“But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.” –Martin Luther King, Jr. from “Facing the Challenge of a New Age,” 1956
The bridge across the Mississippi River, where it divides Arkansas from Tennessee and welcomes eastbound travelers into the city of Memphis, was more magnificent than I expected. The perspective from the height of the bridge generated an emotion deep within me that could not be explained by mere physical beauty. Memphis was the first stop on my solo journey across the South through Oxford, MS, Selma, AL, and Jackson, MS, where I hoped to learn more about my nation’s history by visiting places like the Civil Rights Museum and the National Voting Rights Museum. My expectations were high as I drove into the city of Memphis. I sensed that something significant awaited me on the other side of the bridge.
Eyes Opened to Diversity
Over the last few years, my church has pushed and prodded its members to realize the homogeneity of our congregation and to be intentional about changing it. I have taken on that challenge. But in order for me to form friendships with people unlike myself, I need to venture outside of my neighborhood, which is almost entirely made up of white people. I was curious to learn if my experience is unique, so I looked at the racial demographic map of my city (Oklahoma City) and also the nation as a whole. What I found was a disturbing racial demarcation of cities formed by interstates. My naivety in thinking I lived in a “post-racial era” is exposed each time I travel across the highway bridge, learn and listen from my new friends, and observe the disparity firsthand. These experiences have impelled me to learn more, gradually leading to a paradigm shift in my interpretation of Scripture, realizing that God highly values the diversity and unity of the church as described in Revelation 7:9-10:
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Even in the infancy stages of relationships with people unlike me, I have recognized a deeper ache in my soul, yearning for mercy, justice, reconciliation, and the beloved community described by Martin Luther King, Jr. Over the past few years, I have prayed that my heart would break where God’s heart breaks. As I drove across the Mississippi River to begin my trip, with plans to stop at the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, the Edmund Pettus Bridge where courageous individuals were viciously attacked for protesting their right to vote, and the home of murdered Civil Rights hero, Medgar Evers, I felt an intimacy with my Creator. I sensed that He had heard my prayer and was eager to show me how much He hates injustice and uses truth to bring healing and restoration.
Hope for Restoration
The anticipation I felt as I drove into Memphis materialized over the next few days as I grew in my knowledge of the layer upon layer of injustice suffered by black Americans at the hands of white Americans in United States history. Starting with the transatlantic slave trade, I was immersed in the details of the evolving forms of oppression and racism all the way up to the present day. From the Black Codes imposed following the Civil War, to the Jim Crow laws enacted after the Reconstruction period, I saw how the majority white culture used its power and resources to gouge the minority cultures. The truth of my history gripped me in a way it never had before. I not only read facts from museum placards, but also heard personal stories of racism including incident after incident of unequal opportunities, indifference, and outright hatred. At times, I felt overwhelmed in a haze of sadness and grief.
Through the heroic stories of men and women like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, however, God gently reminded me that He will continue to bring justice, healing, and restoration. He has always been in the business of transforming hearts and through His love in us, has and will effect real change in the world. God planned from the beginning of time to unite all things to Him (Ephesians 1:10) and He always makes good on His promises. Martin Luther King, Jr. believed this promise to his dying day even in the face of terrible hardship and mistreatment at the hands of his white brothers and sisters. Below is the closing paragraph of his final speech entitled, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” given in Memphis, TN, less than 24 hours before he was assassinated.
“We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”
Becky Carlozzi and her husband, Brian, live in Oklahoma City, OK and attend City Presbyterian (PCA) Church. At her local church, she has led Bible studies for the women and has contributed to her church’s blog as well as Advent and Lenten devotionals. Becky is a stay-at home mother of their two young, energetic and adventurous boys. She is also a Physician Assistant with experience in the field of Endocrinology and has devoted much of her professional career to the treatment of diabetes.