Midweek Musing 2/22/23 - But I am Only….
Midweek Musing 2/22/23 - But I am Only….
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect, whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
1st Corinthians 12:12-27 (NRSV)
One of the fascinating things to me about the Civil Rights movement and the church’s involvement in it is how so many individuals whose names are mostly lost to history played significant roles in bringing about justice and freedom.
Indeed, the African American Church, along with a select group of white faith leaders, lived out Paul’s exhortation in 1st Corinthians that the church is one body made up of many members who each serve distinct but essential roles. And further, unless all members play their part like each instrument in a symphony, the work of the kingdom is incomplete and might even fail.
One prime example of this is the Montgomery Bus Boycott. We all are familiar with Rosa Parks and what happened when she refused to give up her seat on the bus. And we know the extraordinary faith courage and leadership of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr during this boycott. Still, there are so many others that history glosses over or forgets altogether.
For example, it was Jo Ann Robinson, a professor at Alabama State College and leader of the Women's Political Council who actually called for the boycott and spent a night with two of her students running off flyers to be sent out to the Black communities of Montgomery to advertise the boycott.
However. just calling for a boycott was not enough. Because on that Monday, Montgomery’s working-class black population still needed a way to get to work, and students needed to get to school.
A myriad of leaders, most of whom worked in the black churches, worked on one of their greatest organizing successes: the immense logistical challenge of creating an alternative transportation system for Montgomery's black community.
For example, they convinced dozens of black taxicab drivers to offer discounted rates — 10 cents, the same as a bus fare — for those needing to get to work.
And they were able to organize an Uber without an app on a phone. Leaders organized a fleet of private cars comprising wealthy black people and whites who supported the movement to provide free rides. Many people, as we have all seen from historical photographs, simply walked to and from school and work.
When it was decided the boycott would continue, long-term sustainable plans had to be made to transport the 17,500 black residents who typically rode the city buses each day.
Leaders like Rufus Jones and others set about this monumental task. First, they set up a "taxicab army" of 18 black-owned cab companies to deliver people to work at low fares. But white law enforcement cracked down on the cab drivers, threatening to arrest them, using a rarely-enforced law requiring a minimum fare of 45 cents.
Next, they set up pools of volunteers—typically around 150 a day to mimic the city bus routes and drive folks. Black churches reached out to groups across the nation for donations to buy station wagons to transport larger groups of folks at once.
In response, white city leaders put pressure on the insurance companies to cancel the car insurance policies for black-owned cars. When this occurred, Dr. King reached out to his friends in Atlanta—John Wesley Dobbs, a prominent Black businessman, and Theodore M Alexander—who had the only black-owned insurance company in the south. Alexander actually flew to London in order to secure insurance for the Montgomery drivers from Lloyd’s of London so the boycott could continue and eventually succeed.
Of course, over the months of the boycott, there were expenses. Money had to be raised. As one participant in the boycott wrote in a letter, "Gas, oil, tires, and vehicle repairs have to be provided, leaflets runoff, an office set up, postage & phones paid for, and all of that costs money." Community members gave generously of their time and effort. Still, leaders had to reach out nationally to unions, churches, and other money sources to cover expenses that rose to $5,000 a month. Some gave out of their abundance, but many others gave in spite of their poverty.
The point is that thousands of individuals made up the movement, each giving what they had and could. Most names are lost to history, but names like Dr. King and Rosa Parks would not have endured without these essential workers who helped build our nation closer to the beloved community of the kingdom of God.
Each could have said, but I am just…
…a taxicab driver
Or a teacher giving a high five or a snack to a kid without one
Or a maid choosing to walk to work
Or a student being kind to the new kid
Or a deacon or an elder
Or a secretary calling to check on a neighbor
Or a retiree driving a car.
Or a mechanic freely fixing an engine.
Or… and you can fill in the blank.
Each could have found an excuse not to do the call set before them. They could have said I am just a hand, or a knee, or foot. But instead, they used the role they were given and the gifts they possessed to do the good that was theirs to do.
May it be so with us in the Church even today.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Alleluia Amen.