I am writing on the first anniversary of Juneteenth as a U.S. federal holiday and the 157th anniversary of its celebration by Black Americans. This is a holiday that embodies the tension between what we sometimes call the already and the not-yet. There is so much to celebrate, both historically and in the present, including the brilliant, courageous creativity and persistence of Black people in this country. Yet we also know there is still far too much reason for their persistence, too many obstacles that regularly confront people of color, individually and systemically, and not enough courageous creativity and persistence from white people to help change that.
I’ve read several folks say that they plan on using the days between Juneteenth and the Fourth of July as a learning time. I was grateful to come across this documentary, “Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom,” which goes into the history of the holiday on the ground in the Galveston and Houston area, from the angle of the Black church. I’m not familiar with the group that produced it, but I heard facts and interpretations I hadn’t heard before.
I was also grateful for this image, “Our Lady of Juneteenth,” created by Bro. Mickey McGrath and posted by womanist scholar Dr. Wil Gafney. It’s the kind of complex, colorful image I love exploring and meditating on, and the little Jesus inside the body of his mother, holding the broken chains, has planted joy and hope in my heart this week.
I have been thinking about the many tensions we hold and live with, stretching us in ways that can feel unsustainable. Racism, political polarization, all the issues of the day that make it hard to talk to each other. Sometimes I allow these tensions to make me impatient or defensive; they can cause me to forget my long-term purpose. But a speaker in one Juneteenth documentary I watched this week repeated the truth that a point of tension is a place to lean in, because that’s where something new is possible.
If we believe God is in this with us, if we trust that God is already doing a new thing that we have not yet perceived, it doesn’t magically fix the issue, but it can give us what we need inside to keep going, with our values of love, mercy, hope, and respect for human dignity intact. I pray this can be part of the lesson and legacy of Juneteenth for all of us.
Grace and peace,
This is what the Lord says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise.