On Pentecost the Spirit came and with the Spirit came understanding.
Remember the story?
People spoke in many languages and though they were different they were understood by one another. And yet in that moment, others saw the people as nothing more than drunk and confused. How is that nearly 2000 years after Pentecost we still lack understanding?
On this Pentecost Sunday 2020, I am trying to reconcile my faith and my feelings as I have watched peaceful protests turn to violent riots in our city and around the country these past few days. You have no doubt seen the video, or pictures, of the arrest, detainment, and death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It is hard to understand the actions we can see … it is equally hard to watch and not have some reaction of outrage. The reaction by the community of Minneapolis (a place I have called home) and our own city of Indianapolis is not the result of a single outrageous act this past week, but the accumulation of acts over the past few years coupled with the pandemic that is hit the impoverished African-American community harder than any other.
I recently visited the MLK Peace Park here in Indy (pictures above and below) and used that time to teach my son about the history of Indy and Dr King. I was reminded of our history of peaceful protest … and then this weekend.
What is different?
Yes the peaceful protests continue, but they are being co-opted by small groups of people within the crowds that insight harm and hate. In part, we as a nation of yet to fully move past our racist past. In part, we have become a nation of tribes divided by politics, skin color, economics, state lines, gender, marriage, sexual identity, and the list goes on … all dividing us more and more. We are witnessing a great divide – with no understanding – no real voice – but deep screams of pain and frustration seeking someone to understand.
Our challenge as always will be how will we respond.
Will we be faithful or fearful?
Will we see the Jesus in others? Will they see the Jesus in us?
Will we seek to understand?
The reality is that where we are today is the same place we were as a nation in 1963 and that saddens me. It saddens me that as a people we have yet to learn the lessons of our own history. Doctor King wrote two pivotal pieces in 1963 – Why we Can’t Wait and A Letter from a Birmingham Jail. These two documents were written largely to clergy and white Americans that opposed and/or did not understand the Civil Rights movement.
In Kings’ letter from jail he warned that if white people successfully rejected his nonviolent activists as rabble-rousing outside agitators, this could encourage millions of African Americans to “seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies, a development that will lead inevitably to a frightening racial nightmare.” Yes, there were clergymen that disapproved of the tensions created by public actions.
King confirmed that he and his fellow demonstrators were indeed using nonviolent direct action in order to create “constructive” tension. The tension was intended to “compel meaningful negotiation with the white power structure, without which true civil rights could never be achieved.” Citing previous failed negotiations, King wrote that the black community was left with “no alternative.” In writing the letter, Dr. King hoped that we (you and I) would “understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when law and order fail in this purpose they become dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” Is that not where we are still today?
In the conclusion of “Why We Can’t Wait” King called for a Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged and he cautioned that political work is dangerous but necessary. He ends by saying that “if the civil rights revolution succeeds it may spread nonviolence worldwide, ending the nuclear arms race and bringing world peace.” Can I add, Why is that still a dream? How is that more than 50 years later we have not learned from these words and actions?
It is not a time to be silent.
In our Social Distancing and Isolation,
we can still speak up, speak out, and seek understanding.
The change we need in our culture will not come from Government. The change we need in our culture will come when we the people of faith live our faith in ways that matter. When we the people of faith open our eyes and speak out against the injustices of the world. We must act on what we know. And what I know … is that the Jesus in me … sees the Jesus in you … and that is enough for me to love everyone and to seek to better understand the differences that stand between me and you. The differences may not ever go away, but they do not need to keep us apart.
Let us renew our commitment to love one another as we pray for peace and understanding in our city …