As I have watched and listen to the events from Charlottesville, Virginia and all that has followed, I keep thinking back to Barbara Brown Taylor’s response to a confrontation she had with the Klan related in her book, The Bread of Angels. Her reflection is shaped around Paul’s words to the church 1 Corinthians 12:12 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 as she wonders just who is part of Christ’s body. Her response to hatred humbles me. I wonder if my soul would fare as well.
The North Georgia Peace Council sponsored the ninth annual Martin Luther King Day walk through my hometown of Clarkesville. We are never a very big crowd but we are generally a pretty interesting one. This year we included folks from all the Main Street churches plus some Baha’is and Quakers and plain old humanists. The black Baptist preacher was there with his two little girls and so were some young people in t-shirts from the AmeriCorps, the new national service league devoted to caring for the developmentally disabled.
The plan was to walk from Grace-Calvary Episcopal Church to Mount Zion Baptist Church on the other side of the town square. That was easy enough, but just before we left we got word that the Ku Klux Klan was waiting for us at the square. This news rendered me somewhat breathless. There were plenty of police around, so it was not physical violence I feared. I feared my own reaction to people I had heard so much about all my life – people famous for their hatred, who called themselves Christians just like me. I think I feared for my soul- not only for what they might do to it, but for what I might d to it myself by returning their hate.
We set out, singing. The organizers of the walk always put the clergy at the front, which I had previously misinterpreted as an honor. This time I knew we were up there as buffers between those behind us and those ahead of us, human air bags in case of collision. For better or worse, we had an unobstructed view. We turned the corner, singing, “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” and there they were – several men and a woman in white robes and pointed hats, with some other people standing around them in plain clothes.
They did not hide their faces, which I appreciated. They just held up their signs so we could not miss them. One featured a picture of Dr. King’s head with a rifle viewfinder zeroed in on it. “Our dream came true,” it read. “James Earl Ray made our day,” said another, and a third proclaimed, “Christ is our King.”
“He’s got you and me, brother in his hands.” That is what we were singing as we turned the corner and walked away from them. “He’s got you and me, sister, I his hands.” I was not scared anymore. I was mystified, because if the song was right—if what Paul said was true—then I had just walked past some members of my own body, who were as hard for me to accept as a cancer or a blocked artery. And if I did not accept them—if I let them remain separate from me the way they wanted me to—then I became one of them, one more of the people who insist that there are some people who cannot belong to the body.
Actually, my struggle was irrelevant at that point, because if the song is right – if what Paul said is true – then God is not waiting for any of us to decide who is in or out of Christs body, not even ourselves. This truth is beyond our consent or liking. We are the body of Christ and individually embers of it. Whenever anyone laughs, cries, lives, or dies in tis web of creation we are all affected by it whether we know it or not. When one suffers we all suffer and when one is honored all the rest of us rejoice, if only way down deep in Christi’s bones where only he knows it is happening at all
Most of the time we live as tough this were a fond illusion, but there is a distinct possibility that it is our separateness which is the illusion instead. There is an old Sufi saying that goes like this: “You think because you understand ‘one’ you must understand ‘two,’ because one and one make two. But you must also understand ‘and.’”
You know who our ‘and’ is, don’t you? The creator of all our parts, the author of our wholeness, the lover of complete impostors, the Lord of electrons, the one who’s got the whole world in his hands with room left over, turning you and me and them into us.