July 4, 2020

This speech was given at an event by the Kissing Rock at Carthage College in Kenosha, WI.

A Cultural Celebration of Black Lives and Art Sponsored by the Black Student Union and Mahogany Gallery and Artspace

The scripture text that many churches are using this weekend is from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 11.  The words of Jesus that start the reading are these, “To what shall I compare this generation?” or, in another translation, (The Message) “How can I account for this generation?”  Jesus goes on to tell those gathered there that their generation is basically a bunch of whiny children who push back when confronted with uncomfortable truths.  Jesus points out that when the people hear prophets that hold up mirrors in front of their faces to show them there broken ways, they run away to jump rope or dance.  They avoid the pain or they discredit and invalidate the prophets with insults and slander, to hold on to the status quo. 

Jesus points out that they called John the Baptist “a demon” for fasting.

Jesus points out that they call him a “glutton, and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” for his compassion for those dehumanized by society.  

To what shall I compare this generation? 

How can I account for this generation?

The movement for basic human rights, for civil rights for Blacks in America, has been going on for hundreds of years.  And in every century there are examples of the push back that happened when white people were faced with the uncomfortable truth of the full humanity of Black people. 

In the 19th Century during the time of the Underground Railroad, you can find people trying to discredit the movement and hold on to the status quo by calling it malignant philanthropy, and federal opposition to the railroad by the passing of Fugitive Slaves Acts – not just one but two.   

In the 20th Century during the Civil Rights movement, you see those uncomfortable with the push for equal rights for Blacks in America, calling Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a radical.  Not wanting to rock the boat too much, white liberals asked for patience.  Desperate to hang on to the status quo, white people hurled insults, threw bricks, and bombed churches.

In the 21st Century, during this moment in time, during this movement, the prophets of the day are calling us to all recognized that in America, Black lives are still not equal. Those uncomfortable with this truth call the Black Lives Matter Movement a terrorist organization or organized crime or a mob or rioters, or whatever other words will stir up fear.  Those desperate to hold on to the status quo close their eyes tightly and say they cannot see any racism in the world today because we conquered it 50 years ago.  Those who want to discredit and invalidate the movement say, “All Lives Matter.”  Those who want to dehumanize us pull out the N word and hold on tightly to the symbols that they think affirm their misguided belief in white supremacy. 

To what shall I compare this generation? 

How can I account for this generation?

Sadly, words spoken by Jesus over 2000 years ago continue to hold true today. We have been studying these words for centuries. We claim these words have changed our hearts and our minds, but still when prophets comes to speak truths that make us uncomfortable, we continue to under mind their work, we discredit their integrity, and ultimately we kill those who get closest to changing the status quo.

To what shall I compare this generation? 

How can I account for this generation?

Yet, I do have hope standing here today.  Because while there are many who are pushing back against this moment in time. While there are many who want to deny systemic racism. While there are those we are hoping for a race war, there are more who want real change to come. There are more people who want America, for the first time, to actually live into the ideals on which this country was founded, that all people are created equal. There are more people, of all stripes, who are saying the status quo has to go, because it is killing Black people and it is killing the soul of our nation.

So I do stand here with hope because of Generation Z.  Generation Z has on shoes to go the distance. You are marathon runners who know that to bring change and healing to the world, it will take stamina, grit and endurance.  I stand here with hope because of Generation Z. A generation that has eyes to see the beauty of the fact of diversity.  This is a generation willing to see the sin, see the pain of the history of slavery and racism in this country, and not be whinny children, but to be strong advocates for change.  I stand here with hope today because of Generation Z, who are demanding change, who knows their voices matter, who are clearly articulating a vision for a United States that owns its history, openly and honestly, because only the truth will set us free.  I stand here with hope together because of Generation Z, because you will and you are building a coalition of all generations to help our nation grow up, to mature, to let go of fear and see the beauty of the diversity of the people gathered on this land. I stand here with hope because this of Generation Z who is moving this country towards the day when the words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” truly apply to us all.   

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