"The end is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community." —Martin Luther King Jr.
In 2009 I returned to the City with Soul on a mission. My theological vision of a better world was affirmed during my three years at Duke Divinity School, and I was ready to put my faith to work in Jackson. Call me crazy, but I believed that God was up to something in our capital, and I wanted to be a part of it.
When I shared with family and friends my desire to return to Mississippi and to participate is something great here, I was understandably greeted with their skepticism. How they yearned for me to be successful in some cosmopolitan Promised Land far away from the land of my birth. Too many years of backward thinking, racial politics and status quo leadership convinced them that if I moved back home, my vision would soon become a nightmare. But I came home anyway, being led by the Spirit to a place that shaped me more than I desired to admit.
My dream was neither deferred nor denied, thank God. I arrived to a Jackson that was being blessed by a kind providence. A lot of good was happening, and a discernable excitement abounded in the streets and in hushed conversations around the city. There were many problems still plaguing the capital city, to be sure, but I sensed the Lord was up to something marvelous.
I still believe that. The city's urban renaissance and beautiful people of good will have granted me sustained hope in that not-yet-seen something that compelled me to return nearly two years ago. Jackson is changing, being renewed day-by-day, and I'm humbled to say I'm here at such a time as this. And though this chocolate-vanilla swirled city has the usual litany of problems of comparable metropolises, too many of us have an indefatigable faith, hope and love for Jackson to be great. We have glorious days ahead. We will see the best of Jackson.
But before we pour the celebratory wine (or grape juice, for the prohibitionists out there), we must understand that there are things that could indeed defer our dream of a better, more blessed Jackson. I am admittedly afraid that all our development will make us blind to the need for us to cultivate community—beloved community. The only way to sustain our growth is to make Jackson increasingly safe for dreamers of a better world.
As a Christian preacher, I am always concerned about the least of these, those whose backs are against the walls. I'm concerned about absolute gentrification that treats poor brothers and sisters like lepers needing to be quarantined. I'm concerned with sinful racism, sexism and classism continuing to limit our collective vision of the somebody-ness of all God's children. I'm concerned with the dearth of visionary, moral leaders who will inspire diverse peoples to imagine together a just and open society for everyone who will call our city and our state home.
This isn't liberal romanticism, a utopian dream. The hope for a beloved community is the solution to preventable but potential chaos. Love, truth and justice are as important—no, more important—than rehabilitated houses and new businesses downtown. We need our tribalism to give way to a deep sense of interdependence, a sense that we need each other to survive and thrive.
This new way of living together as strangers-turned-friends will come about not by sheer inevitability but though sincere intentionality. We have to be co-creators of the community we want to see in Jackson. God willing, we'll do just that. If we don't, the City with Soul just may lose its soul.
My prayer is that all of us, especially those of us in religious communities, will see the greater need for a human renaissance in Jackson. My prayer is that we will lead with civility, compassion and courage toward a more perfect union, starting in our own backyards. May God hasten the day when all God's children will dwell together in unity, in the bond of peaceful sibling-hood. On that day, the world will look upon Jackson and see the kin-dom come to earth. They will see, in flesh and blood reality, the beloved community.
Rev. CJ Rhodes, a native of Hazlehurst, attended Ole Miss and Duke Divinity School in North Carolina, where he earned his master's of divinity. He then worked as the administrative assistant to Dolphus Weary at Mission Mississippi, a Christian organization that works to bring people together. He was ordained in July 2010, and is currently the pastor at Mount Helm Baptist Church, the youngest in the church's history.
I want to thank the young reverend for coming back home and writing a good and inspiring column. I hope there are many more to come. I especially like the fact that he cares about the least of us. Hopefully, he will continue to run a good race with the same value system, always acknowledging and letting the Almighty guide his steps, and furthermore stay away from the krytonite - inducement to change and become too capitalistic.
God Bless you.