This evening’s drop of hope and spiritual direction comes from my colleagues at the Love Mercy, Do Justice ministry initiative in Chicago:
On June 19, 1865 (over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln), enslaved Africans in Texas finally received word that they had been emancipated. The celebration of their freedom became what is known to us today as “Juneteenth” (a mash-up of the words June and nineteenth).
Jemar Tisby says, “Freedom has always come with an asterisk in America,” and perhaps this year more than any in recent history, we feel that asterisk. We acknowledge and grieve the paradox in today’s celebration of freedom – a freedom that has been underscored by unfulfilled promise; a freedom that has looked different for some than it has for others.
In the early days of celebrating Juneteenth, the day was spent by bringing families and communities together for a time of prayer and thanksgiving. So this evening, gather your family and pray for the brokenness in our nation. Enter into a time of thanksgiving for the freedom we have both as citizens of this nation and as the children of God. And perhaps read or sing these words of James Weldon Johnson’s song “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” the anthem which has become known as the African American National Anthem:
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us Facing the rising sun of our new day begun Let us march on ’til victory is won
Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. Psalm 85
We don’t get to choose the scene of our own sacrifice. Oswald Chambers
Oswald Chambers spoke a hard truth in his classic devotional My Utmost for His Highest: “We don’t get to choose the scene of our own sacrifice.”
I’d like to venture an interpretation and application of Chambers’ claim as it relates to the issue of police reform and Black Lives Matter.
I know many white people are struggling to reconcile their growing commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement with their appreciation and concern for the police. Bear with me, and I will walk us to a piece of spiritual wisdom that might help with this tension.
First the meaning of Chambers’ statement: Chambers was suggesting that people enjoy laying down their lives for certain causes. Sometimes a person or group feels called to a hard task and is willing to suffer greatly to complete the task or succeed at some mission or noble vocation. And sometimes our sacrificial streak aligns perfectly with our opportunities to complete the mission we we have in mind; but, quite often it does not. Quite often, while we have a hankering to lay down our lives for one thing, Life/God lead us to a frightening scene of painful sacrifice, which is not of our own choosing and beyond imagination.
We see this dynamic in the life of Christ Jesus, during a conversation with the Father the night before his crucifixion. Jesus asked the Father to “let this cup pass from me.” Brutal lynching was not something Jesus was looking for—even to save the world. Rather, this type of death came to Jesus in a most unwelcome way. We don’t get to choose the scene of our own sacrifice.
There is a hard scene of sacrifice (or “cup”) which has come to the community of law enforcement in this nation. Few people want to see the whole law enforcement community drinking a “cup” of criticism, blame, defunding or dismantling. People care about the police. As a result, many people are afraid to stand on the rock of racial righteousness and proclaim “black lives matter” for fear of harming the institution of law enforcement and/or disheartening the officers who have chosen this sacrificial career.
But we don’t get to choose the scene of our own sacrifice—not even the police. Enslaved Africans didn’t get to choose then and the police force doesn’t get to choose now. There will be a dreadful swim through dark waters.
This is a strange moment for white America—one we have been avoiding for centuries.
The path to racial righteousness and societal wholeness will lead us into sacrifice beyond imagination. There are no rails of fairness within this ordeal to ensure that only racially violent officers are criticized. All officers will be part of this reckoning. All precincts will sacrifice. And Americans who stand up for black lives will suffer alongside. I’ve never met a person or group who wants to go through the valley of the shadow in order to be healed and whole.
Wholeness is not about being right. Wholeness is not perfection. Wholeness is process. We each must choose our own imperfect path to wholeness. If you choose to join an imperfect movement called Black Lives Matter, it does not mean you’ve chosen against the police. Anyone who tells you that is playing you.
Here are three spiritual practices that will be part of our journey to wholeness.
Practice activism and enter the arena of racial justice— accepting that there will be pain for the police and everyone who has enjoyed police protection over the centuries. It’s not your job to spare everyone’s feelings. You can’t.
Practice empathy. We’ve all be in a position where we were handed a “cup” of punishment for the sin of someone else. Jesus was. How can you draw on your painful experience and extend understanding and compassion to the police as they face the inevitable pain of reckoning and reform.
Practice non-judgment. Show mercy to our black siblings who have been asking for our mercy for centuries. Show mercy to the police who are being led to an unwelcome scene of painful sacrifice.
And look up! Read Psalm 85 and anticipate the peace, love and righteousness that flow from the heart of God to God’s faithful children.
I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 11 & 36; Jeremiah 31; Hebrews 8.
Lord of Creation, create in me a dynamic and resilient heart of flesh. And may my own well-being, and my concern for all your children, be a True Prayer that accomplishes much good. Amen
Brené Brown says that we belong to one another. This universal reality can be forgotten, but it can never be lost. Her research in recent years has confirmed to the world that there is an uncomfortable, life-supporting link between vulnerability and courage.
Dr. Brown has made famous a saying: Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart. The moment I heard the saying and read the full quote by Roshi Joan Halifax, I thought of the voice of God who speaks: I will give all my children One, soft heart. Though you are fractured and hurting, I will replace your broken chards-of-heart with a Whole one–strong, soft, wise, hopeful and full of faith.
All scripture speaks of this vision. When the Apostle Paul wrote about creation groaning and waiting for redemption, I wonder if this is what we he meant– for the heart of stone to become a heart of flesh. These passages and themes are really about the universal healing of creation and can be applied at the individual and communal level any time the user chooses. Our redemption is an ongoing process and God only knows when it will feel finished to us. This renovation of creatures and communities is God’s purpose; and it shall be so.
Remember: The good that God has begun in you will be completed through the Spirit of the Living Christ working in you.
This post is not aimed at racism, protests and violence. Such horrors can only be healed at the level of cause. My reflections pertain to this community and our emotional health and well-being. Never underestimate the healing power of your own humanity-in-Christ and your prayers for the well-being of your neighbors and the whole world.
Be safe. And be a healing presence wherever you are. I happen to be visiting my Dad in Salmon Idaho, looking out the window at the continental divide. Had a good, long, steep hike this morning.
The objective of cleaning is not just to clean, but to feel happiness living within that environment. Marie Kondo
God of Creation, help us to adopt new health practices which enhance our lives and promote the safety and happiness of our homes and neighborhoods. Amen.
I’m super jazzed about a new term I just learned from a hog farmer: biosecurity.
Brad Greenway raises pigs on a farm near Mitchell, S.D., and the measures we are taking to stay germ-safe during this pandemic are things Brad always practices. When he arrives back at the farm after errands, he showers, puts on fresh clothes and wipes down the supplies he’s bringing into the barn. He says, “We’ve always tried to practice good biosecurity.”
I think back to the lessons I learned from my Grandmother in her kitchen. Being a farmer herself, she taught me things like: How to wash up the counters, carving knife and kitchen sink after cleaning and prepping a turkey or chicken for roasting. She had a utility sink near the back door and emphasized hand washing and scrubbing under one’s fingernails with a stiff brush, because “that’s where the germs can hide.” Baby diapers, sheets and towels were hung on the line to dry, because “the sunshine is a natural disinfectant.”
(I also have my own biosecurity theory: I think tequila kills germs in the throat and cures colds. Go ahead and laugh… as my kids do. It’s what I believe and for good reason:)
This pandemic is a fantastic opportunity to develop new habits that protect our health.
My grandparents were fastidious about biosecurity because they raised crops and livestock and because their generation was fairly new to the germ theory of medicine. People in their neighborhood had died of trichinosis or salmonella.
What can we be fastidious about NOW? Handwashing for sure…
I spent a couple of weeks in Hong Kong ten years ago. SARS had converted the whole society to mask-wearing whenever a person is ill or susceptible to illness. Analysts credit Hong Kong’s health in this pandemic to mask wearing in the early days of the outbreak. If masks don’t help, the hyper-intelligent residents of Hong Kong would NOT have permanently converted to the practice. Masks help!
Vitamin D? Drinking ginger tea? Staying hydrated? These are all practices that enhance our biosecurity.
And still there is no shame in falling ill. Our best efforts cannot guaranty our safety. Farmer Brad’s storyteller remarks: Even stringent methods run up against natural limits. One is found in the pits beneath a hog farm, which gather the roughly 1.3 gallons of manure each hog produces a day. It’s clean, but it still smells. Pigs poop a lot.
Have a nice evening. Be sure to wash your hands and brush your teeth. The future of the universe depends on us and God!