Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!
By Jeff Falter
In 1994, I was getting ready to graduate from seminary and looking for my first church. My first interview was with a small rural church where I had preached once before, on a controversial subject. During the interview, the chair of the committee asked me, “What other controversial subjects might you preach on?” I was flustered, and didn’t know how to respond. The chair said, “Let me give you an example. Through those trees is a small black Presbyterian church, but if you or presbytery or anyone else tried to make us worship together, you would hardly see a white face in the crowd.” I was stunned.
I was a thirty year old white man, married, with my first child on the way. I had the privilege of being raised by parents, and in a community, that believed in meritocracy–that all people should have the opportunity to succeed in life, and participate in society, to the best of their ability. I had the privilege of growing up in a church that believed all people are beloved children of God, that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. I had the privilege of believing that the racial issues that had confronted our society were a matter of history, not a present reality. That interview opened my eyes.
This past year has awakened me even more. It started when I read The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone. Then came the death of so many African-Americans in our society: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Charly Keunang, Sandra Bland, the Charleston 9, just to name a few. Some died at the hands of police; others at the hands of a white supremacist. Some were saints; some were sinners. All died unjustly. My heart breaks for the lives lost, and for so many lives dehumanized. I want to stand at the top of the world and shout to the four corners of the earth, “Black lives matter.” It is what my parents taught me. It is what the Declaration of Independence taught me. It is what Martin Luther King taught me. It is what my faith taught me.
In heart-rending times such as these, I find comfort in the promise of God proclaimed in baptism, “You have been … marked as Christ’s own forever” (G2G, page 18; Hymn 482). I find hope in the central proclamation of the Christian faith, “In life and in death we belong to God” (G2G, page 37; Hymn 326). I find joy in the claim of God in Isaiah 43: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You belong to me.” Hymn 76, 177, 463). But this is not enough. Discipleship demands more.
In baptism, “we choose whom we will serve by turning from evil and turning to Jesus Christ” (G2G, page 16). In baptism, we pray that the same God who claimed each of us as God’s own child, will also send each of us forth “in the power of [God’s] Spirit to love and serve [God] with joy, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth” (G2G, page 21). In other words, in our baptism we not only receive assurance of God’s amazing love for us, we also receive commissioning to do God’s work in the world.
As long as I can remember, I have cherished the hymn, “Be Thou My Vision” (Hymn 450).
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
naught be all else to me, save that thou art;
thou my best thought, by day or by night,
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
I pray that I will remain true to that vision of God as the ruler of all–black and white, Anglo and Hispanic, rich and poor. I pray that I will remain true to sharing that vision with others, so that they too may find their souls’ shelter in God. I pray that my own life will proclaim that “Black lives matter”— matter to God, matter to me, matter to our society. And I pray for God’s wisdom in making that vision a reality in our society.
Jeff Falter is a member-at-large of the Presbytery of Genesee Valley, having served congregations in Washington, West Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama and New York. He is currently working for Community Computer Service in Auburn, New York as a computer programmer. Prior to attending seminary, he worked as a software and electronic engineer.