“Honoring Black History”
“Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul.”
There seems to be a “National Day” for everything nowadays. Check these out: dogs (8/26), cats (10/29), tacos (10/4), licorice (4/12), friendship (7/30), mushrooms (10/15), slugs (10/29), peanut butter (1/24), brothers (5/24), sisters (8/1), siblings (4/10), martinis (6/19), roller coasters (8/16), etc. etc. etc. And this list is far from exhaustive!
I’ve never been one to be controlled by the calendar. I do believe it’s important to celebrate annual festivals and weekly sabbath, but I don’t think there’s anything magical about specific days.
For example, the actual birthday of Jesus is unknown to us. Initially it was celebrated on Epiphany (January 6th). Centuries after Jesus’ birth, a date was picked to symbolize the coming of light into the world, so they chose a day following winter solstice and we celebrate Christmas on that day. It also just happened to be close to a pagan festival. Christians have been “Christianizing” secular events, art and celebrations since the early days of the church. I wonder, if we celebrate the birth of Christ after winter solstice to symbolize the coming of light, then shouldn’t people south of the equator celebrate Jesus’ birth on June 25th? I don’t know. I’m just wondering.
Some pastors swear by the lectionary and preach through it religiously (pun intended). I’ve shied away from preaching through the lectionary, only doing so when I was researching and writing my doctoral dissertation.
Civic and what some call “Hallmark” holidays are another matter. How much or how little should the Church – that is devoted to building the kingdom of Heaven and celebrating the family of God – spend on earthly nations and families? I know it’s important to many, but sometimes I wonder.
And then came the months devoted to certain groups: February is Black History Month, March is Irish American History Month, May is Asian Pacific Heritage as well as Jewish American Month, September is Hispanic Heritage Month, November is Native American Indian/Alaska Month, and the list goes on and on and on… It can all be overwhelming.
But this year I’ve felt a nudge to focus on Black History in February. The events of this past year have been gut-wrenching to many people. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, political unrest and insurrection and financial crisis, we’ve also dealt with the raw, open wound of racism. George Floyd died in May 2020 and the nation exploded.
Many were horrified by the riots and the violence. Many were not surprised. Many say they are not racist. Others admit to their own racist biases. Some say racism no longer exists in the United States. Others say it’s alive and well and they’ve experienced it first-hand.
With all this in mind, I plan to focus on Black History Month this February at FPCSA. The question is, how can we celebrate and honor it well? And what can we learn from our celebration? And how can our attitudes and actions change because of the celebration?
Well, first let me say, we will not be inviting an African American pastor to preach during the month. I’ve spoken to many of my pastor friends who are of African descent and they’ve told me they get a little tired of being asked to preach during Black History Month. For them, it feels disingenuous, like tokenism. And they ask, “Why are we not invited to guest preach the rest of the year?” A good question! Let’s seek to schedule African American preachers during the rest of the year.
Second, we will not completely change our services, but we will enjoy more music celebrating the African American heritage of the Christian tradition.
Thirdly, I plan to do a sermon series based on people of color in the Bible. See the services page in the Messenger for highlights. I’ll do my best to tie these Biblical examples to civil rights leaders in our own country’s history.
Finally, I have a couple of favors to ask of you. Please, please, please do not approach this series with an attitude to argue whether racism does or does not exist. The goal of this series will be to look for ways to improve race relations in our country, in our church, and in our own lives, not to prove or disprove the existence of racism.
The other favor I ask of you is to forward to me any resources you’ve found to be helpful in the area of racial reconciliation. Or if you have ideas and/or opinions on the subject, please send them to me. These conversations are incredibly valuable to me and I truly appreciate your perspective.
I’m looking forward to learning a great deal during Black History Month 2021. May we continue to grow in our understanding and our capacity to love one another in Jesus’ name. And may our attitudes and actions change not just for one month, but for the rest of our lives.
Oh, and by the way, February 22nd is National Margarita Day. Therefore, we will have a special congregational meeting on February 22nd at the Overpeck’s house to celebrate this important, often overlooked, National Commemorative Day!
Ha ha hah! Juuuust kidding!
With a smile on my face and joy in my heart, I remain committed to you in Christ’s love and service,