How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Isa. 52:7
In the late fall Minneapolis was flooded daily with the news of protests, occupations, marches, disruptions, camp-outs at the 4th precinct and freeway blockades. An unarmed young black man was fatally shot in the process of an arrest – and the actual facts of the matter were (and are) blurred in the aftermath of outrage and counter-outrage.
Black Lives Matter came front and center in the city. Carpetbaggers arrived in town. Blacks and whites alike marched and demanded justice and swift retribution against the police. Many folks also came to the defense of the men in blue, arguing the impossibility of their challenge to bring peace to neighborhoods riddled with violence and claimed by poverty.
Those of us raised in whitened suburbs and small towns have scant knowledge of what it must be like to grow up on streets where guns are commonplace, fathers are often absent and your every act is under suspicion.
The marches and protests stretched across the city, through the holidays and into the new year until they reached Martin Luther King Day, January 18, 2016. That day the Minneapolis Tribune carried a feature briefly quoting 6 local younger black leaders in many fields , along with their photographs. Each person was asked to comment on Black Lives Matter as they contemplated it on that day. They were all very interesting and thoughtful.
But there was one who spoke the kind of words that can open windows in the most closed of minds. Her name is Brittany Lynch. Brittany is 24. She seems to have an interesting career working in the community as a radio host, in music and spoken word performance and creative consulting. Her picture was lovely, but it was her words that have stuck with me.
“Not only do our lives matter, not only do we deserve equality, but we deserve to have sweet, beautiful, fruitful lives. We deserve to have our own spaces. We deserve to speak up when we see something unjust.”
‘Sweet, beautiful, fruitful lives.’ Yes! That is what I want for all my children. That is what I want for my grands. That is what I wanted – and expected – for myself. I did not expect it as a right, for no government in the world can guarantee such abundance – but it was the way I would choose to live and I assumed like many white Americans that the only obstacles I faced were of my own paucity.
I’m not sure about Brittany, but when at 24 I pictured a ‘sweet, beautiful, fruitful’ life it looked something like this: A family with love. A handsome little house on Maple St. A place where I could be useful and uncover strengths that were still in the shadows. Travel to foreign places to sit in sidewalk cafes and watch the people go by. A bit of adventure. Church on Sundays. Friends. Books. Music. Health. Peaceful sunny days.
Equality is a much more difficult concept to get our minds around, we who grew up thinking that every American has a basic right to a high school education, to equal opportunity, to be treated fairly by every shopkeeper, every teacher, every boss, every cop, every judge. We know now that it doesn’t play out that way for everyone. Mr. A. and I were living in Memphis when Dr. King was shot and now we’re old, having lived through the sixties and subsequent decades and turmoils and leaders, some of whom we admired and some we did not.
I’ve always known I wasn’t equal to everyone; not as bright as many, lacking in drive and financial resource, not much of a risk taker and too often hesitant to “speak up” as Brittany says. Mr. A. and I both worked our way through the University, paying it all – and believing ourselves fortunate to be there. He worked his whole life – and I kept the family. However, people expected us to be doing just that and put no barriers in our way.
Therefore I guess Brittany and I are different in many ways. But a deep desire for a sweet, beautiful, fruitful life? Yes, in that we share.
I believe that it is the Lord who has put that desire within us. And it is the Lord who brings sweetness and beauty and fruit to our lives. This triumverate can be known in men and women who live in North Minneapolis and who live in Hopkins, in Queens and in Palm Beach. It is not of our own striving. Surely we must work for equality and justice. But sweetness on our own soon turns sour. Beauty by the world’s standard is just botox – and success is not the same as fruitfulness.
When it arrives from within as God’s indwelling, then all the circumstances of our lives can be met with tenderness, forgiveness and a light heart. And then it can be passed on, a legacy worth more than an address on Mount Curve.
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However, a little cottage on Maple Street would be nice . . .
Jessye Norman, Amazing Grace . . .