This post kicks off our series this month on the spiritual practices of activism that are rooted in and enhance our faith lives.
Kent McKeever and I were in the same seminary class and graduated together in 2004.
He was on a rival flag football team, I think, maybe the same theology precept one semester, maybe.
But, I do still remember how deeply compassionate and pastoral his demeanor was even in class.
It’s amazing to hear bits and pieces of his journey from afar, especially as of late with the justice work that has become intertwined with his life. It’s really amazing and wonderful to start off with his reflection here.
A woman came to our legal advice clinic several months ago, facing an unlawful eviction from her home. With the help of several others, we were able to stave off the eviction, only to find ourselves defending another lawsuit a short time later — a lawsuit in which the same party is attempting another route to unfairly deprive this woman of her home and the equity she has in it. As I sat around the table this week talking to a team of lawyers and law students about the case, one of them said, “Go get this woman some justice.” And another remarked that this woman would not have received any sort of justice if I had not been there. I responded that I could not do it without them, but she made me realize something, a truth that runs deeper than what is happening on the surface of this woman’s story.
Faith is about being there. It is about showing up. Making ourselves present to others. Providing those in need with a place to go. Listening when it is hard to hear. Responding even when we don’t feel like it. Putting ourselves out there so others have a place to be loved, to belong, to seek justice, or just plain be who they are, who God created them to be, and turn their backs on the lies the world shouts and whispers about who they are.
I believe that life and love win. I trust that the moral arc of the universe does certainly bend toward justice. I count on the truth that what ought to be is far better than what actually is. And I act on this faith in something more, something better, something that leads the way to everlasting life.
“The only way to live humanly is in resistance to death.”
One of my heroes of faith and activism, William Stringfellow, so wisely proclaims the truth at the heart of activism for me. Life and love win. So why not live like it now? That’s actually the only way to truly live. And I don’t know about yall, but I want some of this life that is truly life, in all its abundance and fullness. We were not created to give in to death. We were not redeemed so that we should roll over and submit to the powers and principalities. We are not being made new so that we could keep living the way things are instead of allowing the way things ought to be define our reality. So I show up for work, whether it is as a lawyer for the poor and marginalized or as a minister with young people, because my faith needs to be present, only alive when in action.
Recently, I wore an orange prison uniform for 40 days. It was an act of resistance to death, ever-present in our systems and structures and ideologies and theologies of incarceration and punishment and self-worth-stealing stigma. It was my way to live humanly, to act on my faith, to seek the life that is truly life. I needed to understand what it was like to be despised because of how one looks. It deepened my faith in a God who created us and loves us all, even in our ugliness that we all share. It was necessary for me to experience the glares and stares void of compassion, yet full of discrimination, all because of mistakes and other choices, brokenness and fear. It opened my eyes of faith to another world, one where I saw how complicit I was, where I needed forgiveness for my silence, and a world where the hard road of solidarity led to life unimaginable. To be an active follower of Jesus, a condemned criminal, my journey led me to this place where I found a way to creatively act upon my faith in a God of love and justice. Faith and activism changes us. Maybe not the world as we want it to, but our world as we need it to.
Thus, I act because I love. I love because I am loved. I know what love is, yet I have no clue what love is. So I act, in faith, seeking justice, finding a place to be present for others in need. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaims, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
Last week, my three-year-old son decided he wanted to fill up a very large bucket with water so he could float his “ducky” in it. So, of course he grabbed the smallest cup he could find and started filling it with a little bit of water and pouring it into the large bucket. Then he enlisted me into his endeavor. Worn out at the end of a long day, I tried to make excuses, “You don’t need to do that”; “It’s going to take forever”; “Daddy’s tired. Let’s do it some other time”. You know the drill. But he kept going, with or without me, unswerving in his commitment to fill an entirely too large bucket with one small cup of water at a time.
He won me over.
And as I got up to turn on the water hose for him, I realized:
This is what justice work is like.
My son just showed me what faith in action looks like every day.
We persist. We continue. We grind away. No matter how trivial and futile it seems, every small cup of love that we seek and share is just another in the soon to be overflowing Bucket of Life that I most definitely believe in.
There is no doubt that seeking justice can be overwhelming at times, actually most of the time. It is wearisome to constantly follow our faith into direct confrontation with the beasts and dragons that stalk and slay. They may win more than we would like, but in the end, and for always, the victory is ours. With hope in justice, for life and love, we believe, we trust, we have faith. So we act. There is nothing else. And when we act, we act victoriously, now and forever, one cup at a time.
Kent McKeever is a Texas native, born and raised in Abilene, then studied at Baylor University, in Waco. After marrying his best friend and teammate they packed up and moved to Princeton, New Jersey where he attended Princeton Theological Seminary, graduating with a Masters of Divinity in 2004. He has served churches in Jackson, MS and in Longview, TX. Eventually Kent went to Vanderbilt Law School graduating in 2012. He and his family moved to Waco to start Mission Waco Legal Services a program of Mission Waco, Mission World.