As I explained in my presentation on The Lord's Rain, I had let God guide me on this trip, and one of the places He led me was to a little church in Brooklyn, Rivers of Living Water, which was not far from the Y where I was staying. I heard that there was a healing service on the Friday night, so I went down to have a look. As soon as I opened the door, I realized that blending in was not going to be possible: the congregation was all African-American. No matter: the service was what I had come for, so I sat down and prayed and watched.
Presently, one of the elders came over and said, "Will you take Communion with us, son?" The offer, along with her gentle tone, told me I was accepted. No - not "accepted": I was home.
|Kenny in action: "Oh, I wish I could tell someone ..."|
On Sunday, I went to the service. Pastor Evelyn -- Kenny's wife -- introduced me to the congregation and asked me to say a few words (I noted the "few"). Then Kenny got the whole congregation to "line up and show our brother some love". They all filed past, giving me hugs and handshakes and "God bless you"s. The warmth and love that effused from that crowd was palpable, and the Holy Spirit was present in all His glory.
A couple of days later, I was walking along a street in Manhattan, when I heard a tremendous commotion behind me. Car horns were honking, and someone was ranting unintelligibly at the world in general. I turned around and saw a 30-something black man, raving at everyone and no one, lurching out into the street, daring cars to run him over. Nobody obliged.
The Lord said to me, "go and pray for that man".
Immediately, I stopped in my tracks and said, "Lord, in Jesus' Name ..."
I got no further. "NO," He said. "I said to go and pray for him. Go to him and pray for him."
He had gone across the street and I lost sight of him, but when I saw a couple of women walking hurriedly out of a coffee shop down the block, looking over their shoulders with an air of disgust, I figured I'd found him. I was right. He came out a couple of minutes later, and I went up to him.
"Hey, bro'," I said. "You OK? Can I pray for you?"
I've led rather a sheltered life, so I wasn't really prepared for what followed. It was the closest thing to a racist tirade I'd ever been subjected to. I only remember a couple of direct quotes:
"You people been f**king up my people for the past 400 years."
"You can't pray for me 'cause you ain't got the love of Jesus in your heart."
"You got blue eyes."
I wanted to reply, "how can you see into my heart when you can't see past the color of my eyes?", but the Lord put a watch on my lips. Instead, I kept praying, calling on Jesus to heal him, and kept offering him my hand.
Finally, another fellow came along, who knew the first man. He stopped. They talked for a bit, then walked off together, as if I weren't there and as if nothing had happened. As I walked on, I said, "so what the heck was that all about?"
The Lord said, "you learned something, didn't you? And did you see how he calmed down when My Son's Name was mentioned?"
I hadn't thought of that, but then, I'd had a different expectation for the way things would turn out. I figured he'd receive the prayer, I'd maybe cast some demons out of him, then we'd go for coffee (my treat) and an hour or two of sweet fellowship before going our separate ways. Maybe exchange email addresses.
As you can see, that's not how it worked out. But the lesson of that encounter rings loud right now: the key ingredient is Jesus.
It was Jesus who led the people of Rivers of Living Water to welcome me in as a brother, and it was Jesus who led me to cross the street to pray for a seriously troubled man; and it was Jesus who calmed down a situation that could have become ugly, left on its own.
Here's something to consider: I brought up Jesus, and the other fellow did, too; he might have been trying to deny that Jesus was in my heart, but His Name was there ... and when two or more are gathered in His Name ... thinking about Jesus' words, He doesn't actually say we all have to be in total agreement, but if we're gathered in His Name, He'll help us sort out the Truth that lies somewhere between Person X's position and Person Y's position.
An incident like that -- plus others, that I've read and heard about -- make me wonder if people have lost sight of what else Martin Luther King said in that famous speech, 50 years ago. "I have a dream", "let freedom ring" and "free at last" are long-remembered, as they should be: but he said more than that.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
"Let us not ... [drink] from the cup of bitterness and hatred." "We must ... [meet] physical force with soul force." Don't distrust all white people just because some have hated you.
Of those two incidents I described above, which would have made Dr King say, "that's what I'm talking about, and which do you think would make him shake his head at how far our society hasn't come in 50 years? Kenny Black and I are the same age, and had we been in DC at the March, Dr King could well have pointed to us as the black child and the white child he prayed would live together in peace and harmony.
On the other hand, wasn't the visceral reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman -- the screaming for blood and revenge (cloaked with the word "justice"), not to mention the reactionary finger-pointing about white people killed by black people -- deep draughts from that cup of bitterness and hatred? When radio host Don Imus made his "nappy-headed ho's" comment about the NCAA women's basketball champions a few years ago, there was an opportunity to extend grace and forgiveness; instead, people demanded Imus' head on a platter and had him run him off the airwaves (thereby denying him the opportunity to humble himself public and repent).
It makes you wonder whether people really listened to that speech, or just caught the highlights on the evening news?
Jesus calls us to love one another. Over and over again, He tells us that's the key to all the laws and prophets, and at the Last Supper, He gave that "new commandment" to His disciples. But obedience to that commandment is risky: when you love unconditionally, you put your heart on the line and make everyone else more important than you -- with God most important of all. And in return, the world might reject you; people might call you nasty names or ridicule you, largely out of envy because you've found a greater way. And amazingly, Jesus puts the onus on the wronged party -- the victim -- to love, to forgive, to take the higher ground and rise above the level of the attacker.
Like Jesus, Dr King called people to take that risk of obedience, even in the face of unspeakable atrocities, because the long-term reward for that obedience is greater than we could ever ask or think.
I know there's been hurt. I know the pain is deep-rooted. And I know that, when you're not the one who's been wronged, it's easy to say, "oh, lighten up" or "forgive". But I also know that the longer one dwells on the hurt and the injustice, the deeper its claws are set in one's being. Martin King's speech all those years ago was not a war cry, but an exhortation to break the cycle of pain and hatred; and while he didn't actually quote the Apostle Paul, his call on all people to rise to the higher plane of dignity and discipline was really to not be overcome with evil, but to overcome evil with good.