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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Dawn Must Come | May 15, 2021 Message from Dr. Blake

Dear Fellowship Family,

How good it is to greet you this day! I am so thankful for you and your companionship during these anxious and hopeful times. The song that began this message, The Age of Aquarius, is precious to me. It aired on a regular basis when I arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1968 to attend Pacific School of Religion. It was at Glide Church where I served as an intern under the mentorship of Rev. Cecil Williams that I was inspired by both this remarkable composition of music and its uplifting lyrics. Those of us gathered there were convinced that a new day, new relationships, new realities were dawning. A new world was in the process of being born. We were empowered to play a great role in giving it birth; and did not mind being called “peaceniks.” It is so good to return to that Age during the present and reclaim a radically compassionate new day and future.

Dr. Kathryn Benton greatly stimulated my mind with her message last week. The words “when dawn comes” kept visiting me, engaging me, challenging me, clinging to me. As a mulled over why this was so, it finally “dawned” on me that that idea was aiding in unearthing concepts that I had been trying to excavate. One such concept is the idea that what is happening within us and the broader social collectivity holds the possibility of a new beginning in interpersonal, communal, and international relationships despite the contradictions of life.

My mind journeyed to the writings of Dr. W.E.B. DuBois. The chapter “The Passing of the First-Born” in his classic book, The Souls of Black Folks, never fails to bring me to the verge of tears. It too talks about dawn. “Surely there shall yet dawn some mighty morning to lift the Veil and set the prisoner free. Not for me, -- I shall die in my bonds, but for fresh young souls who have not known the night and waken to the morning; a morning when men ask of the workman, not “Is he white?” but “Can he work?” When men ask artists, not “Are they black” but “Do they know?” Some morning this may be, long, long years to come.” DuBois helps me in understanding the long view that must be set in process now.

There has been a sigh of relief from the Machiavellian techniques and nausea of the past national administration. The dawn, though, has not come. The nation’s expressed ideals are consistently rendered null and void by the nation’s practices. The American dream is the American nightmare for masses of people. As I stated in a previous message, the Biden administration has been bold in comparison with past administrations in “projecting” programs to alleviate some of the misery that characterizes the lives of far too many of God’s people. Yet, the programs are not sufficient, the vision not encompassing enough. There is still the need to share more generously resources with nations in dire need of assistance. Morning bids to come; yet, has not arrived.

I am pained by the loss of Palestinian and Israeli lives during the past several days. The root cause is the illegal Israeli occupation and control over Palestinian land and life, Israeli apartheid. In East Jerusalem, those protesting evictions from Palestinian homes have been brutally attacked with state violence during the sacred month of Ramadan. Palestinians defending themselves are called militants while the state sponsor terrorists are called soldiers. How does a people have a sense of self, security, sanity when their homes are destroyed, bombed, bulldozed? How do you view life when your mosque is assaulted while you are worshipping in the mosque?

There is no hiding place for Palestinians. One of the most beautiful expressions of Ramadan is that at its conclusion, Muslims, if able, give financial help to those less fortunate, the needy, poor. It is difficult to imagine anyone more needy of our love and support than Palestinians.

According to Truthout: “The Biden administration … blocked an otherwise unanimous UN Security Council effort to end the increasing violence in Palestine and Israel. All 14 other members were ready to adopt the statement but Biden, like Trump, insists on making the U.S. an international outlier. Meanwhile Secretary of State Antony Blinken furthered the U.S.’s outlier reputation by pledging loyalty to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” The assault on the Palestinian people and their homes must stop. Israeli apartheid must end.

Dr. Benton explained that Muslims around the world celebrate Laylatul Qadr: The Night of power that many consider the “Muslim new year.” Thank you so much Dr. Benton for helping me to see power, prayer, and peace together revealing the dawn.

When home is destroyed, dislocation results, not only physical dislocation but also that of the spirit. Home is central to identity, to having a core, and a place to land. Indeed, Dr. Howard Thurman states: “A man [person] must be at home somewhere in order to be a home everywhere.”

bell hooks writes:

How I envied Dorothy her journey in The Wizard of Oz, that she could travel to her worst fears and nightmares only to find at the end that ‘there is no place like home.’ Living in childhood without a sense of home, I found a place of sanctuary in ‘theorizing,’ in making sense out of what was happening. I found a place where I could imagine possible futures, a place where life could be lived differently. This ‘lived’ experience of critical thinking, of reflection and analysis, became a place where I worked at explaining the hurt and making it go away. Fundamentally, I learned from this experience that theory could be a healing place.

Where are we in all of this? What part do we play? How do we ready ourselves for the steps we must take, the song we must sing, the prayer we must pray? How and when do we awaken to the possibility and need for dawn, a new morning and beginning, a fresh start, not merely for ourselves but for the peoples and nations of the world. When and where do we enter the dawn, our home? How do we at least arrive at the threshold?

It seems to me this need for dawn in his life and the life of his people led the Palestinian Jew, Jesus, to be baptized and to the wilderness where he fasted, just as Muslims do. The temptations sought to scatter the dawn, to hide it in the night, to smother the opportunities. They sought to bind Jesus to the commonplace, the norm, the traditional way of living that was fueled by fear and inauthenticity.

We do not know what happened between the time when Jesus was a boy in the temple, supposedly at the age of 12, and his coming to John to be baptized at the age of 30 approximately. These are called the 18 hidden years of Jesus. There is much speculation about where he was, what he was doing during this time. Some speculate that he spent significant time in Egypt, studying the mystery religions. There is much in the portrayal of Jesus in the Gospel of John that could support such an argument. We know that his family had spent some time in Egypt. They fled there when Joseph, the father of Jesus, was warned that Herod sought to kill the infant, Jesus. We also know that the great leader of the Hebrew people, Moses, grew up in Egypt. Much of the Ten Commandments reflects prior understanding etched in Egyptian religions.

After his baptism Jesus heard God affirming him, calling him God’s beloved son and that God was pleased with who/what he had become. Why was God pleased? At this point in the life of Jesus, there had been no ministry. Was God pleased with Jesus’ preparation, of which we still are not aware, but of which Jesus was aware. Was it that Jesus dared to leave home, the familiar, not knowing what lay ahead, but feeling that he had to go there to find home? He had to process all that leaving home meant. Dr. Howard Thurman shares a remarkable poem by Clive Sansom that depicts Jesus’ brothers being totally disgusted with Jesus’ decision to leave home. The brothers considered him reckless, insensitive, forgoing his familial responsibilities as the first born to his mother and his siblings and thereby shaming them. When Jesus arrives at the scene of baptism, he arrives at the conscious dawning of his new day, an uncharted ministry, but one he must pursue.

Temptations vied for his loyalty: bread, the power to feed his own hunger, to be self-sufficient; jumping from the pinnacle of the temple, his power over creation for his own ego, the power to upend the relationships built into creation; the kingdoms of this world, the power to rule others. I am grateful that in his fasting he was able to defeat individualism for community. He was able to see his purpose in life including disrupting the “will” of people to quarantine themselves according to Thurman. Living under Roman occupation, his life was about bringing life to others and bringing it with and in abundance.

Fasting was a way of sweeping away the contradictions to see more clearly and to dedicate more completely his life to the will and life of God, the one who brings the dawn. When dawn comes, we discover things we did not see in the night. We become aware of new opportunities and new ways of being in the world as well as new responsibilities. So, it is with each of us. Each day is a new day, a new dawning with unlimited possibilities of knowing ourselves and being ourselves in community with life in all its manifestations.

It practical terms today, this means we must dedicate ourselves to a new dawn for Palestinians by raising our voices against the devastation. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Dr. King reminds us. The temptations for us to follow the commonplace, what is traditional, what is safe must be abandoned. The fear of being called anti-Semitic or a self-hating Jew must not deter us from taking a stand.

By leaving home, Jesus found the dawning of a new life, home. This was not imaginary as it was with Dorothy, but real and amidst often oppressive circumstances. All of us must leave home to find home. Leave that which is commonplace, familiar, static, for the great mystery, for the kin-dom to come, forgiving ourselves of our trespasses against the dawn, and becoming ourselves a new dawning.

Koolulam | One Day – Matisyaha | Haifa | February 14, 2018

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