By Rev. Mandy Sayers
Pastor, Covenant UMC, Gaithersburg
I saw an interview with President Jimmy Carter where he talked about growing up on a farm in Plains, Ga., where all his friends and playmates were African American. He said when he was about 14, he remembered coming in from the fields with his two best friends and when they came to the pasture gate, the two boys stopped to let Carter go first.
He said at the time, he thought they did it for a joke, that perhaps they’d laid a trip wire or something that they’d then laugh about. He realized later that these boys had been told by their parents something like, “I know you and Jimmy are friends, but now that y’all are 14, it’s best if you start deferring to him in public.”
Carter said he was amazed and sad about this line drawn in the red Georgia clay, and that he saw in that moment that racism is a real thing, something against his Christian faith.
As the news fills again with horrifying videos of black men being slain by police officers under the most egregious of circumstances, I am thinking of that peanut farm and those country boys, one of whom would grow up to be President, but who are all three equal in the sight of God.
Farm folks learn how to prepare their fields for harvest and how to sow seeds in such a way to allow them to grow. They invest in the potential of the seed and take time to nurture it, even before it gets large enough to do anything impressive at all.
As children “learn what they live,” a seed, at least most of the time, sprouts as it is sown. The right moisture, the right soil, the right patient tending, will lead to a good sprout, a healthy plant, a good harvest.
While those boys were out in the fields, in my imagination, there was other holy work going on. Perhaps a mother or a grandmother worked inside, stitching patches onto britches or sewing quilt pieces together. In that work, she didn’t ask the patches or the pieces how they felt about the whole thing.
She worked with a sharp eye and a practiced hand to mend what was broken and to make scraps and pieces into one strong seam, or a warm covering for someone’s bed at night. She took that which was broken and made it whole, that which was separated and made it one.
Our God is a masterful, joyful, grace-filled sower, and our God is a practiced and wise and strong sewer, too. In Christ, we are called to sow love, peace, joy and justice, and while we are called to learn from history, we are certainly equally called to make history. We are called to stitch together all humankind, to sow the seed of God’s love and be “repairers of the breach, restorers of streets to live in.” (Isa. 58:12).
We owe it to all our children to sow and sew well. We owe it, in the name of our God, who sides with the oppressed, and who welcomes all God’s children into God’s pasture gate, to young black men who are afraid when they see police lights in their mirrors.
In that place, says the prophet Micah, “They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid.”
By Rev. Daryl Williams
Pastor, St. Paul UMC, Oxon Hill
Why? It is a one-word question that has become an all too common refrain.
I have a three-year-old nephew and no matter what you say to him, his response is “why?” The sky is blue. Why? Grass is green. Why? Go to bed. Why? Eat your dinner. Why? No matter what is said he wants to know why. He wants to know what is the foundational reason for what is being presented to me. It is because I have had to answer the question “why?” so many times that I found great irony in sitting in my living room Thursday morning looking at the past few days in this country, wondering why.
On Monday, we were celebrating Independence Day in our great nation. We ate, we celebrated, we watched fireworks and reveled in our freedoms. By Thursday, I was faced with the deaths of two citizens of the United States at the hands of agents of the state and all I could say was why?
Why was there going to be another family that would have an empty seat at dinner? Why were two free citizens who had just celebrated independence and freedom shot and killed while exercising the very freedom that was being celebrated?
In July 1776, we as a nation declared our independence with the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” yet today I am stuck asking “why?”
Could it be that when we were sowing our seeds of freedom and independence that we forgot to sow and cultivate love and charity? Could it be that when we planted life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness into the soil of this great land that we forgot to plant compassion, love, kindness and justice for all as well? You see, what you plant is what eventually springs from the ground, so when I watch what seems like clear injustice and I watch what does not resemble all men being created and treated equally, I have to ask: why? What have we sown in our great country that would allow brutality, injustice and inequality to spring up and choke out two lives? Choking out the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of these two citizens of this great country. Why?
Something was sown and is growing in our great republic and it is our problem.
It is not the problem solely of those who are of a certain color, race, or socio-economic class. It is our problem.
It is not the problem of those people, or other people. It is our problem.
Our nation is sewn together. Like every American flag that stitches together 50 stars and 13 stripes, we as a people are sewn together. No matter what we have sown in the past, we are now sewn together with a common future. We the people, all the people, are sewn together and it will be we the people, sewn together, that must begin to sow now the seeds of a better, brighter future for all of us. We the people must stand up to injustice, speak loudly and clearly when we see wrong, and declare that we are one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all. We must do this to repent of the things that were sown into our land. We must do this to continue to be sewn together. We must do this so that the next generation will not be faced with the same “whys” that we face today.