Along the Way

These reflections illuminating areas of church, Christian and spiritual life are offered in each Friday email by our Plymouth clergy.

Choosing Hope

Published January 21, 2022

I believe with a steadfast faith that there can be never be a situation that is utterly, totally hopeless . . . To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that in time, the storm will pass.—Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who served as the Bishop of Johannesburg and the Archbishop of Cape Town during the oppressive years of Apartheid in South Africa, died the day after Christmas. I mourn him. When I was a teenager, I remember planting myself before the television news and scouring the newspapers to hear his wisdom and take on the government’s violent repression of black South Africans. I was blown away by how he spoke forcefully and prophetically against violence and injustice during the worst atrocities without ever shedding his loving, peaceful countenance. I would learn years later, from his conversations with His Holiness the Dalai Lama published in The Book of Joy, that his faith and his deep, unshakeable hope steadied him in those moments of death and despair.

This faith and hope were not theoretical for Archbishop Tutu. Bishop Peter Storey, who served alongside Tutu in leading the South African Council of Churches during Apartheid, tells of the time when the security police menaced him and Archbishop Tutu after they attempted to visit a group of detained Lutheran priests. The security police ran them down as they drove through the bush toward Johannesburg, pulling them over, yelling at them, pointing guns, and threatening to kill them. Storey says Archbishop Tutu never stopped praying. Eventually, the police released them. As Tutu was driving away, Storey could hear him praying still. Looking over at him, Storey noticed that Tutu was driving down the national road with his eyes closed. Storey grabbed the steering wheel while Tutu was praying, concluding, “I drove the car as he talked to God.” I suspect that was Archbishop Tutu’s usual comportment when confronting violence and oppression: choosing hope and talking to God.

Recently, the theologian Miguel De La Torre wrote a book lamenting the abuse of hope that invites the oppressed into inaction. Specifically, he worried about a hope that is illusory and serves to divert people from the task of resisting oppression. Real hope should not lull the vulnerable into justifying injustice and atrocities now, believing that justice awaits them in the afterlife. De La Torre posits that, without the comforting dream that it will all work out in the end, people would respond to injustice with liberating imagination and action rather than a vain, inactive hope. Tutu did not live, serve, or fight with illusory, unimaginative hope. He did not shrink from the prophetic challenge to the violence and injustice of Apartheid. He never allowed resignation and cynicism to extinguish hope. He stepped firmly into the vortex. He chose hope because he knew the storm would pass. Choose hope.

DeWayne L. Davis

King: A Disciple and a Servant

Published January 14, 2022

Let us continue to hope, work, and pray that in the future we will live to see a warless world, a better distribution of wealth, and a brotherhood that transcends race or color” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

In a new religious biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., I discovered that soon after the Montgomery bus boycott, then-President Mordecai Wyatt Johnson of Howard University fought hard to get King to be dean of Howard’s School of Religion. After the creative and inspiring way he led a campaign that went from pursuing better treatment of black riders to striking a blow against segregation, schools, churches, and large nonprofits dangled many other lucrative offers before the young minister. And yet, King felt called to stay with his congregation and in the movement. Therein lies the new insight into King from Martin Luther King: A Religious Life. In his earliest writings in school and personal letters, King saw himself as a disciple and a servant.

From his first call to Dexter Avenue Baptist Church to his last sermon before his death in Memphis, King went all in, never letting up on his pursuit of discipleship and servanthood. When people doubted the efficacy of his espousal of the love ethic as the answer to the evils of hate, racism, and segregation, King backed up his inspiring rhetoric with an unwavering commitment to the principle of nonviolent resistance to the violent injustice perpetrated against Black Americans. Many of King’s detractors, including FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, sought to characterize King’s work as a self-serving grasp for power and notoriety. However, the truth of King’s health and finances confirms the testimonies of family, friends, and colleagues of a man wholly committed to service and self-subordination to the larger cause. And while countless, nameless unsung activists and citizens sacrificed their lives and livelihood for the cause of freedom with King, his unique voice, ministry, and nonviolent direct action convinced Black people to fight more fearlessly for their lives and white people to accept in principle, if not in practice, racial equality.

Before King became the King whose image and works have been “melted down into an image palatable to everyone and challenging to virtually no one,” he had a vision about the kind of world he wanted to see and his willingness to work for it. He wrote to his then-girlfriend, Coretta, who would become his wife, about his hope, work, and prayer for the future that he fought to make a reality throughout his public life in the struggle for Black freedom and equality. King never stop advocating for a warless world, equitable distribution of wealth, and racial equality and justice. Given who King has become in the cultural imagination, I hope we remember that his work and life echo all these many years later because he was a faithful, committed disciple and servant. On MLK Day, let’s honor King through our discipleship and service.

DeWayne L. Davis

Then What?

Published January 7, 2022

“Life . . . is a struggle . . . an experience in both gain and loss, joy and sorrow. No life consists of nothing but success and satisfaction, security and self-gratification. Failure and disappointment, loss and pain are natural parts of the human equation. Then what?” —Joan Chittister

Just as we rang in the New Year, the increase in new infections of COVID-19, including a new variant that appears to be easier to transmit, is forcing schools, churches, and theaters to cancel in-person gatherings or return to previous restrictions and protocols similar to the earliest days of the pandemic. It feels like we should be doing much better against COVID, given all of the effort and expense in addressing a global pandemic. It’s hard not to point the finger at the others whom we think aren’t doing enough or being careful enough for all of us to get back to normal. Confronted with potential exposures and infections in our community, we temporarily retreated from regular in-person gatherings.

It is unsettling to be thrown back into this place of uncertainty. I have been feeling some way about pulling back into quarantine. And just as I begin to give in to the exasperating question, “now what?” I remember Sister Joan Chittister’s meditation on the reality and acceptance that life is a struggle. Knowing that, “then what?” She invites us to search and experience the alleluia moments in life, “the awareness of another whole kind of reality—beyond the immediate, beyond the delusional, beyond the instant perception of things,” trusting in God’s presence during struggle. Just as this is a defining moment in how unsettling the times are, I have also experienced defining moments of love, joy, and gratitude that have inspired, fortified, and carried me through this time of increasingly bad news.

I pray we find our way to alleluia at this moment and resist the easy, elusive salve of normalcy or the immobilizing hopelessness that interferes with our imagination. I hope we take the long and lasting view that there are moments of revelation of love and good that helps us answer the question, “then what?” after we’ve confronted our loss and grief. There isn’t going to be normal anymore. We’ve lost too much; we remain at risk; more people will contract this disease. To overlook that reality to try to get back to some normalcy lends itself to missing out on the alleluia moments breaking through all the time. The inevitability of loss and pain should not lead us to assume that there won’t be alleluia moments in our future. There await us alleluia experiences that have the potential to endow us with a burst of new energy, a prophetic moral imagination, and a reservoir of new strength to seize the moment, drawing us closer to each other and to all that brings life. May it be so.

DeWayne L. Davis

Previous Articles

Choosing Hope

Then What?

Fear Not

October 23, 2020 and Earlier

October 23, 2020 Plagues, Pandemics and Promises

October 16, 2020 The End of Times

October 9, 2020 Rebellion as Sacred Work

October 2, 2020 The Notorious RBG!

September 25, 2020 The Call

September 18, 2020 Dismantling the Silos

September 11, 2020 Revolutionary Love

September 4, 2020 Jesus Is the Answer

August 28, 2020 Worship: God Is the Audience

August 21, 2020 Our Knowledge of God Is Participatory

August 14, 2020 Frederick Douglass, Prophet

August 7, 2020 Do You Want to Be Healed?

July 31, 2020 Vulnerability

July 24, 2020 God’s Backside

July 17, 2020 A Sign of the Times

July 10, 2020 Desiderata

July 3, 2020 A Genius with a Thousand Helpers

June 19, 2020 Unsung Volunteers

June 12, 2020 Our Own Gardens

June 5, 2020 Church Update

May 29, 2020 The Call

May 22, 2020 Scroll Down

May 15, 2020 Don’t Push Send

May 8, 2020 Navigating Mistakes

May 1, 2020 Teach Us to Count Our Days

April 24, 2020 Sitting with Not Knowing

April 17, 2020 Feed My Sheep

April 10, 2020 Life’s Refrain

April 3, 2020 How Do We Show Our Love?

March 27, 2020 Moving through the Fog

March 20, 2020 To Love Kindness

March 13, 2020 The Virus

March 6, 2020  The Seth I Know

February 28, 2020 Triage

February 21, 2020 Impermanence

February 14, 2020 Pruning

February 7, 2020 Inner Life

January 31, 2020 Ask Not

January 24, 2020 Doing Right Things

January 17, 2020 Radical Acceptance

January 10, 2020 The New Year—20/20 Vision

December 27, 2019 Closing the door

December 20, 2019 Winter Solstice and Christmas Day

December 13, 2019 Sacred rest

December 6, 2019  Judge little, forgive much

November 29, 2019 My favorite holiday

November 22, 2019 Making space is spiritual work

November 15, 2019 Looking to the future

November 8, 2019 We stand at the crossroads

November 1, 2019 Ecumenical and Interfaith Connections

October 25, 2019 A Plea for Civility

October 18, 2019 Preacher, Pastor, Prophet

October 11, 2019 . . . to being still