February is African American History month.
A time set apart to acknowledge the contributions of African Americans in the building of our country. These contributions are not to be relegated to just one month but to be acknowledged on a regular basis, because they are woven throughout the fabric of our nation.
It ought to be more common than not to talk about the positive ways that all people of color have worked together with people of all races to create a better America.
A few weeks ago, we celebrated the life and legacy of one of our greatest African American heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
He was a radical for Jesus, and for justice. Something that I admire about Dr. King, and the thing that we neglect to remember, is that he didn’t work in isolation. He and other leaders of the Civil Rights movement were consistently calling people from every walk of life to arise and step into the process of bringing forth equity and justice; fighting for people who were being purposefully denied the same rights and liberties that white America freely enjoyed.
Throughout the civil rights movement we saw images of leaders like Dr. King, Correta Scott King, John Lewis, Viola Liuzzo, link arms as they marched and sang together for equity.
They marched for the rights they were being actively denied, and to ensure that those rights wouldn’t be denied for the generations to come. The interlocking of arms and the synchronous melody of their voices symbolized solidarity. As it says in Ecclesiastes:
“though one may be overpowered, two can resist, moreover a cord of three strands in not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12
Interlocking arms and synchronous melodies were a visual representation of the power of interdependence…the power of WE!
We Shall Overcome became the anthem of the movement.
We shall overcome, we shall overcome
We shall overcome some day
Oh deep in my heart I do believe
We shall overcome someday. – Charles Albert Tindley, Pete Seeger
This song speaks of unity, a kind of holy togetherness that surpasses individualism and moves us toward a greater vision of what humanity should be.
As followers of Jesus we must all agree that Jesus has not called us to practice a theology of disengagement.
In fact, He has been and is calling us to the exact opposite: to unite, build, and live -working together towards a better today & tomorrow.
Sometimes I fight against interdependence and willingly choose disengagement. And when I do my witness, my leadership, and my effectiveness for the kingdom and my relationship with Jesus suffers. As I get older, I realize that life is not meant to be lived alone, and the battles we face can’t be won alone. It takes all of us functioning as one body to get things done; to work together to see unjust systems and structures overthrown. And let’s be honest, celebrating victories are way more fun when done in a group.
Interdependence is how God designed us to function.
It’s through our dependence on Him and mutual dependence on one another that unity becomes our testimony and glimpses of heaven can be seen here on earth.
The prophet Nehemiah paints a really clear picture of interdependence when he and Israelites set out on the challenging and dangerous endeavor to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem. I continue to be amazed by the level of interdependence that Nehemiah called his people to. He knew how important interdependence was to the process of bringing forth Justice.
The type of interdependence that we see in Nehemiah is the same kind that Dr. King wrote about in His now infamous letter from a Birmingham jail.
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
― Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail
The kind of interdependence that Nehemiah and Dr. King speak of should incite us to see and acknowledge through lament, that the pain of the oppressed is our pain; their fight our fight. Our lament should then lead us to confession both individually and corporately for the many ways that our prejudice and abuse of power has grieved the father’s heart and prevented us from loving one another as God’s Image bearers. The natural overflow of lament and confession is to arise and stand together in solidarity doing whatever we can to bring forth justice for the oppressed and the oppressor.
Interdependence is how great battles are won; it’s how we combat the loneliness and fatigue that can come from battling so long and so hard alone.
However, sadly enough we keep trying to solve the world’s injustices alone even though our collective history has shown that unjust systems and structures aren’t changed in insolation. They require collaboration from people with varying talents and resources. Ultimately, permanent solutions only come through interdependence; communal action founded upon relationships and strong, shared leadership.
The time in which we live demands that we seek the welfare of our cities, communities, and all people therein, especially the most vulnerable. The people who have been pushed to the margins and condemned to despondency by oppressive systems.
The welfare of our cities is bound up with our love and commitment to do what’s best not for ourselves but for our neighbors.
It takes more than casting a vote for our affinities or aligning ourselves with a political party; whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent. We must trade in our independence for the sake of interdependence. We need each other!
“‘Let us rise up and build.’ So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” Nehemiah 2:18
Ashley was born and raised in Virginia and moved to Portland in 2007. She is currently the Global & Local Outreach Pastor at Cedar Mill Bible Church, and a part of the Joy of It team. Ashley believes that discipleship is not only an essential part of our relationship with Jesus, but in becoming astute, kind, loving, citizens committed to engaging relationally and lovingly with present social realities. Whenever possible she loves to take herself on dates to explore the Rose City. Peppermint tea, food, movies, Gifs, laughter and good conversations are direct links to her heart.