I was wrong. I led you astray. My apologies. I blame Anthony Bailey, to be honest. He got me riled up with the Silence that leads to Songs of Protest. So, I told you that I was going to join in a protest march last night. Me and a couple thousand of my closest friends. Well, we gathered last night. In two churches that sit side by side in the downtown area of Washington D.C. National City Christian Church was the host site for the worship before the event - or worship as the beginning of the event. I got there 30 minutes early, plenty of time, I thought, to find a small corner in this 1,500 seat sanctuary. But no, I was too late. So I and a few hundred friends I didn’t know, toddled over to the Luther Place Memorial Church across the street. It was also a venue of the Festival and I thought I’d go the whole event without even going inside. But there I was.
This is the church, and this is us watching a live stream from next door. Isn’t technology great? It was almost like I was there. Except when it was buffering, or the sound dropped out, or the bird in the sanctuary flew around and caused everyone around me to laugh and point so we couldn’t hear the speakers. But, almost like being there.
After about an hour of speakers reading a part of the declarations of the Reclaiming Jesus document (Google it, it’s a powerful document about what and who Jesus is and calls us to be and to believe in and act on. Powerful), we then prepared to march. Except we weren’t marching, we were told. This wasn’t a march. This wasn’t a protest. This wasn’t a reaction of anger and frustration. It may have been born out of that, but we were not to be about that. Instead, we were encouraged to fill our hearts, fill our souls with love. Love for all God’s children. Even those we disagree with. Even those who we believe are misrepresenting Jesus and the faith. And we aren’t marching, we were told, we’re processing. Processing, long o. Pro - cesssing. Like a religious ceremony. Like a wedding, we were the bride of Christ, processing to commit ourselves to Him again in these perilous times.
As we gathered, my usual grumpiness came to the fore. These clergy were loud and sometimes rude and not paying attention to anyone but themselves and their friends. Pictures were being taken as we stood there waiting to move. But the vast majority of the ones I saw were selfies. Not recording the event, but recording themselves at the event. Sigh. It was going to be a long night.
Candles were handed out, electric candles, mostly little tea lights that you float in water for a lovely table top display. But in our hands they were signs of the Presence. But then, in the right frame of mind anything can be a sign of the Presence. Like a sparrow, unexpectedly caught inside because of a wrong turn and now was flitting from rafter to rafter in the old Lutheran Church. But, of course, they ran out of candles. So many of us didn’t have one. We were encouraged to download a candle app on our phones and carry that. So I did. A flickering flame, that actually moved with the motion of the phone in my hand. What won’t they think of?
Finally we started, escorted and traffic stopped by the DC Metropolitan Police force, we set off from the churches across Thomas Circle Park, down Vermont Avenue to K Street, around McPherson Square on down Vermont to Lafayette Square, entering at the corner by the statue of General Kosciuszko and then through the Square to Pennsylvania Avenue. We were stopped on the north side of street for a while, but then allowed to cross. We were standing, actually at the backdoor of the White House. A tour guide I overheard the day before said, not everyone realizes that the House faces south. So we were back door visitors. And we heard the declarations again and then prayed, individually and then collectively. We sang the Lord’s Prayer, we spoke the Lord’s Prayer and then we sang This Little Light of Mine.
Here’s the thing. We were told to be silent as we marched, I mean processed. I thought, yeah, right. But it happened. For the most part. Quiet. Silent even. There were times I heard folks stumbling on the uneven pavement, tennis shoes squeaking as we walked. It was odd. That many preachers silent. People, tourists and natives alike, pulled out their phones and took video and photos of us. Someone is scrolling through their phone after their trip to the Nation’s Capital and there I am. In the crowd. Quiet. It was moving. It was significant. It was real.
Sometimes we have to put feet to our faith, to the biblical text. That’s what Anna Carter Florence told us this morning the last speaker/preacher of the Festival. She had much to tell us about performing the Word. About not letting these words in the Bible be just words. Take them out of the box, out from behind the covers and walk around in them. She actually advocates treating them like Reader’s Theatre. Take different parts, read it out loud. Listen to the Word. And all along the way, we are asking, what is the text trying to do? Do in us? Do to us?
Then she took at look at the book of Job in the Old Testament and proceeded to blow my mind as how we are supposed to look at this drama. Or at least how we are invited to look at this drama. We still get to choose. We always get to choose. But some choices are more transforming than others. Some choices get us closer to the truth, no the Truth, than others. Dr. Carter Florence said that Job was supposed to help us watch our language. What how we talk to others, how we share faith. How, most importantly, we console the suffering. That, in fact, the bulk of the book of Job is a “how not to” manual for preachers and comforters in lots of settings.
In other words, she said, don’t console out of your certainties. Don’t fill yourself with righteous anger. But with love. Process through the world, lighting a candle and keeping quiet as we move, and pouring out love on all those we meet.
So, I will. I’m writing this in the airport, waiting for a flight to Boston. I’m not coming home just yet. Conference - continuing education - just turned into a short vacation. A holiday with my daughter Maddie. I’m flying to Boston to spend Memorial Day weekend with her, and then I’ll drive her car home. Because we need another car in our driveway. No, because she doesn’t need the expense or have the space in the city where she lives. So, I’m going to help her out. And spend time with her. And show her the candle someone handed me at the end of the march saying, you need a candle to hold.
Indeed I do. Indeed I do.
PS - I'm here in Boston, actually Brookline, with Maddie. Needed her WiFi to post this. Happy Memorial Weekend everyone!