Yes, I know. Some of you are hoping that I will just leave it alone. Others are wondering why I don’t speak out and question what has taken me so long. I don’t want to inject into an already escalating situation more divisive noise. If I say/write anything at all, I want it to be something that can be heard and considered even if not embraced. I want everyone to be able to read this to the very end. If you can’t, what was I writing for? I’m not striving to make anyone feel bad about themselves. And while politics is woven through our communal life, the things that I write about are a matter of social justice for me. For me, this is about my baptismal vows, renewed every year when we remember our baptism, and again pledge to resist evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves. This is my perspective. If this gets hard, please keep reading because before I finish, together we just might find God in all the unrest and turmoil that surrounds us.
Just in case you have avoided every news source over the last few months…there are a few names you may want to become acquainted with: Ahmaud Arbery, in Georgia; Breonna Taylor in Kentucky; Christian Cooper, in New York; and George Floyd in Minnesota. If you do not know any of these names, I encourage you to do some research. I won’t recount details here since there is so much available just about everywhere else you might look. As you continue to read, please pray over these names.
In my life experiences, I have never been accused or suspected of a crime. I have never been followed by store employees, watched presumably to make sure I didn’t steal anything, not even in a fancy store and dressed like I just finished cleaning house. When I go for a walk (don’t jog or run anymore), my neighbors wave and speak kindly. Not one of them has ever followed me or appeared to consider me suspicious. Although I have not actually gone on my own to a construction site of a stranger’s house, if I were to do so, I can’t imagine any greater consequence than being told that I needed to leave…but they would probably show off and tell me about the layout for their new house. I have never been reported to the police for asking someone to follow leash laws. I once had some pretty unsavory neighbors living across the street in my predominately white neighborhood (the unsavory folks were also white). One night a sheriff mistakenly came to my house to arrest a man living across the street. They rang the doorbell and accepted my word that he was not in my house. Having disregarded the occasional traffic law, I have been pulled over by the police. The greatest fear that I ever had was that I would receive a ticket…that I deserved. I’ve been pulled over more often than I’ve been ticketed. One time when I was a teenager I drove nearly two miles followed by a police car before I realized I was the one he wanted to pull over. I argued with him about the traffic law that he said I broke. As he wrote me a ticket, he asked for a piece of information that was not included on my driver’s license. I told him that it was none of his business. I was never afraid. I got a ticket…that my father helped me fight and was dismissed.
Have I ever faced injustice? Of course I have. Most likely, so have you. But it is not my typical day in and day out experience. Most of the time, I expect to be treated fairly, to be believed, and to be trusted. I expect the systems that are woven through our communal life to support and even protect me. Because most of the time that is my experience. Not a single one of my black friends shares my experience. Not. a. single. one. You may have been told by black friends or acquaintances that this is not true. And it is not my place to dispute the experience of another. Yet I remember a day when my heart broke. That was the day that a group of black clergy trusted a group of white clergy enough to share that none of us ever saw the full truth of their lived experiences…because the bottom line is that we could not be trusted to view and treat them the same way if they were truly open.
Following the death of George Floyd, protests broke out all over the country including near us. These gatherings are sometimes infiltrated by looters and extremists on both sides who seek only to escalate division and violence in our country. I can’t imagine endorsing looting or violence. These are the folks who make sure we see them on the news. Busting glass, blazing fires, graffiti on police cars, and thieves carrying TVs is a much bigger audience draw than people walking, carrying signs, chanting “I can’t breathe,” and sometimes praying. But I also can’t imagine endorsing pepper spraying and shooting rubber bullets into crowds of peaceful protesters.
So where is God and what does God expect of us? Have you ever been in a place that was so dark that you couldn’t imagine light? If not, maybe you know someone who has, someone you love dearly. I remember a night long ago when I was in a place that was so dark that I didn’t think anyone could reach me. It was a place where grief and pain washed over me like I had never known before and I felt as if I was falling through space and drowning all at the same time. It was a place that none of us ever what to go, but sometimes we or those we love are there. Who or what pulled you back? That night my best friend, Lyn, showed up. She held me. She rocked me. She put me to bed. She cared for me as the deeply wounded child of God that I was in that moment. She was light in the darkness.
I have stood with, cared for, and loved others in places of utter darkness, especially during my time in ministry. Maybe you are one of those or it was someone you know. Although it is never what we wish for, maybe we will be in such a place tomorrow or next week. It is a painful place to stand. This is about our own hearts being broken for what breaks God’s heart, for what breaks the heart of our neighbor.
In her book Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining, Shelly Rambo explores Holy Saturday, that day when Jesus is in the tomb and descends into hell, as the promise that there is absolutely not place where God can’t reach us…even in hell. It is a promise that we are never totally alone, not even in hell. It is a promise that the light of Christ can and does reach us, yes, even in hell. So if we are the Body of Christ, what does this mean for us?
First, we can remember that our community includes ALL of God’s children and not just those who look like, think like, act like, or love like us. We can strive to love as God loves us…see I Corinthians 13 for what this looks like…you remember: love is kind; love doesn’t insist on its own way; love is not irritable or resentful; love doesn’t rejoice in wrongdoing; love believes, hopes, and endures all things. In our context part of what this means is to be more concerned with the needs of others, especially those have less than we do. It means to be less worried about our rights and more concerned for those who who don’t experience the basic rights that we take for granted (even if they have those rights on paper).
Jesus willingly went into hell to shine light in the greatest of darkness. To be the Body of Christ means to willingly stand beside, care for and love the children of God who walk in the darkest of places, who face evil and injustice. It doesn’t mean talking a lot, rather to love a lot. While it’s not the right thing for everyone, I watched ‘the video’, I watched George Floyd die. Because I needed to enter the darkness. My light burning in the sunshine doesn’t amount to much. I’ve got to take my light into the darkness and love like my friend Lyn once loved me…to love as God loves me. Exactly how that will look…God will show me the pieces that I need to know when I need to know them. And I will stand in the darkness because if this isn’t the time, what will it take for the time to come. We are all called to a life in Christ for a time such as this.