Singing For Our Lives

The season of Lent portrays the dark night of the soul as a basic element in religious or spiritual experience. Psalm 51 says: "A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." A basic element is that in Lent we are invited to remember that we are dust, and to dust shall we return. In writing these meditations I invoke the spirit of my book "Are You Running with Me, Jesus?" And as I approach my 90th birthday in June, I invite you to join me in a bit of Lenten meditating.

Jesus' washing of the disciples' feet is a startling and profound example for Christians showing us how to serve other people's needs and work for peace and justice in the world. Clearly, a decision must be made to move courageously into the mainstream of God's world.

I ran headlong into such a choice in Los Angeles in June, 1990. The County Board of Supervisors met on Tuesdays in their downtown building. They had not provided needed funds and services to deal with AIDS. This, despite the fact that countless lives were threatened, especially in the African American and Latino communities.

The Los Angeles Coalition for Compassion asked clergy to engage in a prayerful "kneel-in" act of civil obedience at a Supervisors meeting. This would pinpoint the need and bring it forcefully to the attention of authorities. Dozens of clergy representing all denominations were asked to take part. Five did.

I had participated in civil disobedience in both the civil rights and peace movements. I never "wanted" to take such a risk. It wasn't a pleasant experience to subject one's self to the rather overwhelming scrutiny of the combined media, or once again confront the emotional experience of revisiting a jail cell. Yet the role models of Gandhi and King were compelling. So was the need of such a public witness.

On the morning of June 12, seven people who were prepared for arrest (including the five clergy) entered a public meeting in the Supervisors Building. Following the invocation and pledge of allegiance, we moved forward in the chamber and read a prayer. It said, in part: "We pray that the Supervisors may this day be moved to hear the cries of 112,000 persons with HIV disease in thiis community, whose lives are in their hands." When another Supervisor exclaimed, "This demonstration must cease," Supervisor Kenneth Hahn replied: "This isn't a demonstration. It is a prayer."

Then, we knelt and sang "Singing for Our Lives." One by one, we were placed under arrest and taken to jail. An 11-hour incarceration followed. I was chained to a bench while also handcuffed to another prisoner. The hours grew longer and longer. I meditated. I prayed. I asked for help because I felt helpless. I received help, a tremendous peace, a centering and an awareness I was secure in God's control. Problems are not insurmountable but solvable. We can take a lead from AA and approach "the Big Picture" a step at a time. We can give up the illusion of control and ask God to enable us. To do what? To serve the cause of peace and justice in the world.

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