The title of this talk is 6 Flags over Martin. Can anyone guess which 6 flags have flown over me?
The Rebel Flag
The Christian Flag
The American Flag
The Pride Flag
The Israeli Flag
Is there a Flag for the Fellowship Church?
Whenever I think of the verse, we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, I immediately see myself sitting in a stadium at a University of Mississippi football game surrounded by a sea of blood red and dark blue flags flying high and I hear the band blasting out Dixie in double time, the fight song of the confederacy and the rallying cry of segregationist for over a century in the Jim Crow South.
The New Testament book of Hebrews 12:1 reads “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” The image of this writer was also a sports competition. It is human nature to be inspired by crowds. When we rally together, we encourage each other to do more than we thought we could do alone. There is strength in numbers and there is greater strength when those numbers surround us and cheer us upward and onward.
My identity has been shaped by these cheering crowds. Granted, I was seldom the athlete on the field who heard the witnesses cheering him on. Instead, my inspiration has come from feeling that I was a part of something bigger than myself, something outside of myself because I was part of a team. As children, we were truly fanatical followers of the Ole Miss Rebels. My brother’s bed was painted blue, and my bed was painted blood red to match the colors of the six-foot wide Rebel Flag which hung on the wall in our bedroom.
But there came a time in my life when I realized that I could no longer march under the Rebel Flag and that it was a rallying cry for those who believed that there was such thing as a superior race of people and that God had blessed them unlike any others.
I have changed allegiances other times in my life. What has happened to me that has caused me to change so dramatically? In one lifetime, I have gone from being a Southern Baptist missionary from Jackson, Mississippi to standing up and reading from Hebrew in front of my Jewish congregation in Los Altos, California for my Bar Mitzvah.
There have been major crises that have caused me to put down these flags and stop marching alongside my fellow soldiers because I felt that they had betrayed my trust. Each time I felt I must run away because I was not only betrayed by them, but if I continued to participate with them, I would be complicit in their criminality, and that I would be a hypocrite pretending that I could continue marching with them. So, I have had to put down some flags.
I ran toward communities where I dreamt of finding fellowship. I ran toward people who I hoped had bigger hearts and wider visions of the world than the closed minds and fearful hearts that seemed to have surrounded me.
At these turning points, I have ventured out on my own in search of new friends and new family relationships. I have had a few major crises of disillusionment and disappointment in my life. And each time my ideals were shattered, I have been lucky enough to find refuge and solidarity with others who have experienced similar betrayals and breakdowns; yet through my new friends and new family relationships, we have found ways to recover and restore our sanity.
I will discuss this journey in further detail during my message at the church this morning, Sunday, December 31, 2023. Also, for those attending the service in person, please join me in Thurman Hall, downstairs, following the service so I may tell each of you how much I appreciated you before I leave for Mississippi on Monday, January 1, 2024.