Dear Berea College Community,
At the beginning of this New Year and new decade (ok, I know there is some debate about that!), the staff at the Campus Christian Center would like to try something new. We are starting a monthly blog! Each month, one of our College Chaplains will share what we are thinking. We hope you will find it helpful, perhaps even inspirational. And, we would like your feedback.
I have to admit, this is my first foray into blogging so I enter with both excitement and trepidation! But here are a few things I have been thinking about as we enter 2020.
I’m worried….about climate change, mass incarceration, the threat of war, the treatment of immigrants and what that says about the condition of the soul of our county. I am concerned about the instability of our political situation, the destruction of our coral reefs and sea animals, what will happen in the election no matter who wins, and I’m worried about all of us who find it easy to fall into despair at the enormity of it all. I find myself looking around for a prophet. Someone who will come up with a clear plan and tell me what to do.
Traditional, stereotypical prophets, usually do have a clear plan but often it is a plan that most of us do not want to follow. I don’t think John and Matilda Fee and the other founders of Berea College saw themselves as prophets. Well, maybe they did, but I think they were just determined to act on what they believed, to their very core, to be right. And yet, it was in the very living out of the call to promote justice and equality that they became what we recognize now as prophets.
In 1855, John and Matilda Fee and a few friends decided to carve out a home and a school on this ridge. They had a dream—a dream that black students and white students could work, learn, and live together. They dreamed that women could study the same subjects and learn in the same classroom with men. They dreamed of a school where students with few financial resources could receive a quality education. That little band of teachers dedicated themselves to creating a community where the equality of all humans, the value of all labor, and the belief in love over hate would become a lived reality.
It was a crazy dream! It had never been done before. They knew they had to blaze the trail. They knew that dreams only come true by hard work. They had a commitment to work within the difficult realities of poverty and racism, yet at the same time, they set their eyes on a world as it should be—a world where all have access to education and all are provided the tools they need to succeed. What a bold, audacious dream!
They believed in a future, a world, which so many others simply could not fathom. And the dream was so real to them that they simply started living as if the dream were real. And in the living of it, the dream was given flesh and bones; brick and mortar.
Were they perfect? No. Did they make mistakes? Certainly. They were living in a world where this thing had never been done before. There were no guidebooks, no instruction manuals. And yet, they didn’t let that stop them. They moved forward, plowing a field that had never been plowed, holding on to the reins of the belief that God had created all people equal.
They could have given up, moved back North to an easier life. They could have turned their back on their faith, wanting nothing to do with a religion where many of its followers supported slavery and condoned treating people less than human. And yet, they stuck with it. Maybe, just maybe, that is the secret of being a prophet—acknowledging the current harsh realities, seeing the world as it should be, and acting with tenacity and perseverance.
Prophets may not be the people you love to have at your dinner party or sitting around the boardroom table. It’s as if they have x-ray vision and can see to the core of the soul of humanity—and they call us out for the pain we inflict on each other. We sometimes put prophets on a pedestal and think they walk on water—but that is usually after they are dead! The live ones can get on our last nerve and push all our buttons. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, however, that the best and most effective prophets are able to deliver their hard and challenging message from a foundational core of love. It is a hard balance to strike…to be angry about the current reality, speak hard truth to people who don’t want to hear, and to do it from a place of love and hope.
Are prophets extraordinary human beings? Part of me wishes that were so, because then I would have an excuse to wait around until that person shows up. But I’m afraid the truth of the matter is that prophets are just ordinary folks like you and me. Prophets are usually ordinary humans with an extraordinary ability and willingness to see the world as it is, but live into the world as it should be. Prophets are regular folks who do extraordinary things. And I see it here every day–ordinary staff and faculty prophets, doing extraordinary things. So this is our challenge—to see the harshness of our current realities, speak truth in love, and keep on doing it—every day. Never doubt that what you do here matters. What you do here, whatever that is, makes a difference. So, am I still worried? Yes. But I have hope—lots of it. Much of my hope lies in us and in what we do right here and in our community. As messy as it can sometimes be, we continue to be dedicated to the task of showing the world what impartial love looks like. Are we perfect? No. Do we make mistakes? Yes. But we have a vision of the way the world should be and we are trying to live into that dream.
You don’t have to build a college or lead a movement to be a prophet. You just have to have a dream, a vision, of the way things should be and live into it…all the while, holding on to the age-old wisdom from most religious traditions…to love your enemy, do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. Thank you, my prophets, for your commitment to this journey.
You have the light of God in you. So wherever you go and whatever you do, may the Light of truth, and love, and hope shine through you, for all the world to see.