A Crisis of Faith
I confess, I am having a crisis of faith. Not a crisis of my faith in God, but a crisis of my faith in humanity. Sunday my husband Ted and I went to see the film, Selma. Ted wept through the entire film. Even I wept, which is unusual for me during a film. But this film transports you to a moment in time. It asks you, what are you willing to die for? It asks you, would you march? Would you have the courage to march peacefully toward a line of angry men, armed with bats and clubs? I pray that I would have the courage to do so. I wept because a part of me doubts the effectiveness of non-violence in the face of such overwhelming hatred and violence. I wept because part of me agrees with Malcolm X, who urged revolution by any means necessary, violence against violence. I wept because I desire the faith to take the higher road, but my own heart is conflicted with anger, violence, doubt. That’s the cold, hard truth. I believe in God; God help my unbelief in your people. I believe in your goodness, O God; help my unbelief in the inherent goodness of your people.
I highly recommend the film Selma to everyone. Next Monday we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Many of us are involved in a day of community service, in his honor. But as members of my local interfaith clergy group mentioned, as wonderful as it is that people do a day of community service, in this time of Ferguson and Staten Island, maybe we need to get back to the real message of Dr. King. For we see that today racism is alive and well here in the United States. As the events in France show us, we see that today freedom is still under attack in many places throughout our world.
Our youth group at my church does a Homeless Awareness Campout every Martin Luther King weekend. We set up a bus stop type lean-to on the front lawn of our church in white, upper-class East Greenwich, RI, and camp out from 12 noon on Saturday till 12 noon on Sunday. People coming to one of our four worship services on Saturday or Sunday can’t avoid homelessness, as they have to practically step over us to go to church. This idea was the creation of a clergy friend of mine, Rev. John Hudson, a UCC pastor in Massachusetts. We usually get on the local news.
To raise the awareness of our youth themselves, we also have them do a service project with homeless people. This year we are going to a new ministry we have gotten involved with, Church Beyond Walls, in downtown Providence, RI. Church Beyond Walls is a weekly outdoor worship service, led by a partnership of Episcopal and Lutheran clergy and church members, which ministers to peoples’ physical and spiritual hunger, by serving the Word and Sacrament, followed by a community meal.
I have been involved in this ministry since last January. Also to raise the awareness of our youth, we show them a film about Homelessness, followed by conversation. It occurred to me as I watched Selma, however, that young people today may not even know the story of Dr. King. After seeing the film, I texted a close friend, four years younger than I, “Just saw Selma. AMAZING.” He texted me back, “What’s Selma?” I was shocked. I realize we need to keep Dr. King’s message alive for the younger generations, who do not realize the price that was paid for basic human rights by Dr. King and so many others just a short time ago. I realize that our young people hear about Ferguson and Staten Island with different ears than those of us who lived in the sixties.
My husband is fifteen years older than I, so was in college during Selma. I was just four years old. He said to me, “You were too young to do anything, but I should have marched. I should have done something. I did nothing.”
But Selma is still going on today. Selma is Ferguson. Selma is Staten Island.
I think of the kids in my youth group. I think this year they need to see Selma instead of a film about Homelessness. Instead of discussing homelessness, as important as that is, we need to discuss racism.
The most difficult scene in the film for me personally was the scene of the march across the bridge at the beginning of the march from Selma to Montgomery. Unarmed women, youth, and men, walking peacefully, met with State Police, armed with clubs, and angry white racists, armed with bats, wrapped in barbed wire.
The first question I asked myself was “Where are the white people?” Is there not one frigging white person who would march in solidarity with their sisters and brothers? Ted said, “Wait. It will come.” As television screens across the US showed scenes of older women in dresses being bludgeoned with bats and clubs, anti-racist people throughout the country were outraged. I was relieved to see that people of all persuasions travelled from all over the country to join the march. I confess I was personally relieved that many of them were clergy.
The second question I asked myself, the one we all need to ask ourselves, is, “Would I have had the courage to march?” I pray to God that I would, but the thought of walking toward a line of men with clubs is so horrifying, so sickening… Where does this courage come from?
I think of how Dr. Martin Luther King, following the non-violent teaching of Gandhi, but also of Jesus, said that if we respond to hatred with hatred, then we only contribute to the arsenal of hatred in this world. If we respond to violence with violence, then we only add to the vast amount of violence in this world. We cannot fight what we hate by becoming that very thing. We must choose another way, a higher way.
When we respond to violence with non-violence, not only do we not add to the amount of violence in the world, but there is also the possibility that our non-violence may dismantle, may diminish, may even transform, some of the violence into non-violence. When we respond to hatred with Christ-like love, not only do we not contribute to the amount of hatred in this world, but we may actually dismantle, diminish, even transform, some of the hatred into compassion.
I believe in this higher nonviolent way; God, Christ, Gandhi, Dr. King, help my unbelief.
This day, may be be the change we wish to see in this world.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright January 13, 2015
Photo credits: Linda in Turkey; Night Sky at Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico; Sign for Church Beyond Walls; Altar at Church Beyond Walls; Guard, Turkey; Cross at Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monastery, Abiquiu, New Mexico, taken by Ted