60 years ago today Rosa Parks kept her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
On Thursday, December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man. … [This] 42-year-old African-American seamstress engaged in a simple act of civil disobedience that launched a pivotal event in the Civil Rights Movement. … The act of disobedience was refusing to yield her seat on a public bus to a white man. The pivotal event was the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Her quiet courageous act changed America, its view of black people and redirected the course of history. Rosa Parks is a symbol to all Americans to remain free. (Rosa Parks Museum.)
To commemorate her action, here’s an updated post on Christians and Civil Rights from the archives.
I like inertia. I like that an object at rest tends to stay at rest, especially when the object is my body, and I like that an object in motion tends to stay in motion if that means I don’t have to use an appreciable amount of energy just to keep moving. I imagine Rosa Parks wanted rest as well, 60 years ago today. She wanted rest from the injustices visited upon African American citizens in the United States, but knew it would take a struggle to achieve that rest.
So she struggled. And prevailed. And it is still bearing fruit today for Montgomery and its citizens and officials. (See NPR’s In Montgomery, Rosa Parks’ Story Offers A History Lesson For Police.)
Yet some struggles are worth it and sometimes they are unavoidable. Abraham Lincoln told a regiment of soldiers why the Civil War was worth fighting:
It is not merely for today, but for all time to come that we should perpetuate for our children’s children this great and free government, which we have enjoyed all our lives. … It is in order that each of you may have through this free government which we have enjoyed, an open field and a fair chance for your industry, enterprise and intelligence; that you may all have equal opportunity in the race of life, with all its desirable human aspirations. It is for this the struggle should be maintained … . (Address to the 166th Ohio Regiment, August 22, 1864.)
Lincoln’s take on freedom and the right to have a fair chance and equal opportunity in life is a message we still need to hear today. Skin color, sex, physical condition, religious faith, a person’s birthplace – all these and more are used to keep people from getting a fair chance to use their abilities and talents or to enjoy the opportunities others have. The struggle didn’t begin with Rosa Parks nor with Lincoln and the struggle is not over, not by a long shot.
So we should struggle to fulfill not only the societal obligation to keep from hindering others, but we should struggle as well to remove those hindrances, those barriers, those chains that bind people.
We should remove them.
And strike them down.
And smash them into the dust.
And never allow them to rise up again.
The Work Of Christ
This is the work Jesus spoke of in his first synagogue sermon recorded for us, where he read from the Prophet Isaiah and explained its meaning:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-21.)
This is work we can join in whenever we see injustice. We can help strike down the barriers to freedom, and in doing so preach the gospel of freedom and point people to the ultimate and eternal freedom found in Jesus.
The gospel is worth struggling for, and is a struggle we are called to engage in as followers of Jesus. As Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy:
But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. (1 Timothy 6:11-12.)
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8.)
You too can fight the good fight of the faith as you engage in the struggle against all that is ungodly, including any time and place you see oppression and injustice, and continue on in the work of the righteous Judge.
The struggle is worth it.