Sunday afternoon I took myself to the movies to see Selma and I was so glad I did. It is a powerful movies that spoke to me on so many levels.
First of all, there is the dark stain of slavery and the racism that has been part of the fabric of our nation well after the Emancipation Proclamation. The civil rights laws and the events of Selma happened within my lifetime. As I look back, I realize how unconscious I was at the time of all of this as a teenager growing up in eastern Pennsylvania. Over the years I continue to grow (I hope) in awareness of the long term systemic effects of racism and the reality of white privilege. Selma was one in a series of movies that have been part of my education along the way.
But it was much for than that for me. It was a lesson in leadership as it depicted Martin Luther King, Jr. as a flawed man who was called to be a leader in the movement to acquire voting rights for the people. . I appreciated his vulnerability - as he had difficult encounters with other civil rights leaders, his president and his wife. He persevered through it all but it was not easy.
It also spoke to me about how change happens - and it requires many people who are willing to stand up for the rights of others. And in Selma it was clear that church was an integral part of the movement. Martin Luther King Jr was - of course - a preacher and his eloquent sermons were important. After the first aborted march to Selma when people were brutally beaten, he called the clergy to come and join him and they did. From all over the country. And so while it is easy to think of church these days as "sideline" and not "mainline", I am grateful to remember when the work of justice was inspired by faithful Christians willing to march and be a voice for the voiceless. (I know that churches were divided over this at the time and that some ministers who went to Selma or became Freedom Riders also lost their jobs!)
There is one scene that stays with me from the movie. The people are lined up on the bridge and ready to leave Selma for Montgomery, the state troopers stand before them as a seeming blockade. Suddenly, there is an opening and they allow them to proceed. And Martin Luther King, Jr gets on his knees to pray - followed by everyone else. When he stands, he then goes against the crowd back into Selma- it is not time to proceed. I wondered as I saw this - did God speak to him? Was he so connected to the source of life, that he knew that this was not the time and he would be leading his people into danger? I don't know.
I would like to believe that he was guided by God. I would like to believe that kind of connection is possible for all of us. . And I would like to believe that I can be guided by God to know when to go forward and when to retreat. When to work and when to rest. When to speak and when to be silent. When to lead and when to follow.
And so, Selma stays with me and speaks to me about the important work of justice. May I continue to seek to be so connected to God's presence that I may hear that voice calling me to love and serve.
May it be so. Amen.