This week we welcome Rev. Cindy Hickman to our regular team of Exile writers. You’ve met her already as a guest writer. Welcome, Cindy!
By Rev. Cindy Hickman
The Holy Spirit offers a daily invitation.
“C’mon. I have something to show you. Come and see with your eyes, your heart, your soul."
A few days ago, my husband and I were visiting New Orleans. One evening we walked to Café Du Monde, famous in the French Quarter for beignets, puff pastry covered in powdered sugar. We picked up our order of beignets and sat down at a table on the patio. Just outside the patio, there was a street singer, a Black man. He sang love songs, and his voice was smooth and sweet as the beignets.
The building across the street was iconic in New Orleans. It was three stories tall, the upper stories surrounded by balconies wrapped in ornate wrought iron. A young Black woman stood on the second-floor balcony. Her hair was tied back in a beautiful scarf. A shawl was draped across her shoulders, and as the man sang, she stretched her arms out lifting the shawl, looking like a butterfly. She danced, swaying slowly, her eyes closed, lost in the music.
Just at the edge of the patio an elderly couple of Asian heritage sat side by side on a bench. The woman swayed to the music. Two young white men sat at a table near us, their heads bent close together, leaning over the table as powdered sugar dust dropped from the beignets they were eating.
There we were, the eight of us, sugared in the silky voice of the singer.
“My peace I give to you.” I thought of those words of the Risen Christ as we sat there. It was a unifying moment. The man’s song an offering.
A few days later we visited The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration in Montgomery, Alabama. The museum is powerful and horrifying and stunning, as it relates the history of African Americans from capture in Africa, through the dehumanizing ocean voyage to the colonies and the brutality of slavery, to the humiliation and discrimination of segregation, and the reality of mass incarceration African Americans face today. The history of 12 million people and their ancestors. Their forced labor amassed fortunes for others. This is the story of America’s holocaust.
I know so little of this history and what I do know was written by historians who either knew little of this history or didn’t care to share it. My not knowing, my apathy, that makes this my sin too.
(“Eyes, heart, and soul,” the Holy Spirit whispered.)
On our way through the museum, our path converged with a group of soldiers wearing polo shirts that identified them as members of the Alabama Army National Guard. Identity is curious, isn’t it? What do we assume about people? I didn’t tell you that my husband and I are white. I just assumed you would know, assumed that, of course, we are white. The soldiers were Black and White, male and female. Later we would learn that these soldiers were also husbands and fathers and mothers, their identity more than our assumptions.
We ate lunch in a café at the museum and the soldiers sat at a table near ours. We could overhear their conversation. They weren’t at the museum by accident. They were there to discover what the Alabama Army National Guard needed to know about the African American experience. They questioned one another about what they had seen.
After we toured the museum, we climbed on a shuttle and went to The National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The memorial honors the thousands of people who have been lynched. Hundreds of copper boxes shaped like tombstones hang suspended from the ceiling of an open memorial. Impossible to comprehend the terror these copper boxes represent. To walk among them is to breathe in grief and loss.
Again, the Alabama Army National Guard walked along with us, pausing to read the stories of the people who were lynched. The Guard is so often called out to stand armed in full riot gear at the edge of a demonstration. Here they were, walking solemnly through the memorial.
“Eyes, heart, soul. I’ve brought you to this moment,” said the Holy Spirit moving among us.
Later I thought about the museum and the memorial and the soldiers. I have tried to make this all fit with the peace I felt at Café du Monde. Was the peace I felt just more of my white privilege? What I have come to expect, the ease with which I can move in the world because I am white because I have had advantages?
At Café du Monde, who were the people surrounding me? What are their stories? How do we become conscious of the pain? Respectful of one another’s histories Honor one another’s truth? What gave the voice of the singer its strength? What was expressed in the dancing? The old couple. The young men.
“C’mon.” The Holy Spirit invites us all. Look at the past, look at one another, with your eyes, your heart your soul. And see, really see.
Each year Pastor Abraham L. Funchess from Jubilee United Methodist Church in Waterloo leads the Freedom Bus Tour, including a stop at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice. You can learn more about it here: https://www.iaumc.org/newsdetail/2022-mlk-freedom-bus-tour-16421916.