In my circles, whenever defeats are dealt, it is common to hear the disappointed person quote Martin Luther King, Jr to say, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
It seems my friends are needing to say that quote more and more often.
When discriminatory bills are passed by state legislatures, I hear the quote.
When the Supreme Court ducks hearing cases about discrimination or women’s health, I hear the quote.
When our elected leaders refuse to hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee to ensure the court won’t address issues, I hear the quote.
When governors announce their decision to sue the federal government over civil rights, I hear the quote.
When denominations refuse to be prophetic while their children cry out for relief, I hear the quote. Annual meetings, conferences, or assemblies of many different denominations are happening this summer, and where people had looked for bold and prophetic vision, instead they’ve been told “it isn’t time to make a change. It is time to study the issue“. Study is great. I’m all for study. The problem is the “issue” is often the lives of gay, lesbian, or trans children of God who fear their safety, who struggle for their right to serve God in ordered ministry, and who face discrimination in church and society that hinders their flourishing.
I’m tired of hearing the quote. I want the moral universe to bend more quickly already.
Nobody has ever accused me of being gifted with patience.
I’ve started saying that quote differently in my head. “It’s time to bend the arc of the moral universe like Beckham”.
“Bend it like Beckham” was a 2002 film that took its title from soccer star David Beckham’s ability to “bend” the soccer ball toward the goal. The film is delightful, as was watching him curl a ball past defenders and into the net.
And that’s what I want to do with the moral universe. I want to grab it at either end and bend it so my friends will know justice, and safety, and flourishing, and hope. NOW.
I know I can’t do that, exactly.
“Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”
The bigger quote reminds me my vision is limited. I can only see the horizon from where I stand. I do not have a good enough vantage to see the true curve of the earth, or the arc of the moral universe.
It’s helpful to remember Parker said those words in the years leading up to the Civil War. In the midst of slavery, he spoke a word of hope, with a challenge to keep working.
It’s helpful to remember King said those words in 1968 at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. In the midst of discrimination and despair, he spoke a word of hope, with a challenge to keep working.
And I try not to lose sight of the real gains and progress we have made in the midst of our struggles.
Last weekend, I had the honor of officiating the first same gender wedding to be held in the congregation I serve. In Idaho.
At this wedding, though, I could feel the arc bending a little closer toward justice as we invited people to the Table who had not been welcomed in a long time, if ever. It was a sacred and holy moment.
And so I let go of my desire to bend the world to my will and acknowledge it is bending toward justice. I can only do my part and keep looking for the horizon.
I pray we don’t settle for the kind of patience that tells us not to rock the boat, not to advocate for justice, and not to cry out at the ways we wound each other.
I pray we are given the kind of patience that reminds us we aren’t in control, we can’t see the whole picture, and that God is God (and we are not) and is in all things, working them out for good. With this kind of patience, may we continue to be advocates of justice, proclaimers of Love, and agents of change and hope in a world grown weary of waiting for the universe to bend their way.
Marci Glass is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho. She is a contributing author of There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs at Glass Overflowing. She serves on the Clergy Advisory Board of Planned Parenthood, the Boards of Presbyterian Mission Agency, Covenant Network, and Ghost Ranch. She’s an amateur cellist who enjoys hiking in the Boise foothills. She drinks her bourbon neat.
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