In many ways, the peculiar community of our 21st Century Freedom Ride grew out of the beloved community that Leah and I were adopted into when we went to Baghdad with Christian Peacemaker Teams in 2003. There we met Jim Douglass, who invited us to learn from the Catholic Worker’s long tradition of hospitality houses. It was Jim who invited us to come to Birmingham and bring some of the friends we’ve made over this past decade at Rutba House.
I was grateful that Lizz Schallert was able to join us as a representative of Christian Peacemaker Teams, and am glad to share these reflections on her experience of the ride.
By Lizz Schallert
In November I received an email from Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) describing the 21st Century Freedom Ride, asking if someone would be willing to represent CPT on the trip. After reviewing the website, I quickly jumped on the opportunity to spend a weekend with Dr. Vincent Harding and dozens of folks representing present social justice movements. I am thankful to be a part of CPT, an organization that gets in the way of violence in war zones around the world, and that supports domestic actions in the United States of undoing structural oppression.
Over the weekend of the Freedom Ride I found myself celebrating the diversity of God’s people; openly undocumented youth, recently incarcerated women now working against our prison industrial complex, formerly homeless men seeking shelter for others, sisters and brothers at various Catholic workers and intentional Christian communities, and those carrying on the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement by fighting for racial justice–certainly an unlikely gathering in the eyes of the world.
What is the thread that binds us together in our diverse ages, races, and stories? How did we all end up on a bus travelling across southern states, visiting war zones and holy sites of the Civil Rights Movement? As the weekend progressed, answers to these questions emerged.
While Dr. Harding spoke to us and encouraged us toward the New America, the “America that must be born again,” the dust began to settle and the spool began to spin. We all wanted to be midwives in this work—to dream, to yearn, to create this “country that does not exist, of which we are citizens.”
Throughout the weekend we were blessed, critiqued, and encouraged by Dr. Harding as we envisioned a new democracy. We sat close, shared the microphone, and incarnationally found ourselves living what we hope for.
As a Christian, I could not help but draw connections between our discussions of hope for a new country with my hope for a new Church. As a somewhat lost Catholic-Quaker-Brethren who grew up in the Church of Christ, I felt at home for a few days. Every voice mattered. Everyone was seeking the truth.
Before getting on the bus to Alabama I was hoping I could still make it to Mass on Sunday, particularly as we find ourselves in the season of Advent, when we anticipate and hope for the return of Christ in us and the world. This desire gently diminished and disappeared as Dr. Harding put on Ben Branch’s Operation Breadbasket Orchestra’s version of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” during our first gathering over the weekend.
As the song came over us our eyes began to close, our toes tapped, and we were together. Our barriers no longer mattered. Eternity mingled with the present. This is the Holy Church, I thought. This is the work we are to be about. Here we were, in 2012, a rag-tag mix of concerned citizens of a “country that does not exist,” singing Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last request.
Ben, make sure you play ‘Precious Lord’ in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty. –MLK Jr. on April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel, just before his assassination.