“We are acting as though God doesn’t see or care about the way we treat one another, belittle one another, or degrade one another.”
The events currently playing out around the country remind me of when I was ten or so years old and a member of the Boy Scouts of America. One day in the early summer, my troop was scheduled to go on an overnight camp out. It would be, for me, the first one that could be classified as “roughing it”. We would sleep in pup tents on the ground. We would have no showers or running water. And we would be cooking our own food over campfires. Up to that moment in my life, I had never so much as boiled water. I asked my mother to teach me to cook, and yes, I was nervous about working around hot stuff like fire and scalding water. Mom’s first lesson was, in her estimation, a simple challenge: boil an egg. Boil water on the stove. Put an egg in for four or five minutes or so. It sounded simple enough. Maybe I wouldn’t mess it up.
The water went in the pot. The egg went in the pot. The pot went on the stove. The water came to a boil. And all was well. For a few minutes.
Funny thing about boiling water. If you put a lid on it, which I foolishly had, and if you don’t pay attention to it, it boils over. That’s what happened to me. I looked the other way for a while and assumed all was well in my pot of boiling water. I didn’t pay attention when I should have been paying attention. The boil-over was truly monumental. I panicked. I screamed. I tried to pull the pot off the stove. It sloshed. I got burned (not badly, thanks be to God). I got angry about the water spewing out of my pot onto the stove and the floor. I got even more angry because I’d been burned.
I tell you this story today, because it’s what entered my mind as news broke Friday and again Saturday about the peaceful protests in Kansas City that turned violent and destructive. The protests started out to bring very necessary attention to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis (the latest in a sad string of such deaths at the hands of the police) and to demand change, sweeping relational change in the way police officers relate to the persons they are meant to protect, but who they too often harm, and too frequently without any real repercussions after the fact.
My mind went back to that childhood episode of the boiling-over pot because that’s what’s happening in Kansas City, in other large American cities, and now across the globe as people in other countries have added their voices to the string of protests over the video-recorded, police misconduct that killed Mr. Floyd. Again, this is the latest in too long a procession of such behaviors by police officers in the U.S. Additionally, Mr. Floyd’s death exacerbates the boiling cauldron of emotions we’ve all been experiencing since we entered the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic, a disease that has ravaged people of color more than other racial groups.
So, the pots at the boil. Anger among people of color and their allies has been simmering long and slow, and governmental authorities have not been paying attention, not doing what they were elected to do. I have known from my childhood that a simmering pot, if left unattended and not cared for, will boil over. Now, we see that happening on a large scale.
Presidents, governors, mayors, and other government leaders were not elected and entrusted with power and authority just to make sure business prospers, corporations turn a profit, and people have jobs. Those things are rightly important, but so is the dignity of every human being. People are not expendable no matter their skin color, language, or ethnicity. Black lives matter. All lives matter, no exceptions. White supremacy is a lie; white exceptionalism is a falsehood. No group of people is inferior or superior to any other. Poor and non-white are not here to be commoditized. One other thing is true: our society is rigged to make sure people like me (white & male) have the easiest road to the top, whatever the top may be in an individual’s estimation.
I believe what I said in the previous paragraph because I believe what the Bible teaches. And I believe what the Church has taught (though lived out imperfectly) for millennia. And I believe because I have a personal relationship with Jesus, whose spirit lives in and (on my better days) rules my heart. Jesus confronted leadership, challenged authorities, lovingly spoke truth to power, and taught people from the bottom rungs of Judean society up to the top of the ladder. He taught love. He taught justice, just like the prophets of Israel before him. He made it clear that each child born to a woman was also, and perhaps more importantly, a child of God.
But we’re not acting like it. We are acting as though God doesn’t see or care about the way we treat one another, belittle one another, or degrade one another. But God cares. And because God cares, I must care. All who believe in Christ Jesus must care. And all people of faith must seek and work for the end of our country’s long, racist nightmare. All God’s people must work for a more just society, for a social order where people of color don’t have to teach their children how to look down when a policeman pulls them over in their cars, or the need to keep their hands in plain sight, or how to be exaggeratedly obsequious and submissive lest they be pulled from their car, cuffed, physically abused, or perhaps shot.
Some who know me are aware that my precious son (who is white) is married to a wonderful woman (who is black). They have a son, who is blessed with the cutest curly black hair, a little straighter on top and a lot curlier on the back and sides. His skin has a gorgeous, mocha hue. He is bright and energetic, and Donna and I adore him (as we adore our other two grandchildren, too). Yet, I worry about him growing up in this country as it now is. I wonder if he’ll face the country that Mr. Floyd had to face. I wonder if we can change fast enough so that this will be a different country in 16 years when he comes to the age of the majority.
I pray and long for that new country to emerge, for this country to start living up to the values expressed in its founding documents and espoused by those who created it and established its aspirations. I hope you also pray and long for that country and are willing to lend your voice, your vote, and your vitality to bringing around the change.
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, our Presiding Bishop, often refers to God’s dream for the world God created. This society, our society, is not what God dreamed. What we are now does not accord with God’s will for the Beloved Community of God’s children where all are granted their dignity and are nurtured to be the fullest self they can be.
May God have mercy, and may God call us forth and give us courage that we may be part of building the dream. Amen.