Fifty years ago this week, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott. For those less well versed in American Black History, this action is often looked at as a result of happenstance. Ms. Parks was tired. She refused to give up her seat to a white passenger simply because she needed to rest that day. The fact that she sparked a massive movement was more coincidental than intentional. But the truth is, this incident was deliberate and orchestrated. Ms. Parks and her civil rights husband lawyer were part of a team that meticulously planned the moment. The events that followed her actions were coordinated efforts of a nationwide team.
Some think the "fortuitous coincidence" mythology about this moment is sometimes spread because people are much more comfortable believing that Ms. Parks was a docile and unassuming woman. That picture is a lot more genteel. I happen to believe that it plays into our desire to believe things are more likely to be a result of events just "falling into place" – or in more spiritual language – that "God is in control" and things will simply "come about" with little effort on our part. After all, doesn't the Word say to "just stand still and see what God will do" (Exodus 14:13 & Corinthians 20:17)? Isn't that to say we merely must sit back and things will "work together for the good of them that love the Lord" (Roman 8:28)?
We often perpetuate the belief that passivity is an act of faith. However, we forget that "faith without works is dead" (James 2) and it is individual believers that make up the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). This means that we are the hands and feet – if God moves that means we move! Even the texts that describe "waiting" on God often include having faith displays through action. Trusting is not synonymous with idleness. God asks us to move in accordance with the directions of the Spirit – not going ahead or working independently, but taking an active part of God's directives nonetheless. This means asking the Lord for what to do and doing it. We are not to simply stand by twiddling our thumbs expecting for things to happen. Like Queen Esther, after fasting and praying, we take action.
This translates into our active participation in the execution of justice in our world today. This means looking for opportunities to carry out Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 25:35-40 and James 1:27 and Micah 6:8. This means paying attention to inequities and pain and doing something to correct and alleviate it. How does this apply to the needs of refugees? To continual racial discrimination? To repetitive mass shootings? Your idea about particular solutions may differ according to your political perspective, but undoubtedly, standing on the sidelines is not an option that is congruent with a Christian perspective.
It can sometimes be tempting to not care when these things aren't close to home. And we shroud our apathy with religious language that advocates inaction: "God will take care of it". But "close to home" can turn on a dime. As I got the alert yesterday morning at Loma Linda that my building was on lockdown because of an active shooter less than ten minutes down the road, I began to wonder how many more times this has to happen before we collectively collaborate to do something to prevent these situations. That was too close for comfort and too close to ignore for many in our community. It was, for some, the first time that it felt that way. Have we gotten so used to these things that we have become complacent? Are stories about college students, health workers, and countless other situations insufficient to motivate actual movement and not just rhetoric? Change won't "just happen" without concerted efforts to bring it about. Christians aren't excused from caring and doing something about the situations in the world because we're looking forward to the Second Coming. We are called to pray, to hear God's voice, and to heed God's voice. And contrary to popular belief, that is an action word.
Courtney Ray is a native New Yorker who ministers in the Greater Los Angeles Region. She is an ordained pastor serving in Southern California Conference.
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