One Who Followed Jesus: The Reverend Dr. Anna Pauline (Pauli) Murray
Freedom is a dream
Haunting as amber wine
Or worlds remembered out of time.
Not Eden's gate, but freedom
Lures us down a trail of skulls
Where men forever crush the dreamers--
Never the dream.
I was an Israelite walking a sea bottom
I was a Negro slave following the North Star,
I was an immigrant huddled in a ship's belly,
I was a Mormon searching for a temple,
I was a refugee clogging roads to nowhere--
Always the dream was the same--
Always the dream was freedom.
-The Reverend Dr. Anna Pauline (Pauli) Murray
As we ponder this episode in Mark 8:31-38 as Jesus announces that when he reaches Jerusalem, the seat of all religious, political and economic power in Ancient Israel, a militarized colony of the Roman Empire, we ought to wonder. He speaks of the “cross.” This word was, at the time, a vile obscenity representing the most brutal tactic the Empire used to keep people in line – an early tool of “law and order” tactics to squash all dreams of freedom. Jesus says he will suffer, be rejected by the authorities, be killed, and “after three days rise again.” Peter speaks for all the disciples, the crowd, and I suspect some of us, in expressing disbelief and horror that any of this could be true, giving Jesus a strong rebuke.
Jesus then details the essence of what it means to follow “in the Way”: deny your “self,” pick up your cross and follow him. Really? Who would follow someone carrying a Roman Cross to his death? A paid professional torturer like a Roman Centurion? Those caught up in the crowd on their way to work who can’t help getting swept up in it all? Those citizens of all eras who relish seeing someone else suffer brutality? Or, finally, those who also dare to challenge the status quo of systems of domination and are also in line to possibly meet the same fate as Jesus. True discipleship carries steep costs. Simply ask the likes of Dietrich Bonhoffer, Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, the slain Maryknoll sisters, Dorothy Day, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwirner, Helen Prejean, and others who threw themselves into the dirty messes of this world at great risk to themselves. Ask Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopal Seminarian and civil rights worker who was murdered by a shotgun-wielding Deputy Sheriff in Hayneville, AL, while shielding and saving the life of fellow activist, Ruby Sales.
Or, ask The Reverend Dr. Anna Pauline (Pauli) Murray. Pauli Murray was born in Baltimore in 1910, and baptized at St. James Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square (the First African-American Episcopal Church south of the Mason-Dixon Line) by the Rev. George Bragg. She attended Hunter College in New York, working many menial jobs to pay for her education, having many adventures along the way, including being arrested and jailed in Virginia for moving up 2 seats in a segregated bus, and hitchhiking across the country on freight trains. Pauli graduated from Hunter College, and in 1938 was denied admission into the University of North Carolina law school because of her race. She later entered Howard University Law School and graduated as Valedictorian in 1944. During her years there she joined with George Houser, James Farmer and Bayard Rustin to form the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). She also participated in sit-ins at local restaurants, and honed her skills in the non-violent tactics of Gandhi. Murray sought admission to Harvard University for an advanced law degree but was denied admission because she was a woman. She then studied at the University of California, Berkeley, where she received her Masters of Law degree. Murray was a contemporary and friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, and with Betty Friedan she was a co-founder of NOW, the National Organization for Women. She was the author of the 1950 book "States' Laws on Race and Color," which catalogued state statutes discriminating against African Americans, Native Americans, Asians and other groups. Thurgood Marshall said this book was “the bible” for the modern civil rights movement. Pauli Murray contributed to the NAACP's litigation strategy in Brown v. Board of Education and in 1961 she was appointed to the President's Commission on the Status of Women. While serving on the commission and studying at Yale Law School (where she was the first African American to earn a J.S.D.) Murray authored a series of papers outlining a legal strategy for challenging sex discrimination by states. These arguments were first published in an article co-authored with Mary Eastwood after the passage of Title VII entitled "Jane Crow and the Law." She testified on discrimination against women before the 91st Congress of the United States. In 1977, 3 days after the Episcopal Church accepted women into the priesthood, she was ordained by Bishop Creighton in Washington, DC—the first African-Amerian woman priest. She served as pastor to two churches: the Church of Atonement in Washington D.C. and the Church of the Holy Nativity in Baltimore, Maryland, before retiring at the age of 72. Through much of her life she struggled with her sexual and gender identity. It is possible had she lived in more recent times she would have been active in LGBTQ rights as well.
Pauli Murray celebrated the Eucharist in the Chapel of the Holy Cross, Chapel Hill, NC, on February 13, 1977. It was in this chapel that her grandmother had been baptized as “one of five slave children belonging to Miss Mary Ruffin Smith.’ She read the gospel from an ornate lectern engraved with the name of that slave-owning woman who had left part of her wealth to the Diocese of North Carolina. Pauli Murray now stood as a symbol of healing and reconciliation at the altar of the very church in which her grandmother would be sent to the balcony which was reserved for slaves. Here is, in part, what she preached that day:
“As followers of Christ, we are called upon to take risks, to work for the liberation of the body, mind and spirit, to exorcise the unclean spirits that vex us and prevent us from being our true selves, created in the image of God and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven...Each of us therefore, is called upon to proclaim the Good news of God in Christ's redeeming love....My entire life's quest has been for spiritual integration, and this quest has led me ultimately to Christ, the Spirit of Love and reconciliation, the healer of deep psychic wounds, drawing us all closer to that goal of perfection that links us to God and to eternity....We enter into community with others based upon our new self-understanding and we struggle to transform ourselves, our church, and our society in order to actualize a vision...true community is a struggle...we may not live to see its 'victories...but struggle on we must.”
About that day she wrote: “All the strands of my life had come together. Descendant of slave and slave owner, I had already been called poet, lawyer, teacher and friend. Now I was empowered to minister the sacrament of One in whom there is no north or south, no black or white, no male or female – only the spirit of love and reconciliation drawing us all toward the goal of human wholeness.” (from Mystics, Visionaries and Prophets, Fortress Press, p.398)
Pauli Murray, a woman who understood with every fiber of her being what it means to pick up her cross and follow Jesus. Note carefully that Jesus does not insist that we pick up his cross. Pauli Murray and others throughout the Christian era have set off on their own unique path and understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. We are invited to join them in finding our won way. The world will be better for it if we do.
Here are some final thoughts from Murray dated “Cambridge 1969”:
I sing of a new American
Separate from all others,
Yet enlarged and diminished by all others.
I am the child of kings and serfs, freemen and slaves,
Having neither superiors nor inferiors,
Progeny of all colors, all cultures, all systems, all beliefs.
I have been enslaved, yet my spirit is unbound.
I have been cast aside, but I sparkle in the darkness.
I have been slain but live on in the river of history.
I seek no conquest, no wealth, no power, no revenge:
I seek only discovery
Of the illimitable heights and depths of my own being.