“Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a Freedom Fighter on your plane…and we’d like to recognize their courage today before we take off.”
Imagine if this was how the announcements sounded when your plane took off. This is what I wished I could hear as I flew home Wednesday after a whirlwind 48 hour trip to St. Louis to present Fargesn at the Eden Seminary Spring Convocation “Forward Through Ferguson: Prophetic and Pastoral Visions.”
It was a good trip. I had been nervous, as I always am, but it was both sobering and energizing to reconnect with some of the people in the films, the community, and our supporters.
The Reverend Deb Krause, Dean of Eden Seminary, had invited us for this event to offer a non-Christian and grassroots perspective to this gathering of Christian clergy and seminarians. The keynote speaker was the famous Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann. Though I was personally intimidated by the Convocation’s line-up, it felt right that two of my favorite “prophetic visioners” (and two of my favorite people) had agreed to be on the Fargesn panel, KB Frazier and Brittany Ferrell. Our film shorts and panel were the evening “entertainment.” We showed a couple of shorts and then we started off by talking about our spiritual basis for our activism.
When the question came to Brittany, she said “I really can’t believe in much. I can’t believe in much while one church on one side of the Delmar Divide is falling down and the one directly on the other side is just fine. I really don’t believe in much. But I believe in telling the truth.”
For a while I have had I a post-it on my Fargesn binder that quotes something Brittany tweeted after this summer: “Just tell the fucking truth.” This is essentially the Fargesn Media mission statement, including the raw emotion and expletives. Telling the truth is what keeps me going. Brave people in St. Louis and Ferguson risked everything to tell the truth to the world about racism in this country and a lot of them have suffered severely as a result. That entire story needs to be recorded and heard as often as possible. We owe them that.
It’s really hard for me to leave St. Louis because it’s really difficult to leave such a place of intense honesty. This time I had to leave right away so I could go back to school, and it was rough. The next morning, I avoided sitting at my plane gate as long as possible.
When I finally walked over to the gate, I saw someone standing off to the side who I thought I recognized. But I had never met him, and I didn’t want to bother him or make things awkward.
But I took a deep breath, stepped out of line and asked him, “Hi, are you Jonathan Butler?”
“Yes,” he replied. My eyes welled up with tears as we shook hands and I stammered a bit in of the famous University of Missouri hunger striker. I took a deep breath, collected myself and said, “I just really wanted to say hello and thank you for your sacrifices.”
I told him my name and my role and some of our mutual friends and acquaintances. We exchanged cards. We chatted briefly as we got on the plane. He was warm and friendly. I told him a lot of people had prayed for him and continue to pray for him. I promised to show him around if he’s ever in Philadelphia. We shook hands again and took our separate seats.
As flight announcements were made, I remembered it would be typical at this point for active-duty military on board to be recognized and thanked for their service. I wondered, what if we started off our plane rides by telling a fuller truth? What if we started by thanking any military members on board and the people who defend our freedom in the street, on the picket line, in the classroom?
What if we remembered that all around us are people who have been willing to die for their beliefs, who have organized Big 10 football teams to go on strike, who have through sheer courage and steadfastness brought entire systems to their knees? What would our world be like if we actively remembered that these freedom fighters are all around us, at all times? They are on our planes, in our classrooms, in our congregations. They are us. They are everyday people doing extraordinary things.
Everywhere can be a place for telling the truth. I believe that the more people we reach through films, podcasts, classroom materials, and public events, the more people will know that there are freedom fighters all around them. And if we tell it enough, then maybe someday, it won’t be a joke to imagine that Delta Airlines will thank these folks right along with the other veterans of wars fought for this country. I will keep imagining a day when I get on a plane and hear,
“Folks, we’d like to recognize our active duty freedom fighters on this plane. Jonathan Butler, Brittany Ferrell, Koach Baruch Frazier, thank you for your courage and contribution to our country. Thank you for making us tell the truth that set us free. Now please, sit back, relax, and enjoy this flight.”