Justice and Peace

This week marked the day that we honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I see him everywhere I turn. When I was in Washington, D.C. and visited the Phillips Collection, I was inexplicably drawn to Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, several works of art that portrayed acts of oppression and of justice and freedom, including this panel “Panel 19–There had always been discrimination.”

In Roanoke, Virginia, a few days later, I walked across the MLK Memorial Bridge, a pedestrian bridge adjacent to my friend Micky’s apartment. The inscription on the statue at the entrance to the bridge said, “Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace.”

I left Roanoke via the Blue Ridge Parkway and listened to Patty Griffin sing “Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)” on repeat as I twisted and turned through magnificent mountain vistas. And I thought about Dr. King. I thought about justice and peace. Justice and peace seem to be inseparable, but they also are antithetical. How do we get justice? We fight for it. But peace means the absence of fighting, or at least of violence. But there can be no true peace if there is injustice. Or, in the words of Dr. King himself, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I spent MLK day in Durham, North Carolina with my oldest friend, Theresa.  She and I have known each other since she moved in down the street from me when she was 4 and I was 2.  As we ate lunch, she told me about some of the radical history of her church community, Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, NC.  The old chapel building was built in 1848 with a choir loft-type structure, only it wasn’t for the choir.  Contrary to the practice of the day, the parishioners wanted their slaves to be able to worship.  The loft provided a place for the slaves to participate in the service, slave and owner lifting their voices in song and prayer together.

When it was discovered that one of the men of the congregation fathered children with a slave, it caused quite the scandal.  But the man’s sister, Mary Ruffin Smith, insisted that the children, all daughters, be baptized in the congregation.  The granddaughter of one of the girls that was baptized, Pauli Murray, was ordained as the first female African American priest in the Epsicopal church.  After her ordination, Pauli officiated her first Eucharist service at Chapel of the Cross. In the space where her great grandmother had worshipped as a slave and her grandmother was cradled under holy water, chains of injustice were broken.  And two generations later, in that same space, Pauli Murray cradled bread in her hands, and she broke it.

Thank you, Dr. King, for your message of justice and peace.  And thanks to all who have courageously carried this message before and since.

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