Cloud of Witnesses: Knowing Our History
There is a particular passage of Scripture that I have connected with over the past decade or so. Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”. I have had my ups and downs with running, but what draws me to this passage are the cloud of witnesses mentioned. Growing up in north central Arkansas I found myself in a predominantly homogeneous community with little diversity. The county was made up of mostly white/caucasian families and individuals. My cloud of witnesses resembled one another in the hues of their skin, a Christian tradition or worldview, and the amount of privilege passed down from generation to generation. It was not until graduation from university in southwestern Arkansas, or even graduate school in Texas that I realized how desperately I needed a more diverse cloud of witnesses to help me better engage with and navigate a diverse world.
Leading up to February 2017 I listened to a book entitled A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America by Ronald Takaki. This over 400-page book dives deep into the history of what is now considered to be the United States of America through the experiences of Indians, African Americans, Mexicans, Japanese, Chinese, Irish, and Jewish people. Listening and relistening to this book opened my eyes to the complex history of our nation, a history I never learned about in my hometown grade school or high school. My cloud of witnesses grew as I listened to this more complete version of American History 101.
About a year ago while preparing for a sermon I was struck by an article I read online from Sojourners magazine. Author of the article, Rev. Dr. Valerie Miles-Tribble, spoke of her recent experience in Texas gathered, with others, around a memorial tree for Sandra Bland. It was there that she experienced “a cloud of witnesses” whose “cacophony of voices called upon the Holiest of Holies to break the yoke of evil systems in which cronyism and political agendas thrived.” Miles-Tribble went on to say that, “The cloud of witnesses[, that include Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, and Tamir Rice], keep urging us to move forward, to keep fighting, and never give up.” Again, my cloud of witnesses expanded as I was confronted with the fatal realities of racial profiling in our communities.
Over the past fews years I have been challenged to assess who is included in my cloud of witnesses. Do my cloud of witnesses all look similar to me, ascribe to a similar faith tradition or none at all, or even share the same amount of privilege? At one point the answer to this evaluation would have been yes. But I was missing out on so much richness that comes from the experiences and perspective of others. Without a diverse cloud of witnesses I was rarely challenged to consider the plight or celebrations of those whose stories are seldom heard. Seeking to diversify my cloud of witnesses summons me to live into the work given to us by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to cultivate Beloved Community in which we thrive in a “society based on justice, equal opportunity, and love of one’s fellow human beings.”
Who resides in your cloud of witnesses? What are they calling upon you to do in your community?
Rev. Megan J. Pike
Executive Director, Lake Nixon Outdoor Center
Second Baptist Church, Little Rock
Resides in Little Rock