The Beatitudes, World Communion Sunday, and the KKK . . . A.K.A. My Weekend

I had an interesting weekend.  Within a 24 hour period, I found myself sitting both a KKK rally and in the pew of a church preparing for communion.  (Now, there is a sentence I never imagined writing.)

 Let me explain.

Over the summer, a local chapter of the KKK, the International Keystone Knights, applied to adopt a portion of highway near Blairsville.  Assuming the guise of a local civic group, the International Keystone Knights wanted to provide the regular litter collection along a stretch of road, a role often assumed by local civic groups.  The Klan’s application was denied.  In response, the Klan organized a rally in Blairsville, protesting the state’s decision to deny their request. 

Late in the evening this past Thursday, I (and others) heard about the Klan’s planned Saturday rally, prompting a Friday morning phone call from a friend living locally, a call carrying the tenor of both inquiry and insistence.  Long story short, by Friday evening, a counter protest was organized and information disseminated.  Early Saturday, several dozen of us gathered in a church parking lot, drew posters to display during our protest, and rehearsed our plan:  we would walk to the courthouse, move into the crowd, sit down on the road near the front of the crowd with our backs to the Klan speakers, and silently hold our signs throughout the duration of the event. 

Now, this was my first Klan experience, so I was not certain what to expect or what I might need to endure. Somehow, I was simultaneously both calm and anxious.

At 11:45am, we gathered our things and began the walk toward the courthouse, a walk filled with that nervous chatter accompanying the unexpected.  The closer we got to the courthouse, the more cars we saw, the more police we noticed, and the larger the crowds grew, a crowd populated with the old and young, interested and curious, taciturn and tempestuous. 

My heart sank.  My anxiety rose. 

I was shocked and saddened that so many had come to the rally. 

By the time we reached the courthouse, several hundred onlookers were milling about the courthouse grounds.

Separating the crowd from the courthouse doors was a line of Georgia State Patrol cars, parked end to end, creating a makeshift fence barring those gathered from those about to speak.  It was into this crowd of hundreds with our backs against the patrol cars and our signs facing those gathered that our silent line of protesters marched, sat down, and waited. 

And, then, it came. 

A bullhorn crackled.  Then, it whined.  Just after 12-noon, the first of a handful of speeches began, packaged as an incoherent string of hate-filled phrases made that much more surreal and buffoonish once hear through electronic distortion. 

A second thing happened.  The gathered crowd shouted back at the speakers.  It turns out that most of the crowd had assembled not to support as much as to deride.  And, deride they did.  As my perception of the crowd changed, so did my anxiety about our circumstance and my concern about our community and that day’s outcome.  I no longer worried, as I did when initially seeing all that had gathered, that our community somehow supported the Klan.  I no longer worried, after having heard the speakers’ ill-conceived diatribes, that our community’s disenfranchized or undecided might be convinced of the Klan’s claims.  My worries abated, replaced by introspection and observation.

In the midst of shouting and counter shouting, our silent protest seemed that much more poignant, a punctuating silent witness to the fact that sometimes words only contribute to the noise and confusion and that the still quietness of life lived in common witness might sufficiently supply the needed message.

After 45 minutes, it was over.

Then, on Sunday, I found myself sitting in silence, again, a silence offering its own message.  This time, my silence was not found sitting on asphalt but sitting in a pew, prayerfully preparing for World Communion Sunday.

Sunday was World Communion Sunday, a day set aside in the Christian calendar year when all churches around the world are encouraged to celebrate communion—i.e., the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist—on the same day.  It is a gesture meant to serve as a reminder that, in the church, we believe we are connected to each other no matter our locale or language, limitations or largess.  Importantly, World Communion Sunday is more than a common action of a common people of a common faith; it is an exercise in reminding us of our common humanity, regardless of action or ethnicity or faith.  

World Communion Sunday is not just about Christians reminding themselves that they are connected to each other.  (It is that.)  But more than that, World Communion Sunday is meant to remind Christians that we believe we are all connected to each other by virtue of our being creatures of a common Creator, brothers and sister because of a shared Divine Parent, joint heirs to a common humanity’s common destiny and purpose. 

Silence linked my days.  My Saturday connected with my Sunday because both were filled with silence, a silent testimony to a commitment to our common humanity, a humanity “woven together in a single garment of human destiny.” 

And, in many ways, my experiences from this past weekend serve as a microcosmic expression of our often disjointed and seemingly incongruous lives.  Often what happens, what we experience, and what we encounter does not make sense.  What gives life its continuity is our living into a framing description that what we experience is not our own but known and lived in common, in communion. 

This commitment to common, shared lives defines, as Bonhoeffer sees it, the life of discipleship.

Recall his reflections on the Beatitudes (or “blessings”), my summation from a few weeks ago. 

In the Beatitudes, we are still near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus has just called his disciples, identifying 12 from amongst the many in a crowd who were following.  Now, Jesus pauses to instruct these twelve and others who find themselves within earshot.  Importantly, the fact that 12 individuals were called is significant as it suggests that Jesus is looking to identify a group to serve as a representative body for the entirety of Israel, a nation composed of 12 tribes.  In so doing, Jesus’ selection of the 12 disciples repeats the earlier selection of Israel as a representative people, a people who were representative of all peoples. In other words, Jesus calls a group of disciples to serve as a reminder that a larger community of people was called to represent all people called into existence and relationship with the Creator of all peoples.  This means that what makes the disciples (and all people) “blessed” is not this specific event but the simple fact that they have been called into existence at all and that such a calling includes a connection with the God of existence. It is this call into existing-connection that produces a blessed or happy state, a state belonging to, endowed in, gifted to, descriptive of everyone.

In other words, the Beatitudes are a reminder that we are all connected and meant to live lives of common concern for our common life and to resist and witness against counter expressions and actions that seek to divide.

Using a rhetorical rhythm, each of Jesus’ eight declarations of blessing are meant to act like the hammer on the bell of our theological alarm clocks, awakening us from the drowsy slumber of our distracted lives and, one by one, systematically removing the layers of night from our eyes.  This awakening removal opens our eyes to our real existence, more a calling to a new consciousness of our already real existence with God and not the formation of some new, previously nonexistent connection. Said another way, it seems that Jesus’ call in the Beatitudes is an awakening to life as it is and not into life as it will or could be.

We are connected.  We share a common life.  We must live into this reality, rather than create it or deny it. 

This is the good news of the gospel, no matter our locale or language, limitations or largess . . . faith or background or color or class.

If anything, Bonhoeffer reminds us, discipleship is always a call.  In this case, it is a call off the sidelines and into the action. 

Be bold in faith.  Be faithful in witness.  And, witness in real, material ways to our common life.

Welcome back to campus.  Welcome back into the good, common fight.  Fight it well.  Fight it for your brothers and sisters.  Fight it for a life and society more reflective of that good kingdom, beloved community meant for us all.

See you along the way.


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