Monday, January 18, 2010

Upon This Rock--The Feast of the Confession of St. Peter

I've always had a fondness for St. Peter. I've always had a fondness for all the disciples, really. Such flawed people. So much like us all. Today's feast celebrates Peter's assertion, "You are the Christ."

Think back to those early disciples, travelling the countryside with a mystifying man named Jesus. They must have had trouble figuring out exactly what was happening, much as we all do when we're in the midst of our life experiences. And yet, they are able to confess their belief and to commit to this new life path. For most, it will cost them their lives.

I think about our secular holiday that celebrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King today, and the juxtaposition of the two holidays. As a child growing up in the 70's, even in the deep South, we were taught to admire those Civil Rights workers (I went to fairly progressive schools; I know that not every Southern child had that experience). What tremendous odds they fought against! What vision they had! How solidly committed they remained!

The older I get, the more I continue to be impressed with that social justice movement. I'm especially impressed with their commitment to nonviolence. One of the books I keep meaning to read is Jonathan Schell's The Unconquerable World : Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People; I've heard him talk about one of his book's main points that the twentieth century's biggest leaps in transforming societies came from nonviolent movements: think about the collapse of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, the Civil Rights movement in the U.S., and Gandhi's campaign in India. Those three examples are examples not just of nonviolent movements, but nonviolent movements rooted in religious belief.

I have argued before, and I will continue to argue until I die, that social justice movements that have a religious core will be more successful than those that don't. A religious core gives us the hope we need to keep going when it appears that all our efforts aren't working. A religious grounding assures us that just below the surface, justice simmers, and seeds wait.

So today, we celebrate both St. Peter and Dr. Martin Luther King. If you want a religious reading for the day, turn to Matthew 16: 13-20. Any of Dr. King's writings provide a respite, no matter what day of the year it is. We might offer a prayer for all the workers toiling in the social justice field, that their work might flower. We might pray for ourselves, that we hold fast to what is true, that we not sacrifice our deepest principles for political expediency, or the other darker temptations that lead individuals and social justice movements astray.

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