After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, economic, social, and racial divisions threatened to tear Memphis apart. A diverse group of community and faith leaders came together and MIFA was created to confront the issues of poverty, hunger, and social division through service.
2020 brought another crisis to Memphis. In a series of blogs, some of our current-day faith leaders have taken time to express their visions and hopes on healing and coming out of the pandemic better and stronger as a community.
My four-year-old daughter has an incredible love for animated movies. Even at such a young age, she gets drawn in by the plots, characters, and the yearning for the conclusion where everything turns out to be okay in the end. About six months ago, she became fixated on villains, and I was frequently asked, “Mommy, are those the bad guys? They aren’t being nice.” As a minister mom who has sought to be very careful with my words, I responded with, “No. They aren’t bad people. They just haven’t learned the lessons yet.”
I have used this language to teach my toddlers that those who hurt others, with words and with violence, and those who see others as threats to be defeated, are not inherently flawed or evil. Rather, we all are given opportunities to learn over time that to be kind, loving, and just is the way we were meant to be. We all learn those lessons, sometimes over and over again, at different times in our lives.
The past year and a half have been marked by a deep divide – physical, social, emotional, and spiritual. While isolated inside our homes we have experienced separation from our neighbors, friends and families, and have spent a great amount of time focused on our differences – especially the colors of our skin and the colors of our political allegiances. We have longed for community while at the same time being inundated with messages of “us” and “them” attempting to deepen our suspicions of one another and drive wedges in between relationships. Like the characters in an animated movie, we have been encouraged to choose allegiances, label one another, and believe that some of us are “good” and others are “bad.”
As we emerge from this time of separation, we feel the sacredness of socialization wash over us. We are reminded of that old adage that connects us as children of God, “On all days and in all ways, there is more of what unites us than divides us.” May we reflect on the shared pains of separateness and division that we have felt over the past year and a half and commit to finding new ways of seeing our sacred bonds as God’s creation. May we seek to believe in the Divine Goodness of that creation, and see the Imago Dei, the Image of God, when we encounter one other. As we eagerly greet our friends and family face-to-face, may we also seek out those we have considered “other,” and open our ears and hearts that we may better understand.
There are no bad people. May God guide us toward learning the lessons that make us one Beloved Community. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Lillian H. Lammers
Associate Pastor at First Congregational Church of Memphis
Rev. Dr. Lillian Hallstrand Lammers is a native of the Chicagoland area, and moved to the Bluff City in the fall of 2018. She was ordained in the UCC in 2010, as she was serving as a professional chaplain at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She most recently served at her alma mater, Vanderbilt Divinity School, as the Director of Stewardship and Vocational Planning. She earned her Doctor of Ministry Degree in 2017, and her doctoral project focused on vocational discernment, a topic that she believes resurfaces again and again throughout our lifetimes. Her theological interests include pastoral care, reconciliation, racial justice and inclusion, and encouraging individuals to use their theological imaginations to better connect with God. Pastor Lillian is involved in the wider-UCC, serving on committees, and teaching the History and Polity class to those seeking ordination.