“And you can always hear this long sob story: ‘You know it takes time.’ For three hundred years, we’ve given them time. And I’ve been tired so long, now I am sick and tired of being sick and tired, and we want a change. We want a change in this society in America because, you see, we can no longer ignore the facts and getting our children to sing, ‘Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed.’ What do we have to hail here? The truth is the only thing going to free us.” – Fannie Lou Hamer, “I’m Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired,” December 20, 1964
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
Galatians 6:9, KJV
The American sob story is centuries long—and persists. Even the last several weeks we could hardly keep track of the evil around us. We were yet again brought low in soul-wrenching weeping as we bore witness to mass shootings at Asian salons and a FedEx, and a police officer’s trial for the public lynching he conducted. Though Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, this “win” is paltry compared to the totality of the problem. “Chauvins” are proximate causes of Black death. They are death’s purveyors in a penal system designed to intimidate and control Black life, not foment Black flourishing. (H.R. 7120 – George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 – is a step in the right direction. It’s passed the House—write to your U.S. Senators in support!).
But the litany of human evil in our day, and the suffering in its wake, predates the founding of the United States. Somehow knowing this comforts me. Examining the specific permutations of horror in our country over its 400 years of existence, while remembering that brokenness and depravity is endemic to the human experience, reminds me we need something bigger than ourselves to live for and through. In Thy light we see light.
Fannie Lou Hamer, voting rights activist, co-founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and farm cooperative organizer, walked in the light. She, like thousands of others, insisted through myriad forms of protest that the United States treat all residents with human dignity and that our country’s Black citizens realize their full civil, political, and social rights. Hamer embodied James 2:18 “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” Hamer embraced what Saint John the Divine envisioned in Revelation 21:1-2—a “…new heaven and new earth…a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” She understood that while there is great wisdom in the U.S. Constitution, the chasm between its contents and Black people’s experience in this country reveals at best unrepentant hypocrisy by our nation’s White leaders, and at worst, open disdain for the Lord’s declaration that all people are made in His image. When Hamer testified at the 1964 Democratic National Convention about how Whites in Mississippi ruthlessly excluded Blacks from voting booths, she effectively made the case that self-proclaimed democracies extolling the virtues of the consent of the governed are responsible for creating the conditions for human thriving for the many, not just the few (and I question whether any group can achieve greatness when such “greatness” rests on rampant injustices—but that’s another post).
Emboldened by her Creator’s vision for the Beloved Community, where God’s shalom reigns, a radical harmony where nothing is broken and nothing missing, Hamer was not satisfied to merely look forward to “going up yonder,” as the hymn says (although I love this song!). As God’s disciples, we are called to be living sacrifices ushering God’s love and light into the world NOW. We are a people sanctified—set apart for God’s purposes. Hamer exemplified servant leadership in God’s army. She wore the whole armor of God, saying “amen” to building the Holy City—even as brutal beatings by White vigilantes and law enforcement officers told her otherwise. She would not be moved. Her firm foundation of Christ and The Great Commandment: to love God with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength, and her neighbor as herself, was the lamp unto her feet and light unto her path. As God’s warriors, we affirm—“we are more than conquerors” (Romans 8) as we “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).
Thus, while I’m also sick and tired of being sick and tired, I’m refreshed by reminding myself that God is Alpha and Omega. Nothing escapes His notice. For if the hairs on my head and sparrows are accounted for as Matthew 10 tells me, then surely He remembers, and will ultimately redeem, those slain whose names we know and whose names we’ll never know. Sister Pollard, a participant in the 1955-1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott famously said “My feets is tired but my soul is rested.” Indeed Sister Pollard—[we] can do all things through Christ who strengthens [us]. And my Savior said that if I take His yoke upon me, He will give me rest (we must take care of self, our temple, in order to lay self down again).
What a mighty God we serve! The Holy Ghost indwells our bodies, comforting us in our sorrow, empowering us to live out God’s vision for our life and the world writ large, despite our ignorance and infirmities. His ways and thoughts are higher than ours as the heavens are above the earth. But He’s not so inscrutable that we don’t know where He stands when those at the helm of our social systems starve people of opportunity to live into our God-given potential. So I press on in my well doing, as my Savior’s ambassador. With Holy Ghost fire raging in me, Jesus on the throne interceding on my behalf, and God the Father fully sovereign—the one whose light shines in the darkness—I’m inspired to live with unyielding hope that I may say when I go up yonder “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” Or as Fannie said, “If I fall, I’ll fall five feet four inches forward in the fight for freedom. I’m not backing off.”
If the altar’s where you meet us
Take me there, take me there
What you need is just an offering
It’s right here, my life is here
And I’ll be a living sacrifice for you
You’re a fire
I wanna be consumed
I wanna be tried by fire
You take whatever you desire
Lord here’s my life
– “Refiner,” Maverick City Music