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Why I marched, what I saw

Guest commentary by John M. Cleghorn

“My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.”

Those words from Mother Pollard, who participated in the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott by walking to work every day at age 72, inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he led the civil rights movement.

This morning, I know a little about how Mother Pollard felt.

Last night (Sept. 22), I was able to take part in the peaceful protest in Uptown Charlotte in the wake of the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, the latest in a deeply-troubling string of similar incidents that is tearing our country apart.

Today, after the protest that one colleague likened to a five-mile strolling party, my feet are tired but my soul is rested, at least a little.

Why did I march, many of my friend and family, of varying political persuasions, might ask? What was I doing out last night with a stole around my neck bearing crosses and the seal of the Presbyterian Church (USA), many protestors asked me along the meandering route?

I marched because I had heard so many divergent stories about the events of Tuesday and Wednesday nights from my contacts who were in the midst of the action – clergy, city officials and others. I had to see it for myself.

I marched to bear witness to peace, praying that I might diminish so that my yellow arm-band and religious stole might point others to the Prince of Peace, especially when tempers flared and emotions ran high.

I marched because my friends and colleagues in the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice, 70 faith leaders strong, were out there, some of whom were standing next to the protestor who was shot and killed Wednesday night.

I marched because I knew there would be both good-hearted protestors and not-so-constructive outside agitators in the mix, and I wanted to try to be on the side of the good-hearted. I wanted to see if I could tell them apart.

I marched because I see the world through the eyes of a privileged, white, straight male – which gives me dangerous blind spots for understanding the lives of all of my sisters and brothers.

What did I see?

I saw and met many, many people of peace and goodwill – some from Charlotte, some from elsewhere like the Disciples of Christ pastor who flew in from Cincinnati to bear witness. They were male and female, gay and straight, old and young, black and white and other ethnicities, some wearing well-fitted suits and others kilts and body piercings.

I saw and spoke with civil servants just doing their job, like the bicycle cop named David, a 20-year veteran officer who is on our streets every other day, and like the National Guard soldiers who, any other day, teach our kids, grow our crops, fix our broken pipes and meet us with a smile at the hardware store.

I saw and heard some things I didn’t agree with, shouts of hate and threat and violent ideology. I also saw and heard many perspectives of the desperate voiceless who need to be listened to, now more than ever.

I shook hands with a young, tattooed man with a nose-ring, bandana and camo-clothing who politely called me “Father,” who carried water and milk for any who might be tear-gassed, and who kept a close, protective eye on me as we both redirected the protestors off the interstate and away from the ranks of police in riot gear.

I saw what the city I love can be when we demonstrate mutual respect and love toward one another and seek to see the better angels in all of our natures.

Many questions remain, many solutions yet to be conceived and implemented. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

But last night I saw one good night in the midst of a crisis rooted long ago in the vast inequalities of race and class in our city and nation. And I pray for more days and nights like it as we navigate the weeks ahead seeking the truth of what the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the wayward Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

johncleghornpix2John Cleghorn has served pastor of Caldwell Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, since 2008.