Beloved St. John’s community,
This week, I watched the video of George Floyd, an African American beloved child of God, being callously killed by a white police officer kneeling on his neck. The police officers utterly ignored George’s minutes-long repeated statement, “I can’t breathe,” and ignored watchers who asked them to just put George in the police car. I felt sick to my stomach, because I understand this to be the direct and inevitable result of centuries of systemic racism and white supremacy. Even though I and most white people I know, including many good police officers, would never do such a thing, I also know that I benefit directly and daily in countless ways from those same systems, and that I will never be at risk of being treated in this way by the police. Last night, the anger from centuries of this abuse spilled over in Minneapolis.
The Jesus we know calls us, not to fear and demonize people, but to follow him to the places of the world’s pain, where he already is—working for love, liberation and life. When I see that God called Moses to demand that Pharaoh let the people go because God had heard the groaning of the people and had seen their oppression, I believe God has heard the groaning of brown and black bodies who are daily oppressed in our country, and that God truly does call us to act. I attended a prayer vigil Tuesday night led by pastors from the African American community, and one of them said this (paraphrase): “Black people can’t achieve our liberation on our own. If we could have, it would have been done long ago. We need white people to join us and to act, or it will never happen.” I believe I am called to act, and I sincerely pray and ask all of you to call me to loving accountability when I do not.
This coming Sunday, we celebrate Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples and truly birthed the church. The word “Spirit” in both Greek and in Hebrew also means wind and breath. The Spirit is the breath that the Creator breathed into the nostrils of the first human, who then became a living soul, as described in Genesis 2. The Spirit is the same breath that Jesus breathed into his disciples in John 20, when he said “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit is also the sacred life that God put into George Floyd, that not just one white police officer, but the entire weight of our history, crushed out of him.
This week, I invite you to make some space to breathe and to pray. Breathe the Holy Spirit in; breathe in the love and anguish of God for God’s people who are being oppressed; breathe in the power of God’s Spirit to discern what we are called to do. Breathe out apathy, privilege, racism, hatred, violence. Breathe out all that keeps us comfortable in privilege and in inaction.
I often hear white people, including myself, say, “I want to do something but don’t know what to do.” But we have a roadmap in our own baptismal covenant, in the Book of Common Prayer pages 304-305:
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you all into sin, repent and return to the Lord? I will, with God’s help.
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? I will, with God’s help.
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God’s help.
In the end, I believe that if Christian faith / the Way of Love could be summarized in a single word—as “enlightenment” might be for Buddhists, “liberation” for yogis, “surrender” for Islam—for me, reconciliation is the word that captures what we are about. Reconciliation to God, self and others is a way of life and a journey, not any single action or understanding or issue. But in our country, racial reconciliation is an urgently needed theological response to the outrageous oppression white supremacy has inflicted on African Americans, indigenous people, and all people of color from the very beginning of white peoples’ time here.
Let us have the courage to ask the Holy Spirit to lead us on this journey of reconciliation. It’s a journey for the long haul. It’s not just about taking quick initial action. It’s about following Jesus, loving sacrificially, and staying the course even if we don’t see results in our lifetime.
Over the coming weeks, you will see ways that we at St. John’s-beyond-the-walls can continue the journey toward reconciliation, including racial reconciliation, together. Meanwhile, please make time to pray, to contemplate our baptismal vows, and ask God to help you discern your own next steps in this journey.