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Move the journey on (Moderator’s column)

Have you ever been lost? I mean, really lost. Maybe you were a child, or maybe you were on a hike. Maybe you were driving in a part of town, or in another part of the country, and you suddenly had no idea which way to turn. Or maybe, have you ever felt lost related to your personal self? You weren’t sure what to do next or where to turn.

In some ways I felt lost after attending the Martin Luther King Jr. “REVISED AGENDA” weekend held at Montreat Conference Center recently. Having grown up in the 1950s and ’60s, I remember vividly the days of segregation in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia. I remember “Colored Only” signs on restroom doors, as well as “Whites Only” signs on the doors I could enter to eat, or to ride, or to sit. My school was white only—by law. My church was white only—by choice. My world was white only—by innocence and societal divisions that I didn’t fully understand. But I knew it was wrong. My mother told me it was. And the Jesus I knew was telling me that too.

So I spent time looking for ways to speak out. I did, in a variety of ways that I won’t rehearse now. But the bottom line is that I have felt somewhat self-satisfied with what happened. Schools were integrated. A number of neighborhoods welcomed black and whites alike. I no longer had to hide the fact from some of my friends, and even some family members, that my black friends were welcomed in my home. And, a black man was elected president of the United States.

Still, at the MLK event at Montreat, I ran headlong into a forest where I suddenly realized I didn’t know where I was. I was lost. Leonard Pitts, the remarkable journalist and one of the exceptional keynote speakers, told us that we could indeed feel a degree of accomplishment in what we had done. I was grateful. But then he used the example that our world, our nation, our church were akin to being on a journey where our goal was to “leave Miami, where we were living, and to go to Seattle, because we knew that was where we wanted to be.” Yet while on the journey we stopped in Kansas City, and felt satisfied because we had gone so far from Miami. But Kansas City wasn’t our goal. We had always known our goal was Seattle. Our complacency, our sense of accomplishment had become ends unto themselves, and we no longer felt driven to go toward the real goal.

Suddenly I realized I didn’t know how to go forward. We were challenged to use our position in life to make a difference. As Moderator of the most recent General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I have a platform that is unique and privileged. It is a place where I have the opportunity to speak to a large audience and help them to get moving. But what should I say? Which way should I turn? Where should I seek to “find” a new direction that can help to make a difference, not just give lip service to a mutually agreed upon concern?

As I have pondered what it is to be lost, I have also remembered another experience. It happened ten years ago after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. I had been asked by the president of the American Red Cross to represent her to the governor of Louisiana, and her staff, in the immediate response to the disaster. On one of my trips to a shelter in Baton Rouge where thousands of people were housed in a major convention center, I was being ushered around by local and state authorities. Suddenly a little boy tugged at my pants legs. He was about five or six I would guess. I stooped down to listen to him as he obviously wanted to tell me something. Because I was “official” looking and had an entourage of escorts he assumed I was someone “important.” He asked me, “Are you Mr. Red Cross?” I smiled and told him no, but that I did work for the Red Cross and did he need something or could I help him? His little eyes filled with tears and he said to me, “Yes sir. You see mister, I can’t find my mommy. She got lost after the hurricane and I haven’t seen her since. Could you help me to find her? She is lost.”

I have no idea if that precious child ever found his mommy. I knew people were doing all they could to help find her, but I had no way of following up with him. And for a very profound moment, I felt my heart sink and my own eyes filled with tears. This little boy, and his mom, were lost—lost in ways I could only imagine, and I couldn’t help them find their way out.

Let us as the PC(USA) not stay lost. Let us realize that we are all children of God, and therefore precious, and we deserve to be united with our loving parent. Let us all seek to find our way, and to help others to do the same, as we speak out in ways that help end injustice, and address ignorance, and allow people to walk safely on the street. You see, even if that little boy found his mom, he was black. And as a black boy in the United States, the potential that he could be “lost” again during his youth and young adulthood was great—another sense of being lost I cannot fully comprehend as a white man.

We must find ways in the name of Jesus Christ to move the journey on toward Seattle. For HE has found us. We must do our part now to find ourselves and to continue moving toward the goal.

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