Exodus 6:7 I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians.
I didn’t read any writings by Rachel Held Evans until after her death. This past summer, I began reading her book, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again. In it, she takes on honest look at the painful pieces of scripture that you can’t ignore. In her chapter on deliverance stories, she introduced me to the work of Allen Dwight Callahan and his book, The Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible. In that book he writes, “African slaves and their descendants discerned something in the Bible that was neither at the center of their ancestral cultures nor in evidence in their hostile American home, a warrant for justice in the world. They found woven in the texts of the Bible a crimson thread of divine justice antithetical to the injustice they had come to know all too well. [iv]
“The Crismon Thread of Divine Justice.”
I was captured by that image when I read it. It made me think of students who return from their J-term experience in India with Professor Jim Lochetfeld with the red bracelet on their wrist, changed from the experience. It made me think of my Advanced Heart Failure Specialist, who loves to travel, and has the red string around his wrist as well. My heart is doing much better now, so it seems like we talk more about his search for meaning than my heart failure.
For Callahan, the crimson thread is the thread of hope, the thread of justice, the thread of freedom that oppressed people can so clearly see in the tapestry of scripture. The crimson thread is symbolic for many people. In Hinduism and across India, the crimson thread has many meanings. Red – the color of fire and blood – can point to energy, strength, power, and determination. It can ward off evil. It can drive away fiends and bind together new friends.
My hope for us as we are getting ready to depart is to have the Crimson Thread bind us together in the work we are going to bring back to our campuses. On your tables is a pile of Crimson Thread. I hope you will humor me and (not at this moment) but soon will tie one on your wrist as a symbol of our collective commitment to moving Beyond Privilege and to be about engaging diversity, inclusion and equity in all that we do. I hope you will be okay with putting some red string on your wrist, if even for just the ride home, to remember the one piece of brilliant information that touched your heart while you were here. And, if you are willing, and I hope you are, you will keep your Crimson Thread on long enough that it will start a conversation or two at your institution about the share valued of creating spaces on our campuses where all can flourish. May the Crimson Thread help us remember that all of us are “Called and Empower to Serve the Neighbor so All may Flourish” (Mission Statement of the Network of ELCA Colleges and Universities).
So pick up a string and turn to your neighbor and ask for help to tie it around your wrist. Share with each other what insights you hope you get to share in a conversation with someone in your office, department or division that will help to move your school beyond privilege to bring a place for everyone to thrive.
Closing Words from the Ancient Tales of Vishnu
Our duties are kindness towards all creatures, patience, humility, truth, purity, contentment, decorum of manners, gentleness of speech, friendliness, freedom from envy or avarice and the habit of speaking evil of others.