Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Mondays With Martin: Lines and Justice

When our youngest was a little girl she was a master at “the Charlie Brown walk.” When she got her feelings hurt – which happens frequently when you’re the youngest child – she would pout off to her bedroom doing the walk. When she felt that something was unfair, she’d do the walk. Sometimes for reasons undetectable to anyone else, she’d do it.
Her childhood gave me a great appreciation and a keen awareness of the Charlie Brown walk. I witnessed another master this morning.
A little boy who wanted to have his picture taken in front of the relief of Dr. King was told by his parents that he would have to wait while others took their pictures. He found the idea of waiting deeply unfair. He Charlie Browned it all the way across the plaza and found a place along the low wall where he could slouch in deep pout. It was hilarious to watch, though I felt a sympathetic twinge for the parents of a kid on the verge of a meltdown.
“It’s not fair,” he said.
I thought immediately of the times our kids used to employ that phrase. They learned quite early on to come up with something else because my response was always the same. “Taking turns is not a justice issue,” or “cleaning your room is not a justice issue,” or “eating your vegetables is not a justice issue.” Followed immediately by, “you want to know what a justice issue is? Kids who don’t have enough vegetables to eat – that’s a justice issue; kids who don’t have a home with a bathroom to clean – that’s a justice issue; kids who never get a turn at all – that’s a justice issue.”
Yeah, life was tough for kids in our house!
On the other hand, the idea of waiting and the challenges waiting presents do resonate at a memorial to a man who wrote Why We Can’t Wait.
In that book, which recounts the Birmingham campaign of 1963, King wrote:
“Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to work to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” 
On my way into town this morning I was listening to the Diane Rehme Show, and they were talking about the so-called religious freedom laws that have recently passed in North Carolina and Mississippi. In the introduction, the host said of these laws that they have been “promoted by faith-based organizations.”
I took a couple of minutes, sitting in my car parked along West Basin Drive, to fire off a quick note to the show saying simply, “as a board member of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, and as pastor of Clarendon Presbyterian Church, I know that there are countless people, motivated by the deepest values of their faiths, who work tirelessly for equality and justice for LGBTQ people. I’m parked next to the memorial dedicated to a man who, had he lived after Stonewall, would have counted himself among those countless ones.”

King knew that time doesn’t care. It is, instead, up to us to care, and to care deeply about those things that truly are matters of justice. So we keep on walking with heads held high. No Charlie Brown walking toward freedom.