Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Freedom Riders as Liberation Theologians

Last night I watched the first part of a PBS program on the Freedom Riders; when the show started talking about all the political angles, I must confess, I drifted off to sleep.  Far more interesting was the first part of the story when those crazy kids decided to go deep into the heart of hatred to see what would happen.

They trained, but of course, no amount of training can really prepare for your first face-to-face encounter with people who are determined to kill you.  But even after that horrific encounter outside of Anniston, Alabama, the students were determined to continue.  And when they couldn't, others came to take their places.

It's interesting to me that the hatred and the intent to kill them ultimately didn't hold them back.  It was the lack of bus drivers who were willing to face down mobs that undid the plan.

Of course, by then, the plan had succeeded.  The Kennedy administration could no longer ignore this violence and the flagrant disregard for Federal law.  The rest, as they say, is history.

I also found myself intrigued by the fact that the older people in the Movement, including Martin Luther King, were not entirely in favor of this plan.  But the young people knew what they had to do.

I was so touched by their enthusiasm and by their naive belief in the goodness of humanity, their belief that they would be allowed to eat lunch together in segregated spaces, that they would be allowed to ride on a bus together.  At first I thought that maybe it was because of their youth and inexperience.

But as the show went on, I was also struck by how those students were rooted in religious traditions.  They believed in freedom.  They believed in justice.

I tend to think of Liberation Theology as coming to us from Latin America and from Eastern Europe.  But in many ways, the Civil Rights Movement was also a liberation theology.

I've spent the whole morning thinking about those young people and their vision for a just future.  We're not there yet, but we're much closer because of the work they did.

Christ calls us to ride that Freedom Train.  Christ commands that we invite others to ride with us.  We cannot afford the luxury of despair or hopelessness.  We've got Kingdom building to do!

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