Wait no longer - A letter to myself
June 11, 2020, 5:00 PM

Just when we had begun to see some good news, a bit of silver around the edges of the darkening clouds, underlying pressures burst forth like a raging river! It began with increasing public impatience around living with restrictions, a form of intolerance and expression of privilege fanned by some elected officials for political and economic reasons. We saw news photos of large groups of heavily armed white men stationing themselves around and even in legislative chambers, insisting that their ‘right’ to gather in churches and bars, on beaches and in grocery store aisles, without any requirements for enlarged personal space or blocking the potentially deadly droplets they exhale from infecting others is an infringement on their constitutional, God-given rights. In the name of saving our economy, there was an upswelling of rhetoric from John Q. Public as well as some public officials that suggested saving business and jobs can be separated from and should be placed above saving the very lives that fill those jobs and support those businesses.

 

I had been thinking this COVID-19 pandemic was the greatest national challenge, ant then it happened. … again! An unarmed black man was brutally publicly murdered by a white police officer while three other officers looked on in what UMC Elder Dr. Draymond Glenn later termed a “spectator lynching.” In the United States of America, in the year 2020, the deeply ingrained misunderstanding that freedom means being able to do whatever we (people of privilege) want and no one, including and especially the government, should interfere with that freedom, continues to intersect in a deadly fashion with an equally deeply ingrained racism and belief that only armed citizens can be free. It does not require a class in ethics, history or theology to recognize the thinness and danger of such beliefs, and yet here we are … still! Can you imagine what would have happened if the armed men descending on legislatures had been black?!? In spite of the obvious reality that such a group would have far more legitimacy when it comes to demanding their rights be respected, I think we can agree such an action would not have been supported or even tolerated by law enforcement, the legislators or the general public!

This is the point where I feel some internal pressure to praise the majority of law enforcement for not killing any people of color in the line of duty, but I’m going to resist that urge, noting instead that violence spans a wide set of actions (and lack of actions). Jesus says as much in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.        Matthew 5:21-22   The Message

We know the truth of those words, but for us – people privileged by our skin color – Jesus seems to be speaking in vivid but exaggerated metaphors. Black- and brown-skinned Americans know the harsh reality of this teaching because they live under that “moral fact” every day. They see their children’s confusion when they are ignored, slighted or disrespected the first few times, and watch the persistent frustration, growing hopeless and building anger as those acts are repeated on a daily basis. And they know that as a nation, we have made only minimal, begrudging concessions centuries of requests and demands to be fully included in the protections of our Constitution, leaving them and their children only slightly less in danger of state-sanctioned genocide than their own grandparents and great-grandparents. With race-based policies built into the DNA of our economic, educational, employment, banking, healthcare and housing systems and a pervasive willingness among those of us who hold privilege to believe our part in changing all this is done once we have posted a couple angry emojis on Facebook, we can no longer hope to be believed when we act surprised when another black man is discredited, jailed, ‘mistaken’ for a suspect or gang member, and/or shot by a ‘frightened’ neighbor or police officer. And our temporary ‘rage’ is woefully insufficient and will be noted as the hypocrisy it is when those neighbors and officers are found not guilty because they swore under oath they truly believed the executed citizen of color was up to something, had a gun or posed a threat to them.

So here’s what I am telling myself at this point – “Wait no longer!” I’m going to stop waiting for the coronavirus to be tamed while I long for the ‘good old days’ of a few months ago, and start working on becoming the person I intend to be right now. I’m going to work on building the next version of my life and what it means to be ‘church’ instead of desperately holding on to how I lived and provided leadership when things were ‘normal.’ Rather than working to offer the best worship services and sermons I can ‘under these circumstances,’ I’ll be developing the knowledge, resources and skills to bring the Bible to life even when I can’t see my audience, remembering the goal is pleasing God by lining up with Jesus and giving the Holy Spirit plenty of room to move in and through my life. This very moment is later than I’d like but by no means too late to commit to recognizing the ‘isms’ I allow to keep me frightened, thereby making me a threat to others. And I’ll stop waiting for someone to tell me how to do my part of becoming a person and creating a community that revels in the many shades of skin-tones instead of trying to sort them into categories of ‘acceptable and not acceptable,’ choosing instead to follow the wise guidance offered by retired Seahawk receiver extraordinaire Doug Baldwin (as quoted in the June 3rd edition of the Bellingham Herald):

“… you can stop asking OTHERS what you should do and ask YOURSELF what you should do. Be empathetic. What would you do if that was your son, your brother, your husband, your father? And then, once you connect back with humanity, make a decision to act. Donate your time, your money, your intellectual ingenuity and your human spirit to make change. Don’t be complacent and complicit. And challenge others to not be either. Talk to your friends and family. Hold them and yourself accountable to being better people. And then, come November, vote people in[to] power that exemplify the kind of compassionate leadership that is befitting of such a responsibility.”

And by all means, I will remind myself and others that while some might see the Bible as a handy prop for photo ops, until it is opened, prayerfully and thoughtfully read, studied and applied, it is just a paperweight or ornament. We cannot follow a Christ we don’t know, and the more we understand Him, the more likely we’ll be to find ourselves longing to see the humanity of every person we meet, knowing they have hopes, dreams, desires, and rights just like us.

Pastor Terry