We Need a National Fast Day

The first time I attended a Passover Seder I was thirteen. As an African American, celebrating one’s deliverance from slavery … Continued

The first time I attended a Passover Seder I was thirteen. As an African American, celebrating one’s deliverance from slavery made sense to me. For some of my family slavery was a taboo topic. My great-grandmother refused to talk about it. My grandmother denied that anyone in her family had been a slave. But my great-aunt Irene, who never let details get in the way of a good story, talked freely. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had set my great-grandmother free.

Just as the Jews celebrate their deliverance at Passover, we Americans celebrate our democratic principles on the Fourth of July. But I believe that if we African Americans are to overcome our sense of ambivalence about America, more is required. Since President Obama is given to evoking Lincoln, I suggest that he follow Lincoln’s lead and proclaim, as Lincoln did in 1863 and 1864, a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer.

Why a Fast Day in addition to Martin Luther King Jr. Day?

The religious act of fasting was once a national custom, a custom which ended following Lincoln’s assassination. What I propose is not just another holiday but rather a day of contrition and somber reflection. America is a great nation built on aboriginal land, African life-blood, Chinese coolie labor, Japanese internment and Mexican migrant labor.

Just as we honor our principles, presidents and veterans we need to honor all those who were sacrificed. If on such a day we together acknowledge and grieve our failures–past and ongoing–might not Americans set out the next day to make it right?

Over fifty years ago James Baldwin wrote that “the history of the American Negro problem is not merely shameful, it is also something of an achievement. For even when the worst has been said, it must also be added that the perpetual challenge posed by this problem was always, somehow, perpetually met.”

Obama’s presidency attests to the correctness of Baldwin’s insight and conclusion that “it is precisely this black-white experience which may prove of indispensable value to us in the world we face today.” Americans resonated with Barack Obama’s refrain, “Yes, we can,” because we believe change is always possible and that hope will prevail. What began as the American Revolution has been and remains an ongoing revolution; one that saw slaves freed and women enfranchised.

A National Fast Day would serve as a sobering reminder that the American Revolution is yet unfinished and that the future rests in our hands.”

Mark Morrison-Reed, a retired Unitarian Universalist minister, is author of “In Between: Memoir of an Integration Baby.”

  • kjohnson3

    “If on such a day we together acknowledge and grieve our failures–past and ongoing–might not Americans set out the next day to make it right?”What a beautiful idea. It surprises me not at all that it comes from a Unitarian Universalist.Thank you, Mr. Morrison-Reed, for a suggestion that could inspire us to make reparations in our hearts.

  • PSolus

    This is an unbelievably stupid idea.What’s next, a National Cutting Oneself with a Knife and Beating Oneself with a Chain until One Bleeds day?

  • B2O2

    Actually, I kind of like the idea, but more as a direct awareness builder of worldwide hunger and poverty. I don’t see how it is a particularly direct symbolic reminder of the trials certain parts of our population (and therefore the country as a whole) have been through. Perhaps I’m missing that connection in the essay. How does a fast connect you with the struggles of your forbears, Mr. Morrison-Reed?

  • B2O2

    > What a beautiful idea. It surprises me not at all that it comes from a Unitarian Universalist.Yeah, I agree. I’m an agnostic Buddhist, if anything, but Unitarians really have their heads on straight. They write most of the very few essays in this space that do not make me cringe and mourn for the century-confused state this country wallows in.

  • LStein1

    Really elegant way of getting right to the heart of what ails us. Somber reflection on “those who were sacrificed” would consequently lead to awareness of what’s wrong with occupying another country by force (Iraq at this time) for their resources.

Read More Articles

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

Why I Want to Be Culturally Evangelical

I’ve lost my faith. Do I have to lose my heritage, too?

What Is a Saint?

How the diversity of saintly lives reveals multiple paths toward God.

An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.