In Charlottesville a few weeks ago, I experienced a darkness I cannot describe.
I felt that darkness as I looked at the face of white supremacy, as white men with shields, clubs and assault rifles gathered in Emancipation Park, feeding off hate and provoking chaos, violence, and, ultimately, death. In the weeks since, tears have flowed as I recall this moment.
I have also felt overwhelmed by the darkness of my own fear and privilege. I have wrestled with that privilege expressed in my shock at this experience, compared to those who experience racism and hate daily because of their race or religion. I have also struggled with the chaos in Emancipation Park and my fear of bodily harm. I was physically there, singing and chanting with those gathered, but I wasn’t one of the few who risked blocking access to the park. I grieve that I did not do more.
Amidst the darkness, I also experienced moments in which God’s kingdom unforgettably broke through to counter evil and hate in ways too powerful to describe. I felt hope and courage tangibly in arms linked together. I heard it in the words of Rev. Traci Blackmon. I saw it in the faces providing logistical, medical, and pastoral support.
I especially heard God’s kingdom in the voices that courageously sang “This Little Light of Mine” in the face of militant hate. This song, borne out of the context of slavery and later sung by civil rights leaders, will never be the same to me. I have sung the words all my life, but I have never experienced them like that- as words of resistance. In Charlottesville, these ‘Little Lights’ who sang of freedom, inclusion and hope were lights to me and to many others. These images and songs now shine more brightly in my memory than any torch wielded that Friday.
We are called to shine our ‘little lights’ now in response to the darkness we face. As we confront new manifestations of white supremacy, we also face nationalist ideologies that threaten nuclear war, deny safe harbor to refugees, and hasten climate disaster based on the false premise of “America First” exceptionalism. We experience fear and separation from each other. In the face of this darkness, the world needs the church to be a light, all of us combining our candles in a holistic effort toward peace and justice. I believe one way to do that is to renew our witness as a Just Peace Church.
September 17th is Just Peace Sunday. The theme, ”Remember, Repent, Renew: The Way of Just Peace,” speaks to our current moment and calls us to engage practices of remembering, repenting and forgiving, and renewing hope. As part of this Sunday, churches will light candles to join our light with the lights and hope of others who long for Shalom. Together, we can shine a light in the darkness and build a Just World for All.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr