As some of you may know, I’ve been spending the holidays with the boyfriend, in Birmingham. After a lunch of Alabama bar-b-que ribs – the first I’ve had in ages, and boy are they different from Texas’s – his parents asked if I’d wanted to see anything else in Birmingham. I commented that I’d heard good things about the Civil Rights museum, so we stopped in there.
The experience felt . . . different. In a certain sense, it reminded me of a more hopeful Holocaust museum: documenting the horrors of the past so that the world won’t forget, but showing the power of a steadfast commitment to justice. I’m glad I went.
The museum evoked some of the same thoughts that I felt reading Martin & Malcolm & America recently, particularly the parts of the book on Malcolm X. As a Christian, and really as a human, I’m clearly called to fight injustice and defend the oppressed. But how do I react to situations where that’s not possible – when the battleground has shifted (race may still be a dividing line in America, but in different ways), or when I’m inextricably part of the enemy (as Malcolm X saw it)? The answer, of course, is to take courage from the past and apply it to the needs of the present. The problem is understanding what those needs are.
I look at the not-too-distant past and almost envy those protesters, with the clarity of their anger. The civil rights movement, perhaps more than any other twentieth-century social movement, had deep roots in the Church, and theirs is the faith I crave: a faith unashamed to proclaim Christ’s love through their words and deeds. Of course, to those suffering injustice, the battlefield on which to fight is clear. For me, though, a white educated American, I have the luxury of choosing my battlefield. And I’m still genuinely uncertain of the best place to stake my flag.
It’s clear to me that the Big Issue of these times is globalism and all its related questions: the rise of extremist religious groups, the pressures of limited resources on expanding populations, the control that powerful international entities have over the lives of the less powerful, the complexities of “humanitarian intervention” in a world where we really can see genocide happening before our eyes. It’s why I sometimes find myself feeling callous toward problems in our own country. See, while I’m the last person to dismiss the real hurdles faced in America by minorities, low-income families, immigrants, LGBT people, women, persons with disabilities, and more, those problems pale in comparison to the 40% of the world’s people who don’t have toilets, let alone access to any opportunity for economic and personal flourishing.
I’m sounding negative, most likely, but today I don’t feel it. Rather, I feel excited about my generation’s opportunities to speak against those injustices. Someday, when they make museums to document the horrors happening today in this world, I want my name to be on the list of those who didn’t stay silent.
Have a wonderful new year, everyone.