In 1965 I was ten years old and the world was in turmoil. The news was laced with stories from around the globe that had bearing on my own world. Boys from my brother’s high school began to disappear into a jungle in Southeast Asia. While we pre-teen girls gathered in our living rooms to watch Hullabaloo, our parents were in the kitchen discussing the latest intelligence in our county’s continuing effort to resist racial integration in our schools. The six-o’clock news showed pictures of people being hit with clubs and shot with tear gas at a bridge in Alabama.
Despite the fact that I lived in a county where the majority of our citizens were black, there was only one black student in my class, a tall, very shy girl named Evelyn. Her family had to apply for her to be accepted as a transfer student at my public school from the other public school in our town. That was they way the system tried to manage integration, by allowing only one black student per grade. The local paper published the names and addresses of the families who were bold enough to make these applications. Some of those families woke up in the middle of the night to the light of a cross burning in their yard.
The one black classmate of my brother was named Jerome. My brother reported that someone flushed Jerome’s textbooks on a regular basis, and sometimes his head, too.
My parents tried to explain: People were afraid that too much change would happen too fast. There was a system, you see, that people felt must be upheld, that was needed to keep things in order.
But things didn’t look like they were in order to me. I saw faces contorted by hate and fear. I saw anguish and blood. I saw fire and smoke and a lot of wounds, both on TV and in my community. Things were definitely not in order.
In fact, the system was being dismantled, led by people who quoted Jesus and the prophets and who sang hymns and spirituals. The tables were being turned over. The system was being called out for what it was, unnecessary for salvation and an impediment to living in right relationship with God. And many people were made free, even some who didn’t realize that they were imprisoned.
I know that the system of racial inequality has not been completely dismantled. It was dealt a serious blow in 1965, but Jesus has to keep turning those tables over again and again. Systems are persistent, and they keep us captive.
The system that imprisons me now is the one we call “crazy busy.” Many of us decry this yet we wear it like a badge of honor, convinced that since crazy busy is just the way life is, we might as well excel at it. It makes me feel special to be so necessary, even if it means I’m distracted from the weightier matters of life.
I have bought into a system that has convinced me that I just don’t have enough time to ponder deep questions and wrestle with my fears and slow down enough to really listen for God to speak to me. What if God wants me to change? If I just keep busy, keep juggling, then I won’t have to grow. How seductive! I won’t have time to change the world. I won’t have to look into my own woundedness. Because I don’t really want to be challenged. It looks dangerous and hard. There might be anguish or smoke, wounds.
Sometimes the tables have to be turned over and the money tossed out. I know that. Sometimes I’m glad. Sometimes I’m fearful - it depends on which tables we are talking about. But a system won’t save me. A system won’t give me new life. And it won’t change the world. In fact the system likes for things to stay just as they are and for us to stay enthralled. That’s how it keeps its power.
And so my prayer tonight is that Jesus will come again and knock over some stuff in my dis-oriented, mis-aligned world and bring me back to life again, real life, where God is the love that casts out fear and binds up every wound.