Written by Dan LaValla
Wednesday, 13 March 2013 00:00
"Black and White" written by David I. Arkin and Earl Robinson in 1954 became a number one hit for Three Dog Night in 1972. On February 10, 2013 one of the stanzas in this song, “A child is black, a child is white, together they grow to see the light, to see the light,” became real to me during a worship service. Our church, First Baptist Church of Lansdale, PA, joined our sister church, Zion Baptist Church of Ambler, PA, for a combined worship service. Although our congregation is multiracial, it is predominantly Anglo (as am I) and our worship style follows Anglo traditions; Zion Baptist is a predominantly African-American congregation and follows African-American worship traditions. In honor of Black History month, during the service, between the songs of worship and the reading of scripture/sermon, a young African-American man of Zion Baptist (probably still in high school) read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream…” speech.
I have been quite familiar with this speech for most of my life, having read it in high school (many years ago) and on several occasions, have heard excerpts of it on the radio and seen video clips of MLK, Jr.’s actual delivery of the speech. It is undeniably one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history. The words not only reflect the genius of MLK, Jr., but strike at the heart of the Constitution and the rights, freedom, and justice it is meant to grant and protect for all people in the United States. I hate to admit that prior to February 10thI listened to and read “I Have a Dream…” primarily as academic exercises and solely from an intellectual perspective.
However, listening to this young man deliver the speech on February 10thand being in the midst of my African-American brothers and sisters in the Lord brought new meaning to the words. Also, hearing the speech in the midst of a worship service made me realize it is more than a political statement and for American Christians, it has as much to do with Biblical principles as it does political. In light of Galatians 3, especially verses 26-28, all believers are one in Christ. In God’s eyes there are no earthly distinctions that override this oneness in Christ. This oneness in God’s eyes disregards differences in our race, ethnicity, gender, or societal status. So too are the inalienable rights of citizenship in the U.S. granted by the Constitution irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, or societal status.
Finally, I would like to point out one more revelation I experienced that night. Back in November, I found myself with the medical diagnosis of a “significant herniated disc” in my lower back. For the first time in my life I am living with chronic, continuous pain. Thankfully, my long-term prognosis is good, but living with constant pain for months impacts your emotional, cognitive, and spiritual perspectives. So as I sat there on February 10th, I sensed God’s spirit communicating through the pain so that the words of “I have a Dream…” did not only convey the hope and progress of our society that I usually heard, but also the sorrows of our present reality. The sorrows associated with how alienated people are from one another because of race, ethnicity, gender, and other distinctions. In order for us to follow more effectively Christ’s top two commands, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27), it would behoove each of us to make an effort to not only respect one another’s differences in the Lord, but to also make a whole-hearted effort to embrace and experience our differences so that we can learn how to actually demonstrate Christ’s love to one another in our daily actions!
Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association; he serves on the Ministry Board and chairs the Missions Committee of First Baptist Church of Lansdale. He is very active in his community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla.