When I entered college way back in the turbulent sixties, I was a classic prep school kid, expected to join a sorority that I did and eventually marry well. It was the end of an era, the WASP in America. I had good manners, big hair and lots of make-up. While I was giving serious consideration to becoming the first woman ambassador to Spain, a country I had fallen madly in love with. I had not yet become the feminist, career-oriented woman I was to later embrace.
Then, the earth shifted, and with it, a whole series of changes swept over my generation. The war in Vietnam became a flashpoint for my friends and me. Our friends were being drafted and killed for reasons we simply could not understand and, worse, in a country few of us could find on a map. This was also the decade of Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and assassinations. In short order, society and things like marrying well were replaced with cries for equality and justice. For me, it was a time of great promise and excitement. It was also a time of estrangement from my father, a WW II vet and Republican.
In those days, we saw ourselves as seekers of truth and change. Many of us learned the guitar to play Bob Dylan's The Times They are a Chaining. And, embarrassing to admit, we said things like, "that's heavy dude," or the always popular "far out." We challenged everything, and from those challenges came a new generation that some may believe changed America for the worst. I don't think so. Women are now equal in most professions if pay scales still need some corrections. While still a struggle for civil rights, we took giant steps in the late sixties. This somewhat rambling introduction leads me to the other good thing we accomplished. We could get the church to break away from being known as a group of stoggy, perfectly turned out faithful to become leaders in all the movements. For me, seeing my church as relevant began with discovering Malcolm Boyd.
In 1965, Malcolm Boyd, an Episcopal priest, published Are you Running with me, Jesus? I, like many, was searching for answers to why our society did the things it did. Like, discrimination against women, people of color, and homosexuals. I had always been a member of the Episcopal Church. Still, I had not turned to the church for answers. Like many of my contemporaries, I did not think I would find the church relevant. The prayer book was only for services, and I had memorized the liturgy since I was a girl, and I did not think about it. Instead, I just rattled off the words on the rare occasion I was actually in church. So, even though I was not looking to my church for guidance when guidance was sorely needed, I did wish for it to be different. And then I heard about Are You Running With Me, Jesus?
This excellent short book of relevant prayers was always nearby for the next few years. In a time of the young peoples' upraising, it seemed that there was an Episcopal priest who was thinking like me. The prayers were for things you never saw in The Book of Common Prayer. There are prayers for the poor, the earth, and racial and sexual freedoms. The relevance of these 90 or so gems brought me great satisfaction when I first discovered the book. Even the image of Jesus running with me gave me peace that centered me during many protests. As the moratoriums to end the Vietnam war were sometimes accompanied by tear gas, I could run to shelter, knowing Jesus was running with me.
Then there was the famous march on Washington. One of my most treasured moments was hearing Dr. King take about his dreams. Boyd's prayer on racial freedom captured so much of what we felt then and what I think many of us think now. The title was perfect "Saints Aren't Just in Stain Glass Windows, are they Jesus?" Those privileged to participate in voter registration drives in the South or lay down in front of bulldozers on all-white construction sights needed that prayer. We could relate to the internal debate and discussion with Jesus that comes with any significant changes.
Recently, I was overcome with a deep sadness about the world. The war in Ukraine was unbearable to watch, and the world's leaders seemed to only provide qualified help. Even though I am well-versed in international relations, I kept yelling, "someone do something." I understand the terrible risks of a nuclear war with a maniac in Moscow, but that doesn't comfort me. Like everyone I know, I am tired of the long isolation brought on by COVID. I am beyond frustrated with the lack of truth spinning around our news cycles concerning things like vaccination. Nothing troubles me more than people who think the election was stolen or that the January insurrection was just a group of people visiting the capital. I recalled Malcolm Boyd and his excellent book of prayers in this down mood. I wondered if they would still be relevant today. Since my original copy was long gone, I ordered a new one and rediscovered this work. The comfort and relevance the prayers provide are somewhat offset by the knowledge that the inequities Boyd found in 1965 are still there.
When this book was written, many others in the Episcopal Church picked up the banner of racial justice, economic equity, and freedom to be yourself. Young seminarians like Jonathan Daniels lost their life while registering black voters in the South. There were also controversial priests like James Pike who called on us to think and use our intellect to find faith. As the war in Vietnam raged on, the student protests grew to include many Episcopal clergy. Some of the most consequential leaders came from this period to make the church relevant. My personal favorite was Bishop Moore of New York City. After many years, Bishop Moore's Easter Sermon about abandoning the city and its poor permanently brought me back to the church. It was an exciting time, a time of conflict, but the church played the role of guide, not an autocrat.
So let us take a minute or two to remember Malcolm Boyd, who died in 2015, but left a timeless legacy. Let us rejoice that we have continually tried to move forward and be relevant as a church, even though it was and remains a struggle at times. To me, in a world that has been achingly sad and chaotic in these last two years, let us agree to run with Jesus and pray for peace, joy, and harmony among all people.
Help us to see persons, Jesus-not a black person or a white person, a red person or a yellow person, but human persons.
From: I See Black and White, Jesusby Malcolm Boyd, Are You Running With Me Jesus