The readings for this weekend reflect imagery of VOCATION, being called to the service o God and humanity. In the first reading Samuel does not recognize the voice of God calling him to service, and in the gospel the disciples of John go to figure out who Jesus is and end up staying with him. If only it were so simple to know where God is calling us! If only following one's vocation were simply a matter of KNOWING what to do, instead of, more often, facing one's fear enough to do what is right.
This long weekend we celebrate the 86th birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - a great orator, a leader in the fight against injustice, and ultimately a martyr at the hands of people, mostly Christians, who rejected the Gospel call to unity. Despite (or maybe because of) his incredible public significance, it is easy to forget how much danger he faced in his ministry, how strong the opposition to something so straightforwardly immoral (it seems so clear to us!) as desegregation, and how much he struggled with fear and doubt. Even after he had been in a position of leadership for years, his opponents' increasingly brazen tactics demanded new depths of courage. As he told the story, "One night toward the end of January I settled into bed late, after a strenuous day. Coretta had already fallen asleep and just as I was about to doze off the telephone rang. An angry voice said, 'Listen, nigger, we've taken all we want from you; before next week you'll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.' I hung up, but I couldn't sleep. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point...I was ready to give up...With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory: 'Lord, I'm down here trying to do what's right. I think I'm right. I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But Lord, I must confess that I'm weak now, I'm faltering. I'm losing my courage. Now, I am afraid. And I can't let the people see me like this because if they see me weak and losing my courage, they will begin to get weak. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I've come to the point where I can't face it alone.' It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: 'Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you. Even until the end of the world.'"
He knew what he needed to do, but he struggled with the courage to do it. Three days after that episode, his house was bombed with his wife and infant daughter inside. The fear, the near-despair, the apocalyptic sense that there was no escape as a black man from the racism of the white majority could so easily have turned to desperation and violence - and who could have blamed him for succumbing to the desire to give up, or worse, to join in the calls for retaliatory vengeance? Instead, he understood the call to challenge people to sanity in an insane moment in history - to nonviolence.
As this new semester and new year begin, we too have a choice to pay attention to the needs of the moment, or not: listen to the deep fear and anger and pain that are finally coming to speech in our community after decades of silence and invisibility, or bury ourselves in schoolwork and friend circles and all the usual things we would be doing anywhere. We can all come up with perfectly good reasons why we just don't have time to get involved with the uprooting going on around our city - we are all busy people - but we owe it to one another to strive to hear what has led to such immense racial, ethnic, gendered, and socioeconomic divisions all around us, and to respond in love. Stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And know that God is with you until the end.
Patrick Cousins is a member of the Department of Campus Ministry.