somebody’s hurting our sister, somebody’s hurting our children, and we won’t, we can’t, we won’t be silent anymore.


Rayellen Kishbach said...

Today, Yara Allen sang this beautiful song on WBUR's radio program Greater Boston, with an excellent introduction to the origin of the song. I've excerpted the song from their podcast, and would love to share it with you and Ms. Allen if you'd like. Please let me know.

Kathy Vestal said...

Thank you, Rayellen. I'm not in contact with Ms. Allen, but maybe she will see your comment here and respond. I would love to hear it if you will tell me how to access it. Happy New Year to you!

Rayellen Kishbach said...

I just reached out to her for permission. Here is the song on YouTube:

Kathy Vestal said...

Nicely done, Rayellen! Thank you for sharing!