Thyatira & MLK Day

This is (a fairly literal translation of) the rest of what Jesus has to say to the church in Thyatira ― continuing from last week’s post about Jezebel. Revelation 2:24-29 reads:

(24) I say to y’all, to the rest of the ones in Thyatira, as many as do not have this teaching, whoever did not know the deep things of the satan, as they say: I throw no other burden on y’all, (25) except that what y’all have, y’all grasp, until whenever I will have come. (26) And the one who conquers and the one who keeps my works until (the) end, I will give to him/her power over the nations, (27) and he/she will shepherd them with an iron staff, as the potter’s vessel is broken to pieces, (28) as I also have received from my father, and I will give him/her the morning star. (29) The one who has ears, let him/her hear what the spirit says to the churches.

There’s a lot going on here, but I’m interested in the part where Jesus says, I throw no other burden on y’all, except that what y’all have, y’all grasp, until whenever I will have come (v. 24-5). Or, as the NIV puts it, I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come. Jesus says, I don’t want to add any more weight to the things you’re already carrying. I just want you to remember and hold onto the things you already have. I want you to remember and keep doing the things you already know to do.

I’m thinking about these words, today, in relation to our national holiday in recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Toward the end of last week, my awesome pastor Lina Thompson wrote this on Facebook in anticipation of today: “Bracing myself for the barrage of MLK Jr. quotes that are sure to fill our feeds on Monday. I’d rather white folks embody his words.”

Then, earlier today, I saw a Facebook post from a Fuller classmate (and now fellow M.Div. grad!), September Penn. It was this quote from Dr. King: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” ― along with this reflection from September: “Folks have indeed been silent. Some will probably share an obligatory post today as their good deed in honoring Dr. King. Instead of doing so, try actually reading his words and learning from his life. The very man that we celebrate today was hated by much of society while he lived. Just saying.”

What I hear both Lina and September saying is that the anti-racist work that is needed goes much deeper than giving a social media shout-out to Dr. King on MLK Day once a year. Honoring Dr. King’s life and work and prophetic brilliance has to go beyond taking some of his more-palatable-to-white-people quotes and posting them on Facebook. 

Racial equality is not going to happen just because white people learn to say some of the right things. Especially just once a year, when it’s popular and convenient to do so. 

What I hear Lina and September saying is that there is so much more work to be done, and it’s year-round, daily work. We need to learn how to embody Dr. King’s radical vision of equality in our whole lives. Even, and especially, when it is ― as it was in Dr. King’s day, and often is now ― very unpopular and very inconvenient.

Sometimes I feel like, when it comes to things like racism and racial justice, we white people love to learn. Or maybe, more precisely, we like to feel like we know things. And we like other people to know that we know things.

Some of this isn’t necessarily bad. When it comes to the structurally racist history and present-day reality of the U.S., most of us white people have plenty to learn. It’s important for us to read and think, to seek out books and articles and podcasts by people of color, to shut up and listen and try to better understand experiences we haven’t had.

At the same time, what good is knowing lots of things, if we’re not living them out? I’m reminded of what James wrote: it’s like looking into a mirror and then going away and immediately forgetting what we look like (James 1:22-25). 

The point of learning more about racism is not to be able to prove that we know things, that we’re among the “good” white people (unlike those ignorant, racist white people over there), or that we’re woke. 

The point is to embody more fully a recognition of the humanity of all people and the kinship that we share. The point is to learn to live in ways that are more just, that better honor the dignity of our siblings of color. The point is to move, together, toward building communities of equals ― as Dr. King would say, beloved communities.

Maybe this MLK Day ― and, more importantly, in the days and months and years to come ― we can learn to honor Dr. King by holding onto the things we already know. There is so much to learn, but there are also plenty of basic things we already know, about what the world is like now, and what a more just world could look like in the future. 

Maybe we don’t need the additional weight and burden of always trying to know more ― and appear less racist ― than other white people. Maybe we just need to, as Jesus told the church in Thyatira, grasp onto what we have. Live out what we do know. Embody, as Lina wrote, Dr. King’s words. Learn, as September wrote, from Dr. King’s life.

I’m not sure what to think of the deep things of satan (v. 24), or the iron staff and the broken pottery  (v. 27), or the morning star (v. 28) ― but I think it’s enough, today, to grasp onto what I do know, and to seek to live it out more fully.

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