Earlier this week a statue of Mrs. Rosa Parks was unveiled in Statuary Hall in Washington D. C., making her the first black woman to be honored with a life-size statue in the Capitol. The artist captures her image as she might have appeared on December 1, 1955; dressed in her heavy wool coat, clutching her purse; quiet, determined and defiant as she remained in her seat on that bus in Montgomery, Alabama, looking out the window; waiting for the police to come and arrest her,… or worse.
Buses and trains were frequently the flashpoint for exposing and opposing the racism and the segregation imposed by the Jim Crow laws. Once, Rosa Parks was forced to walk five miles to her home, in the pouring rain. She had got on a bus through the front door and was ordered by the driver to go in the back. While she was complying with his order, she dropped her purse and as she bent to retrieve it, she half-sat in one of the seats reserved for whites.
Mrs. Parks got off the bus and was making her way to the back door when the driver drove away, leaving her standing on the side of the road, …in the rain, …after she had already paid the fare. I sure hope he found Jesus before he died! Besides, there is now a statue of her in the Capitol building …and, to use a figure of speech, ‘nobody but his momma remembers his name’, soooooooo…
Just four days before that fateful December day, 14 year-old Emmett Till had been kidnapped, beaten beyond recognition, and murdered, allegedly because he flirted with a white woman. His murder had shaken the civil rights community (made up both black and white people) to its core, so by the time that bus driver ordered Rosa Parks to get out of her seat on the crowded bus just so a white man could sit in it, she was just about sick and tired of this evil that was poisoning the nation, and ready to put her life on the line to “do what was right and not give in to fear.” (I Peter 3:6)
“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in. I knew someone had to take the first step and I made up my mind not to move. Our mistreatment was just not right, and I was tired of it.” Rosa Parks. See more at: http://rosaparksfacts.com
Rosa Parks drew her line in the sand at racism and injustice; which this week had me wondering where would I draw my line? Where is my seat on the bus? Where would I be willing to take a final stand …or a seat; to say, “I will not move”? Maybe it’s because I am a planner at heart; most comfortable when there is at least an outline of a plan or strategy, with some room for flexibility and spontaneity. Or maybe it’s because the Bible insists on telling us the whole truth, so Jesus gave us this little tidbit:
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you…” John 15:18-20
Clearly He did not take Carnegie’s course on “How To Win Friends and Influence People”! But He does not lie either, and to this day there are numerous places in our world where people are beaten, tortured, imprisoned; lose their possessions, friends, family and sometimes their very life only because they choose to believe in, and follow Jesus Christ.
Many believe that kind of thing could never happen here in our ‘tolerant’ and ‘democratic’ society. Certainly not with our amazing, iron-clad Constitution, our Bill of Rights, our Declaration of Independence and the truths we hold to be self-evident, “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, …”
Wait a minute, …endowed by which Creator? The One our children are not allowed to learn about in public schools? Or the One whose existence and desire for relationship with us so many do not even recognize or acknowledge? Or, the One who in perfect love and wisdom tells us something is wrong, (for our own good, by the way), and we insist on calling it right… because we are way smarter, and so much more tolerant, enlightened, and evolved than Him? That Creator?
Truth be told, these days I am not feeling all that confident that the persecution Jesus prophesied could never happen here, in my lifetime. Hence my reflection on Mrs. Parks’ conviction, courage and strength of character, and a desire to decide ahead of time exactly where is my line in the sand; my seat on the bus?
For three Hebrew boys, Hananiah (God has favored), Azariah (God has helped), and Mishael (who is as God), whom we know better as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, their seat on the bus was actually on wide open plain, before a huge statue, and a fiery furnace constructed for the sole purpose of destroying all who refused to bow to the image of a man who desired to be worshipped as god. Solomon was right (in Ecclesiastes 1:9-10), there really is nothing new under the sun, is there?
This was not their first rodeo either. When they arrived in Babylon as prisoners, God had given them, and their friend Daniel (God is my judge), favor with the king’s servant, and some ‘mad’ skills in diplomacy, because they would not compromise God’s laws about what food they could eat and point blank refused to eat the king’s food. Now this worshipping-an-idol-in-the-desert thing was yet another direct challenge to their commitment to obey God’s law:
“You shall have no other gods before Me, …you shall not bow down to them nor serve them…” Exodus 20:2-6
When Nebuchadnezzar threatened to have them thrown in the furnace because they refused to bow, these boys did not waver.
“…we have no need to answer you I this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, or will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18
Not bad for a speech right off the top of your head! Maybe because it came from hearts that already knew where they had drawn their line in the sand; taken their seat on the bus. They knew they could not; would not be moved. Just thinking; maybe I should write a speech from my heart and have it ready…you know… just in case.
“Rosa Parks should have just complied with the bus driver’s request and given up her seat on the bus,” says no one, ever! On the contrary, the President reminded those assembled for the unveiling:
“In a single moment, with the simplest of gestures, she helped change America and change the world.” New York Times
Things turned out well for Mrs. Rosa Parks…hey, not too many people end up with life-size statues of them in the nation’s Capitol building. Because of her, and countless other civil rights stalwarts of all races, neither I nor my half-black children, (who ironically have never taken public transportation), would ever have to sit in the back, or give up our seat on a bus or train unless we desire to do so; and we get assigned seats on planes regardless of our skin color. And, consider, the current President of these United States is an African-American; something which Mrs. Parks could not have foreseen in her wildest dreams or expectations when she quietly refused to move from her seat on that bus.
However, the Bible, Jesus Freaks Volumes I and II, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and so many other books, are full of the stories of people who were persecuted and killed because they refused to back down from doing what was right. There is never any guarantee that taking a stand, or a seat, and refusing to move will end in accolades, statues, or celebrations. Whatever stand we take, or seat we sit in, it had better be worth it, in and of itself, no matter what the outcome here on earth.
So, here’s the thing, I am very clear about my line in the sand; my seat on the bus. I will not oppose the God of the Bible…period! I will love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and love my neighbor as myself, but I will not stand in agreement with, or stand in support of anyone or anything that is in defiant, rebellious, opposition to God.
No, you will not find me screaming at people, waving offensive signs, or plotting to overthrow anything because truly loving God and loving others completely fills up my plate and keeps me busy enough; if I am doing it right! I’m no Braveheart; not even close. I’m just a sinner like everybody else born in this world; saved by the grace of God, through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, finding my seat on the bus and …just living the thing.