Beloved Lenten Reflections







Dear Beloveds,

Will you submit a Lenten Reflection?

We send out a daily writing by our Beloveds during Lent, and they are as varied as are our Beloveds. There are no rules or boundaries on the kind of thing you can write – just something that you’ve been pondering, wondering about, something that inspires you, gives you hope or keeps you going. It doesn’t need to be all Lent-like, just whatever comes naturally from you.

Some people write poems, letters, songs, reflections on the daily scripture or a favorite scripture, or share a story of how they have experienced the presence of God in the heights or depths or ordinariness of their days. Click here for the daily lectionary.

We would love to hear from each of you during the 40 days of Lent.

Please let Palmer ( know what day (or days) you would like to write, and send what you have written to him. He will take it from there.

It will be such a blessing to hear your voice among the choir of Lenten Reflections!

And sign up here to receive the Lenten Reflection daily.

-Rev. Angie

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Beloved Lenten Reflection from Palmer Maxwell: Be still


On the bottom of my meditation bench I have taped a Buddhist saying:


I think most of  us have had the experience that when it comes time to meditate we are so unsettled in our spirit and distracted in our minds that we say to ourselves: “There’s no point meditating now. I’m a mess. I’ll wait until I feel more at peace.”

The problem is that this peace we are seeking eludes us until we find ourselves in bed at night and realize that we never made it to the meditation bench. I’ve done this a million times myself. It’s almost as if I feel I’m not worthy to meditate.  I should be in a better state of mind before I start.

This is why having a definite time and place to meditate is so important. And in this one point I need to be really disciplined and strict with myself: no matter how I feel when it is time to meditate, I need to stop and meditate.  God loves me exactly  as I am in this moment.  I don’t have to “get there” in the sense of being ready to meditate.

I begin exactly as I am with all my messiness, distractedness and unsettledness.  My only responsibility is to show up, be still and be open and receptive. And it may be that during the meditation time I do continue to feel distracted. This is where we begin to understand that this time is God’s time. Faith and patience and humility are what I’m learning when God doesn’t seem to be there. But God is. God IS.

Let me add that I do not always adhere to my own advice. In unusually busy times I’ve gone days without meditating but I do notice something missing. That is a good sign. It means that meditation has taken root and no matter how inadequately tended to it is still a part of my deep psyche.

We don’t need to beat ourselves up for these periods of neglect. All we need to do is start again. And again.
And again.  God is not going anywhere and God is patiently waiting for our return.

It’s best if we do not think that we initiate prayer. In meditation we enter into the eternal and eternally present prayer of Jesus.  This is energy that flows between the Father and the Son—the love that we call the Holy Spirit. God initiated this prayer and it is always there—like a stream—and all we do is enter it.  The discipline of meditation is letting go—allowing the stream to flow in us and through us unimpeded—and the repetition of a single word or phrase from Scripture helps us do this:

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

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Lenten Reflection from Susan Proctor: Everything but the Truth

Lucinda Williams

Snowed and iced in on “my” mountain left me with an opportunity, by necessity, to create a different routine. My seven outside rescued cats were a bit, um, confused by their diet of grits. Although my friends and I had a chuckle from this; it soon became a deeper lesson. Because many in this world would be happy to have a bowl of grits.

I had yeast, flour, sugar, butter, cinnamon, raisins- oh those rolls were wonderful. I had heat. I had clean well water. I had electricity providing light and hot water on demand. I had cooking ability. What I did not have were my regular vices!

A fast from time to time to time for a conscious reason feeds me. It is not actually a loss. But loss is ever present. A war takes lives, limbs and hearts.  A natural devastation takes away homes, possessions, community. Whole populations are displaced, set adrift; homeless, cold, hungry, thirsty, ill, sweltering.

Oppression takes away freedom, dignity, choice. The lists of loss is endless. We have all experienced loss; we resist and mourn and grieve those passings. We are all one human. Some can incorporate those pains into their lives with an understanding of impermanence. Knowing that security, by our own designs, is a myth.

But it was interesting how each adaptation in my little cabin world reminded me of how easy I have it. Nature displaying a beauty and power that awes and humbles me. I think of people, children and animals who are seeking that ease. Thank you, I sing. A neighbor reaches out to see if I am okay; even as she buries a loved one. Glory, I cry.

Trading comfort, money and things, for Time, has been a way of life for me. I like it. I  knew that I had it made. I was warmed by love, I was fed by laughter, I was abundant with books. Then, a trauma, a loss occurs, and suddenly what is important becomes glaringly clear. That I can easily give up this one thing; but, God, please no, don’t let me lose this beloved one! Please let those have more life, more time on Earth.

I can’t control those losses. And I want that control, that Power, to say “stop.” So, instead, here, Lord, is a crust of bread, a pebble cast upon the alter of justice.

Warmth returns, the garden yields food, water recedes, fires go out, bombs stop dropping, new souls come to us. For a while. It is a different day bringing different gifts; but it becomes One again. The losses become a part of us and that part reveals deeper understandings. And that understanding brings us closer to Creation and Chaos.

We give up something sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident. “Everything changes but the truth.”*

I will never bemoan “just” a bowl of grits again. It will stay a memory of wealth. When I give away, I will be taking the joy. When I must “give up,” I will be solidarity. I have much, I have much to give, I have much to lose. Even my Faith may wane- but it always comes back!

-Susan Proctor

*Attributed to Lucinda Williams (although she may or may not have written those words)

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Lenten Reflection from Davey Williams: Sacrifice


So, it’s about 1967 and I’m a teenager playing a record on the stereo in our living room, and I say to my dad, “I love this record!”  He listens for a minute and then says, “You mean you’d sacrifice for it?”

It turned out that love is not primarily a feeling, and despite misinformation from the entertainment industry, love does not always begin as a feeling.  It’s in fact a commitment larger than ourselves.

I bring this up in light of Jesus’ telling us to “love our enemies.”  In theory this is my commitment, but recently this ideal has hit a snag.

Mob mentalities like that of the “so-called Islamic State,” Boko Haram, etc. seem to be an “enemy” that is hard to “feel” love for, let alone “sacrifice” for.  (Sacrifice what?  My head?  Someone’s daughter?)

Still, fear/anger/revulsion is a dangerous and misguided reaction, going to the supposed other side of “love” and deciding to “hate” these people.

Nevertheless it’s a paradox that we’re supposed to love someone whose idea of  God apparently is not the “God Is Love” as I know Him, but some irate, worse-than-the-Middle-Ages God of vengence and destruction.  Give me a break here.

Meanwhile, we got “Smite mine enemies.”  It’s in the Bible, but it’s hard to picture feeling good about “smiting” for my benefit in the first place.  What’s “smite” anyway? Torture, burn, kill, bankrupt, disgrace, stuff like that I guess.  “Ethnic cleansing.”  The kind of things “I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”

In fact it would seem that if with God we have love for our enemies, then we would have no enemies.  Say, if we by our thoughts and actions, could avoid making enemies in the first place.

Though it’s easy to see it another way, it’s possible that these groups are not devoted to hate exactly, or even religion.  It could be they are merely a very bad example of an instant gratification society, which always easily becomes  devoted to anger, violence and indifference, love’s would-be enemies.

Regardless, I have to assume it won’t matter to these characters whether I love them or not. For someone whose devotion to God apparently REQUIRES making (and then killing) enemies, ideas like universal love and kindness to enemies might even be considered as an “enemy” itself.

In my world-view God is among  other things Universal Love, so then “God bless everybody and everything everywhere, all the time.”

But ,”God bless Isis, God bless Boko Haram,” – now that kind of leaves a weird taste.  God bless somebody whose notion of a good movie is burning someone alive in a cage?  Enslaving women and children for fun and profit?

However, Jesus went further than saying God bless literally everyone, including the bad guys. He’s saying we should LOVE our enemies!

That’s actually a tall order in the worst scenarios.  Could be there’s some technicality that makes it work, something about loving the person but not his deeds or his ideas, maybe.  No problem with this for God, of course, since His love is universal and too large for us to comprehend anyway.

So it’s an article of faith. At least don’t pass judgement. Turn it over to God’s wisdom.  Maybe better just leave it with something like,

God bless the people under the influence of distorted religion and social/emotional illness.  Turn their hearts and minds away from the ecstatic death-loving negativity by which they live – and take – both their own lives and others’.  Above all, bless their victims.

God’s Universal Love is a constant presence, but for most of mankind, now is a ripe time here in good old Global Humanity for Universal Repentence. We’re starting to make Genghis Khan look good, for heaven’s sake.


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Lenten Reflection from Palmer Maxwell: “I was so much older then”


When Bob Dylan recorded “My Back Pages” for the album ANOTHER SIDE OF BOB DYLAN he was transitioning from folk artist to folk artist critic with his own  career and his own songs directly in the cross-hairs of that critique.

The next album, BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME, revealed a much more nuanced and mature understanding of human nature and the role of protest. These albums and others that followed went from being protest songs of injustices in world events to protest songs about conformity to false images and ideals of self, beginning with the his own role of being the “spokesperson of his generation.”

Dylan sings:

“Crimson flames tied through my ears
Rollin’ high and mighty traps-
Pounced with fire on flaming roads
Using ideas as my maps-
“We’ll meet on edges, soon,” said I
Proud ’neath heated brow-
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth-
“Rip down all hate,” I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull- I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow-
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

A self-ordained professor’s tongue
Too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school
“Equality,” I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy
In the instant that I preach-
My pathway led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow-
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

Yes, my guard stood hard
When abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect.
Good and bad, I defined these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.”

So what does all of this have to do with Lent and the Gospel?  A lot, I think. Doesn’t Dylan’s song resonant with these words: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his own soul,” (Matthew 16:26) or “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)

Lent is a good time to reflect on how we may be living from a sense of self that is no longer real or meaningful for us. This can even be a religious sense of self that has become too self-conscious and rigid, holding on to patterns of thought and behavior that need to be examined and reassessed. But reassessed in the light of what? In the light of the Resurrection! I am challenged to look at my life with new eyes. Could it be that ‘I have become my own worst enemy in the instant that I preach’? Have ‘abstract threats, too noble to neglect, deceived me into thinking I have something to protect.’? Is what I’m protecting a false, complacent self that needs to learn how to stretch again and risk loving those I’d rather not love?

Easter calls me to integrity and I think this is what the Risen Life of Christ is all about: integrity. The promise our faith reveals is that Christ Is Risen, not has risen. I participate in the resurrection of Christ and in my own resurrection each time I step out of my comfort zone and say:
“Ah! I was so much older then!
I’m younger than that now!”


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Lenten Reflection from Palmer Maxwell: Distracted from Distraction by Distraction


The title of this reflection comes from The Four Quartets by the American poet T.S. Eliot.  Midway through the season of Lent—intended I think to be a period of reflection and prayer on the deeper meaning of our faith and the Easter event—I find instead that my mental state resembles more accurately the description Eliot had of modern life.

And each distraction carries its own passport and identification number marked “Priority 1” and stamped in large letters: A.S.A.P.!!!!

At the beginning of this month Karen and I moved from a house in Hoover to Pelham. Packing- moving -moving -unpacking.  Then last week Karen got a “911” call from her father, Dick, (who is 90 years old today) that he was finally ready to concede that he could no longer be the primary caretaker for Karen’s mother, Betty, who has Alzheimer’s. Thus began the search for the appropriate care facility for both her parents here in Birmingham and the logistics involved in selling their home near Fort Morgan on the coast and getting them here as soon as possible. Karen and I will be going down to the coast this weekend to initiate that process. But, because “man (and woman) do not live on crises alone,” Karen and I also have  commitments to our 12 Step group and our faith community who are in midst of their annual fundraiser and benefit concert. These too are important priorities in our lives.

Life presses in on every side and we respond as best we can,  “distracted from distraction by distraction.”

Why would I refer to these events as “distractions?” Because, as Jesus told Martha, who was preoccupied with meal preparations: “there is only one thing necessary.”  And to make this comment even harder to swallow he adds: “your sister Mary (seated at Jesus’ feet) has chosen the better part.”  How irritating! The truth is, we need both parts to make us whole.

On the bottom of my meditation bench is a quotation that reads: “What is the most miraculous of all miracles? That I sit quietly alone.”

And then I remember. There was someone else who lived a life filled with compelling and  competing demands and from time to time in the midst of all the activity and service to others he would say to his friends:  “Let us go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” (Mark 6.31)

What happens to me when I do pause and spend time in mediation is that all the seemingly discordant demands of my life seem to fit into place. Things fall into place. Prayers are answered. Unexpected solutions present themselves seemingly without any effort of my own. There is coherence even in the midst of seeming incoherence. So I need both the effort of Martha and the awareness of Mary to stay centered on “the one thing necessary” – my relationship with God.

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Lenten Reflections: On the Bridge

Last week, several of our Beloveds traveled to Selma along with members of First Congregational Church, Pilgrim Church and Covenant UCC to commemorate the Bloody Sunday Bridge Crossing. Here are some of our reflections.


“As a white women, being in Selma was like reconnecting a bridge between the ignorance that has been my black history lessons, and the reality of 50 years ago. Bloody Sunday is the point of contact for that bridge – a moment in history which embodies so starkly the experience of so many black folks in America for too many years, and too many years which linger into the present.

“Being in Selma was a way to reconstruct a bridge of trust that was lost when white cops chose to beat their brothers and sisters, their skin tones the enemy and their bodies the victim. Not that I can establish trust myself, but by learning about the movement, the differences between reality and a well-crafted but still inaccurate movie, and hearing the voices of my socially segregated neighbors, I will be prepared to raise a voice of disruption when the present starts sounding eerily like the past. And in so doing, perhaps establish one more bridge of trust.

“Selma reminded me that voluntary social segregation exists today. And when I simply flock to people who look like me because I feel more secure in my own skin, I perpetuate that dysfunctional separation.

“Bloody Sunday is ultimately a challenge. When people live the relentless optimism of nonviolent resistance, the truth of equal treatment and opportunity resonates beyond death, beyond clubs and bruises. I am challenged and encouraged by my brothers and sisters who chose to amplify the ideals of peace and persistence when they walked that bridge.”

– Leah Clements

“On his Facebook page, one of the young people from Beloved asked why folks are so focused on events that happened 50 years ago, when right now, unarmed minority youth are being killed by the police. In my reply to him, I replied that we need to look back in order to find the courage to move forward. I went to Selma to celebrate the faith and determination of those who marched for justice 50 years ago. They marched, not knowing what was going to happen, but stepping forward in faith. And, because of their courage and the courage of all of those foot soldiers of the civil rights movement, things did change. Their actions are an inspiration, especially when we look at events around us and think that things will never change.

“The other reason I went to Selma was to participate in the day’s events. The program was full of workshops dealing with such timely topics incarceration, immigration and health care. Unfortunately, I did not get to attend any of them. What I did get to do was to travel to Selma with a group from Beloved, park in a spot that had been reserved for us by the Pastor of First Church, fellowship and attend activities with a family from Pilgrim, and drive back to Birmingham with a group from Covenant. Any day spent with my UCC family is a great day indeed!

– Denyse Thornley-Brown

“The Selma commemoration is act of remembrance, of gratitude to God and people of faith and courage. It is also an act of recommitment to be about God’s work in the world. Bloody Sunday brought to light state-sanctioned violence against blacks and the power of God’s liberating spirit to bring an end to that violence and bondage.

“As John Legend said at the Oscars, Selma is Now! During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, two to three Black people were lynched every week in the American South. The same number of Black people are now killed every week now by white police officers; a Black person is killed every 28 hours at the hands of police of any race.

“To end violence and bondage is the liberating work of the spirit of God today, and if it is God’s work, it is our work. This we know: Nothing and no one will stand in the way of the liberating power of God.”

– Rev. Angie Wright


Photos by Denyse Thornley-Brown and Leah Clements

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Beloved Lenten Reflection from Cindy Jones: Goodbye



“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5

How do we say goodbye?

In the Sermon On the Mount Jesus said:
“Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted”

This is how we say goodbye, by a promise to comfort us and through God’s grace. Just as there is light there is darkness. Just as there is life there is death.

I wish  we didn’t have to feel  pain, sorrow or heart ache but on the other hand how would we measure happiness. Unfortunately pain is a part of life as well as death. No one wants to talk about death but it is as real  as birth. In a birth we celebrate and in a death we morn but in both we can rejoice. It is easy to know how to rejoice in birth all you have to do is look in the face of a tiny precious soul so how do we rejoice in death?

It is the deceased who are able to rejoice for they have gone on to their heavenly home. The battle is over and they are free. There struggles have come to an end and their hearts are whole.  They have received their wings and their hearts have been replenished with love, they are as free, as a dove.

It is the living who are left  with a  broken heart and a bent spirit for we remain in a world where  our sorrow is so great we feel  we can’t go on.  Our hearts are heavy and our eyes are tired and we wonder if life will ever be the same again. When the suffering becomes unbearable just remember what Jesus said “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”

I wish I had a magic wand that could take away the tears and the heartache but I don’t. All I have  are my words and a prayer to offer. My prayer is that  when it is time to say goodbye to someone you love that God will take you by the  hand, carry you through the grief and  gently set you down with your heart filled with love, your arms strengthened by grace and your eyes shining bright. [This is how you can comfort the dying and their loved ones.]

This is how you say goodbye with God’s love, grace and mercy.


-Cindy Jones

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Lenten Reflection from Mary Jones: Our Prayer


Dear Lord,

Mom and Dad and I call on YOU because you are our Keeper.  I love you mom and dad because you taught us the meaning of commitment, justice, respect and how to love each other when you did not understand what the words meant.  But you knew Jesus was in the midst of all that good feeling, all that coming together and caring for the people in the entire community not just family folks.

You taught us what it meant to be present, to show up if you are going to do Jesus’ work.  We had to be present, at Church and in the house.  There was no skipping out.  Everybody had to be there for the meal in order to rejoice in the outcome.  Celebration was for everybody in the house and beyond. Each one had to do her/his part.

John Dear, the author of “The Nonviolent Life,” tells us that the list is long when we remember the hurting, how we must stop that if we are going to take this child of peace as our guide.  Dear Jesus- help us oh Lord-  to remember and be conscientious of each other’s feelings.  I am concerned about people in our community, people on their jobs.  How, oh Lord, we must act out your “Sermon On the Mount.”  We must love each other, be merciful, so that we may love and respect all people.  Do our part at all times, dear Lord, so that we can do your work for all the people in the community and remember that someone did it for each one of us in order that we may give something back.  We pray this prayer in your Holy Name!

My thoughts after my prayer are what I have received from reading John Dear’s book, “The Nonviolent Life,” who said that we have to examine our own lives and ask ourselves: how do we cultivate violence within ourselves, how do we nurse ourselves, and what do we need to do to stop cooperating with our own violence and start cultivating interior and personal nonviolence.  The good news is that Jesus does not leave us in grief.  He calls us to rejoice!!! 

He also said that for decades he lived in community and he learned that if people get along, give each other space, support each other’s work, pray together, and share a common spiritual vision, community life can be invigorating and rewarding.  Most important for me is how we support each other in our day to day “walk on that wonderful “path” of life while loving all people.  

Finally, as Dr. King teaches and Birmingham demonstrates, with active nonviolence – and the God of peace – anything is possible.  Thank you Mr. Dear! We shall shout hallelujah!!!  That’s what I hold on to every day of my life!

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Lenten Reflection: The Power of Your Word


In some version of the good old days, a contract could be sealed with a word and a handshake. Children were taught, “Your word is your bond.” This was an agreed-upon community standard that made it possible to trust and be trusted. After my father’s recent death, I learned that he had a business partner he trusted so implicitly that all it took was one phone call, one word, one handshake, to agree to a new business deal – no lawyers, no spreadsheets, no documentation, no fine print. It worked, for them.

Our children start out trusting our word completely, believing that our word is gold. They believe that we will do what we say, that we mean what we say, that our promises can be trusted. At some point they learn just how flawed our word can be when we fail to protect them, when we fail to show up for them, when they are left to wait and wonder what happened and why? Much like parents’ experience when their children become teenagers and don’t come home on time, and they are left to wait and wonder what happened and why?

It’s a terrible feeling to be lied to, a feeling of betrayal. But what about when we ourselves are not true to our word? What about when we don’t keep our commitments, even the ones we make to ourselves?

Robert Gass of the Rockwood Leadership Institute challenges us to make our word impeccable. Impeccable. Wow. Like, “your word is your bond,” or something crazy like that.

He says we need to make one big list of all of our commitments, large and small. For some, that means combining several well-organized lists into one. For others like me, it may mean gathering up tattered legal pads, scattered sticky-notes, electronic calendars, under-utilized planning apps and the notes I’ve written on my hand.

The end result is not pretty. It quite overwhelming. Gass says that for our word to become impeccable, we have to fully acknowledge to ourselves all the commitments we have made and begin to cross them off our list. Then we need to begin to practice, taking note when we say “Yes,” and practicing saying “No.” We learn to take a breath before saying “Yes.” We learn the freedom in saying “No.”

At Beloved, we often say that “Yes” can be holy only if “No” is equally regarded as holy. I know I would much rather be told “No” than to be told “Yes” and be let down. I would rather someone tell me that they don’t have time to serve on the Church Council than to join the Council only to miss all the meetings. I would rather someone tell me they can’t help out at an event that to agreed and then not follow through. It leaves a sinking feeling in my stomach and sinking hole in the path to progress. The same is true when I fail to be true to my word.

I tend to run a few minutes late. A member of my family thinks that if you are on time, you are late. He believes that being on time is a sign of love – you never have to doubt that I will be here for you.  It’s a sign of respect – I don’t value my time over yours. It’s a commitment to doing what you say you will do, when you say you will do it – you can rely on me. Being on time is one aspect of keeping your word impeccable.

In the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew word “dabar” means both “Word” and “Deed.” This has long fascinated me – a language and a culture in which ‘Word’ and ‘Deed’ are the same thing. Perhaps it was based on the fact that God’s people are made in God’s image. When God speaks, things happen. God speaks new creations into existence. God speaks healing into reality. God’s promises can be trusted. So it should be the same with us. We’re not God, but with God’s help, it’s possible.

That’s a promise.

It’s a promise that can be trusted.

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Selma 50th Anniversary Bridge Crossing Jubilee: God’s Work Continues Among God’s People

Edmund Pettus Bridge 50th Anniversary Bridge Crossing Jubilee

Thousands returned to Selma this weekend to remember God’s liberation of God’s people and to rekindle a sense of purpose and unity, to go back into the world with eyes and hearts and minds wide open to those things that stand between the people of God and the justice, mercy and abundant life promised by God

The Selma commemoration is act of remembrance, of gratitude to God and people of faith and courage. It is also an act of recommitment to be about God’s work in the world –

Bloody Sunday brought to light the American state-sanctioned violence against African-Americans and the liberating spirit of God to bring an end to that violence and bondage.

That is the liberating work of the spirit of God even now, and if it is God’s work, it is our work.

As John Legend said, “Selma is Now!”

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, two to three Black people were lynched every week in the American South. The same number of Black people are now killed every week now by white police officers; a Black person is killed every 28 hours at the hands of police.

To end this violence and bondage is the liberating work of the spirit of God today, and if it is God’s work, it is our work.

This we know: Nothing and no one will stand in the way of the liberating spirit of God.

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