When our middle schoolers crack open their social studies textbooks to the chapter on the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century, they get a birds-eye view of the era that has shaped so much of modern life. One might come away from these chapters with the sense that history is lived in a vacuum; great heroes arising out of the blue, just in time to save the day.
It is easy to forget that the makers of the movement were formed by lifelong commitments to an inner struggle for meaning, which gave them strength in the moments preserved by historians.
Long before the formative events of the 1960s took place, a group of educators, activists and pastors founded the Highlander Folk School in the mountains of Tennessee. Highlander is a rustic property where sojourners for justice can temporarily retreat from the world to gain the knowledge, hope, courage and skills they need to face the challenges before them. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Anne Braden, Septima Clark, Ralph Abernathy and John Lewis are just a few of the leaders who have walked the halls at Highlander.
This weekend, our high schoolers will pile into vans and make their way up the winding roads of the Poconos to Camp Kirkwood. Our weekend will be packed with all sorts of fun; snowtubing, ice hockey, s’mores, campfires, goofy games and a service project. We will also be stepping back from the busyness of our daily lives to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy and his unfinished agenda. We will ask ourselves what it means to be people of faith in a world still characterized by division and discord. Like those who gathered, and continue to gather at Highlander, we will momentarily retreat from the world in order to learn how we might better serve God in it.
If Dr. King’s legacy has anything to teach our youth today, it is that their faith must be lived out in the public square. Yet, his life is also a reminder that public faith must be nourished by private devotion. I invite you to pray for the young people of our church as they learn, grow and celebrate together this weekend. I also challenge you to ask yourself: Where do I find nourishment for my inner life with God, and how might God be calling me to live out my faith in the world?