Revelation 21:4 ďHe will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.Ē
Outside my window at work are a number of old oak trees. Perhaps they are as old as the patriots buried beneath them, for they sit in the old Granary Burying Ground where rest the likes of Samuel Adams and Benjamin Franklinís father. The tree closest to my office has been notable since the fall for its seeming unwillingness to drop its leaves. The other oaks around it are bare, but a good number of leaves still cling to this one tree, even though they are as brown and dead as the old denizens of Boston in the ground below.
One of the guys in the office has taken this treeís stubbornness rather personally. From time to time heíll come into my office and yell at the tree. ďItís not summer anymore! Get over it!Ē But the leaves hang on, through snow and wind and rain. We thought they had finally given up a week ago when every tree woke to a lovely blanket of snow. ďFinally,Ē he said. ďTheyíre gone.Ē But then the snow melted and there were the leaves underneath in all their shriveled glory.
Their days are numbered of course. Even if they manage to stay there through the rigors of a Boston winter, spring, ironically, will be their undoing. As the new baby leaves begin to sprout, they will push the old ones to their new calling and the cycle will begin again.
On this week when we remember the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the new world he envisioned, Iím reminded that we are so like those stubborn leaves. Especially as a white person, itís easy to cling to old ways because those old ways gave me a leg up. Weíve made a lot of changes in response to that dream, and sometimes it seems like we should be done with changes by now. But there are still some old leaves of racism that cling to the tree of American life, reminding us that the spring of Dr. Kingís dream has not yet arrived.
There are subtle things that white people donít notice because we donít have to deal with it. Like finding a hair stylist. Until I moved to Atlanta and accidentally made a hair appointment at a black salon, I had no clue about how completely different tools, products, and skills are needed to treat and style a black womanís hair than those needed for my own. Where did black women in predominantly white areas find a hair stylist? I wondered. Answer? Either they donít, or they have to travel a ridiculously long way and probably pay more. Who knew? Well, black women knew, but I didnít. I was still hanging onto the tree.
Of course in the past year there have been incidents that are not so subtle, as we saw in Jena and other places. And it isnít just with the African-American community. The surge of concerns surrounding immigration has been like the melting snow on the tree, revealing some very ugly leaves that we thought were finally gone. Fears for national security have also encouraged us to cling to those who are like us and fear those who are different.
Hear the voice of Dr. King. Let us all be part of the dream that was his and that is reflected long before him in the dream of a New Jerusalem in the final book of the Bible. A dream of a place where there are no more tears and no more nooses. A dream of a place where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain. A dream where the old leaves will drop to the ground so that new realities can grow.
Change is hard, Lord. Help us to see your dream so we understand that letting go is worth it.
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