I began this first Sunday in Lent by traveling to Harlem in the heart of New York City. After a week of sleet, snow and ice in Nashville, I was grateful for the sunshine, and even the slushy sidewalks. People here looked delighted to be out greeting the day and each other. When I was here last month, I wanted to see Selma showing in a nearby theater, but the trip was too full. Following a morning of writing on the plane, I thought it a good Sabbath practice to drink deeply of this story of American history, a tragic and courageous piece of history.
The movie definitely pulled me up short. I heard Terry Gross’s interview with the film’s director, Ava DuVernay a few weeks ago. I was moved as she described her approach to the story. During the movie itself I was jolted to tears and to furor several times. DuVernay says she hoped “to place the audience right front and center emotionally to what it felt like to be black in the deep South in 1965.” She does so exquisitely. I’ve never felt the impact of the violence, the politics, the personal cost, the complexity of the Civil Rights movement so profoundly.
My lenten discipline this year is to be open-hearted to life, to risk, to the reach for the courage enough to love, even when I don’t feel like it. Being open-hearted to the history and the present reality of what it means to be black in America means being moved emotionally and feeling the demand for outrage and for action. It means seeing the stakes of what racism is and what it does, and what it costs.
Fifty years ago the events of Selma brought thousands of protesters into the streets of Harlem. Last year Ferguson brought more protesters into these streets. Much has happened in between. Thanks be to God. But so much more still needs to happen. Lives and dignity, and futures are on the line. When will the day come when no more protests are needed? When, O God, will we be just as delighted by each other as we are with a sunshiny winter afternoon?
How shall we find the courage to turn our open hearts to God and to each other?