taking the words of Jesus seriously


The Friends Central Meeting on Cherry Street in Center City Philadelphia has probably never reeled and rocked like it did on Monday night. Rev. William Barber from the Moral Mondays campaign in North Carolina brought his Moral Revival Tour to our city, slyly scheduling it just as the Democratic National Convention was starting to convene a few miles south at the Wells Fargo Center.  Lots of spirited singing, praying, and mighty preaching, all geared toward the prophetic vision of justice.


A core of the Revival is a series of brief personal testimonies from persons who have lived through the injustices we pray and struggle against.  After each one – fast-food workers fighting for livable wages, neighbors living near health-ravaging power plants, ex-offenders calling for a more humane corrections system, and others – we joined in a song refrain, “Somebody’s been hurting my brother/sister, and it’s gone on too long; somebody’s been hurting my brother/sister, and I won’t be silent any more.”


One of the speakers was a local man, Donald Myers, a strong, educated man working in human services, who was addressing the Stop and Frisk crisis in Philadelphia. After vividly sharing his own horrible experience of unnecessary and oppressive policing, he concluded with a deeply emotional reflection on how he recently sat his ten-year-old son down to explain what he must do and not do if her is even stopped by police. Raise your hands, be polite, don’t run – the whole awful litany of “the talk” that is a sad rite of passage between African American parents and sons. Donald broke down in tears, saying how he concluded this painful paternal counsel by telling his son, “Because it’s more important than anything else that you come home tonight.”


As I sat in the historic meeting house in a back row, at that moment I was achingly aware of my whiteness. I have a sixteen-year-old son. And in our parenting, there is vast gulf between Donald Myers and me – my social reality is such that I never will need to have “the talk” with my white son. My children will not have to grow up bearing the weight of centuries of hostility. They will never have to navigate and negotiate their identity in a dominant culture in which they know they are always on the margins. And they likely won’t be stopped and frisked.


I am challenged. I need revival. I need a transformation, not from my melatonin but from my collusion in white privilege. This transformation will be helped by the amazing folks gathered here tonight, but will ultimately be possible only by God’s Spirit.


I don’t know what the Democrats are talking about tonight down at the Wells Fargo Center. But I am pretty sure it doesn’t match the depth of truth-telling that has happened in this room tonight. I doubt it has the prophetic energy that is shaking this room tonight.


May we hear. May we act.


Revive us, O Lord!


About The Author


Will O’Brien coordinates The Alternative Seminary, a grassroots program of biblical and theological study ( www.alternativeseminary.net ). He lives with his spouse Dee Dee Risher in the Vine & Fig Tree community in Philadelphia.

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