We Must Let the Light Shine

Note: Since starting seminary at Pacific School of Religion in 2015, I have written hundreds of pages for classes designed to guide us through sacred texts–both ancient and modern, theology, social transformation, and praxis. In the process and through interactions with fellow students, professors, and communities I am a part of, I have gained insights, increased my understanding of the world and the systems therein, and have started hearing my own voice emerge. I have kept the majority of my synthesis of these texts (written and living), the new knowledge I have gained, and theologies I am learning and developing hidden away on my computer. But I have decided it is time to start sharing some of my contemplations, struggles, and yes–my voice–more purposefully, if for no other reason than to increase engagement with others on what I am learning.

The following is a paper, informed by the subject of my previous blog post, written April 28, 2017 for Transformational Leadership, taught by Rev. Dorsey Blake.

This little light of mine
I’m gonna’ let it shine
Oh, this little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.[1]

I am going to stand here and I am going to point this camera at you. And in case you are wondering, I am not going to leave. I am not going to let you harass this young man because you think have all the power and he has none. I am not going to let you back him into the farthest, darkest corner of this train station and turn your backs to the people you say you are down here to protect because you think you can get away with your intimidation and bullying. Yes—you see me, don’t you? I am not being secretive about what I am doing. I know you can see me and I am not intimidated by your angry looks in my direction. I am not going to let you harm or kill this young man like your colleagues killed Oscar Grant in a setting a lot like this one a few years ago.

Right here in the BART station,
I’m gonna’ let it shine…

Young man, I see you. I am going to stand here with you. I am not going to leave you. I can hear the fear in your voice and also the strength and bravery you are trying to muster—even as their voices get louder and their threats angrier. The fact that you may have avoided paying your fare for the train has absolutely nothing to do with the value of your life. I am here with you. I am a witness that your life matters. I know you are afraid. I am not going anywhere, I promise. 

No matter what the police may do,
I’m gonna let it shine

Look, just now, there are three of us. We are standing right here, bearing witness to this moment in your life, to this moment of the lives of the two armed men standing before you. We see you and we believe your life matters. And we see the officers and our witness exists to hold them accountable to their oath of honor to serve and protect—not to harm. We are here: watching, waiting, and willing to act.

Until black and brown lives matter,
I’m gonna let it shine.

My late departure for the Good Friday action at the Alameda County Courthouse had a divine purpose. I thought I was just being sluggish, but I was being divinely delayed so that I would be placed at exactly that place in exactly that moment to be a witness. The God of Trayvon and Emmett and Sandra, in the spirit of Fannie Lou Hamer had called out, “is there anyone human enough to see this young man as a human being instead of an animal?”[2] In that moment, I had to go beyond t-shirts, buttons, platitudes, and convenient solidarity and shine light in a setting wherein yet another Black life was at the hands of those given authority by the Empire.

MFDP delegates challenge Miss. Democrats at Democratic Convention, 1964“The trouble is, you’re afraid to do what you know is right.”[3] Fannie Lou Hamer’s words, how they must have scalded the constitution of their target, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey! And how these words continue to indict politicians and people of faith today! Doing what is right, shining light into dark spaces—these are not always convenient tasks nor do they come without potential consequence. But they are necessary if those who believe in freedom are to move beyond ideals and into embodied actions that make a difference in people’s lives right now. We have ample teachings available to us—sacred texts (See Jesus purpose stated in Luke 4!) and the texts of the lived experiences of people like Hamer and all those whose witness provided light in the Summer of Freedom and every bold and brave action before and since—that inform us not only what is right but convict us of the necessity of going beyond the metaphor of light to the actual flipping the switch, carrying the torch, lighting the match.

We who believe in freedom must let our lights shine—individually and collectively, actively and purposefully, willing to risk it all for the sake of the “New Kingdom”[4] Jesus died to establish and longed for by generations of those longing for sanctuary within it. We who believe in freedom must risk reputation, possessions, even our very bodies toward the work of liberation and let our lights shine in the manner of the Prophet Fannie Lou Hamer: “We will come back year after year until we are allowed our rights as citizens….It ain’t over yet. We’re coming back here, again, and again and again.”[5]

That’s right. Lower your voice, control yourself. See this young man as a human being, not an animal. He didn’t pay his fare but he is a creation of God just like you are, just like your own white teenage son is.
There, there: we got you. No one is going to kill you or harm you today, not while we are here. We see you. We who believe in freedom stand with you.

I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.


[1] Harry Dixon Loes, This Little Light of Mine, circa 1920.

[2] A.J. Raboteau, American Prophets, 182.

[3] Raboteau, 183.

[4] Raboteau, 182.

[5] Raboteau, 185.

There will be no crucifixions in the BART today.

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