Those that Wait

But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

1619 A Dutch ship captain arrives at Jamestown, Virginia in late summer. He exchanges 20 Africans for food to replenish his ships stores and then sets sail.

1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford, a decision by the United States Supreme Court that ruled that people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves, or their descendants—whether or not they were slaves—could never be citizens of the United States.

1865 The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution officially abolished and continues to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime.

1896 Plessy v. Ferguson, a landmark United States Supreme Court decision, upholding the constitutionality of racial segregation even in public accommodations (particularly railroads), under the doctrine of “separate but equal“.

1948 President Harry Truman signs Executive Order 9981, which states, “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.”

1954 The Supreme Court rules on the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans., unanimously agreeing that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. The decision overturns the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that sanctioned “separate but equal” segregation of the races, ruling that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

1955 Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat at the front of the “colored section” of a bus to a white passenger, defying a southern custom of the time. In response to her arrest the Montgomery black community launches a bus boycott, which will last for more than a year, until the buses are desegregated Dec. 21, 1956. As newly elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), Baptist pastor Martin Luther King, Jr., is instrumental in leading the boycott.

1963 About 200,000 people join the March on Washington. Congregating at the Lincoln Memorial, participants listen as Martin Luther King delivers his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Later that year, four young girls (Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins) attending Sunday school are killed when a bomb explodes at Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

1964 President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion, or national origin.

1968 Martin Luther King, at age 39, is shot as he stands on the balcony outside his hotel room.

2005 Rosa Parks dies at age 92.

2006 Coretta Scott King dies of a stroke at age 78.

January 20, 2009 A person of African heritage is inaugurated the 44th president of the United States.

When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. From an address by Martin Luther King made to the Tenth Anniversary Convention of the S.C.L.C. in Atlanta on August 16, 1967.

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Broken Windows,

Rocks are thrown. Windows are broken. A senseless act of vandalism is committed. Most likely it happened in the night so that darkness would cover the misdeed. Maybe that is all it is, a senseless act of Vandalism.

Yet when I hear the news I immediately think of another night, a night long ago when other windows were broken. I think of the long ago night not because I was there or even because I was alive. I think of that long ago night because on that night, just like the recent night in our community, the windows that were broken belonged to Jews.

Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, was a night of terror. So many windows were broken out of Jewish synagogues, community centers, homes and businesses that the streets of Germany were filled broken glass. On November 9-10, 1938, the Nazis staged riots that resulted in the destruction, burning, vandalizing or looting of 267 synagogues and 7,500 businesses. Jewish cemeteries, hospital, schools and homes were also damaged. 91 Jews were killed. Kristallnacht is one night among many when the Nazis terrorized Jews from 1933 to 1945. It is the night of broken glass.

Why do I think of that long ago night when I read of windows being smashed at a synagogue in the city where I live in 2009? Is there connection between the two?

Where they motivated by similar hatreds, similar prejudices? I hope not, but regardless of the motivation of the vandals who broke windows at Temple Beth El, I wish they had not done what they did. I wish houses of worship, all houses of worship, were safe from such senseless acts. In the 21st century, we should be living in a country were neither people nor property are attacked because of the religions that they represent.

As troubling as I find religiously motivated violence, I am deeply encouraged by cooperation, especially when that cooperation takes place among persons of diverse religious beliefs. Just such an event took place in our city last Sunday. Christians, Jews and Muslims gathered in the sanctuary of Westminster Presbyterian Church to pray for peace. The Sanctuary was packed full of people. People who in many ways where as different from each other as night is from day. Yet, we were praying together. While the room was full of diverse opinions about the nature and activity of God, by gathering together those assembled said with their presence that prayer was an appropriate action on the part of those who desired peace and justice. To me, it is a hopeful sign when people of such varied religious backgrounds can gather in the same room and lift prayers together in the belief that those prayers are heard and that they may well make a difference in the lives of people living in the midst of war and violence.

What seems odd to me is that both of the events that I have just described took place within two weeks of each other in Knoxville. What a stark reminder that even at this late date in history we are still daily faced with a choice. Do we reach out or retaliate? Do we seek reconciliation or revenge? Do we act in ways that give hope to those with whom we share this planet or do we act in ways that strike fear in their hearts? Not acting is acting. The world has grown much too small for any of us to think that injustice in some remote corner of world is too far away to be of concern to us. Let us pray always for the peace of Jerusalem—of Gaza —and of Knoxville.