Ever wonder what’s real and what’s not-so-real? Once in a while, I do look at what’s going on around me and ask myself how real it is. This friendship — is it real? This situation I’m dealing with — is it real? This life I’m living — how real is it, really? Such questions are problematic for one major reason — that we take things so much for granted that we cannot gauge their real value. Friendships just are; situations just happen; life is pretty much a destined routine.
That is, until betrayal breaks friendships, crisis suddenly creates a situation that cannot be ignored and an unplanned event brings total upheaval to our lives. These are the times when we ponder what is real and what is not. These are the times when all things in us and around us are downright messy. These are flash points in life that force us to examine what we believe is real. Maybe these flash point times take us inward to the private space in us, and in that space, we examine and evaluate what is truly real. Problem is that sometimes our examining leads us into mulling over things that are a mess, and looking at our “real” feels like brooding.
Such downcast and disconsolate moments are not the best times for any of us to ponder what we believe to be real. Could we not open our eyes to what is real all the time? Like when we are overcome with nature’s beauty or the sweet melodies of birdsong. Like when our souls are touched by moments of worship or the mesmerizing sounds of a symphony orchestra.
It seems important to face life with listening ears and open eyes ready to embrace “the real!” It seems important to do so in sunshine and in shadow, when our souls are burdened and when our souls are stirred to sing songs of joy. It seems important to look at what’s real even when we have to do so while feeling a deep down melancholy.
Still, I invite you to choose to “see,” the real that surrounds you — the real that is inside you, above you, below you and beside you. As Jesuit theologian Walter Burghardt summons us, “take a long, loving look at the real.” That’s how Burghardt characterized contemplation, describing it as a sustained gaze, never merely a glance.
“Flash point times take us inward to the private space in us, and in that space, we examine what is truly real.”
So value “your real.” Do it as you go and as your journey moves forward on varied paths. Look at all that is “your real” — the commotion in your soul, the catastrophes of your relationships, the messes in your life. Take a sustained, contemplative look. Look bravely snd without fear, because whoever or whatever God is for you is waiting to meet you at the crossroads of what is real and what is not real.
More than you think, your soul needs you to open your eyes and “take a long, loving look at the real.” No matter how messy it is!
In my normal outings, I frequently ride with my husband past the Magnolia Court Motel. It’s the one with a gas station in its courtyard where a pool used to be back in the 50s. It’s not a place you would want to stay on your vacation. In fact, I doubt anyone goes there for a vacation. Still, it’s always at capacity, because people live there. It’s not in the safest part of town. Magnolia Court itself is not safe. I know that because TV news frequently reports that homicides happen there.
For the past five years, I have seen a dingy, old, light brown car in front of the last unit of Magnolia Court, closest to the street. The same brown car, day or night, is in its parking space. I don’t think the car ever moves and I have wondered if it needs repairs. I assumed that the owner of the brown car didn’t have a job, because the car never moved. I hoped, though, that the owner of the brown car worked an 11 to 7 shift somewhere. I wouldn’t have known that, because I would never go past Magnolia Court at that time of night. Not in that neighborhood!
For five years, I never once mentioned that car to my husband. For five years, I silently looked at the dingy brown car and wondered who was in the motel room. Who was he or she? I always thought it would be a male, so let’s go with that. Why is he living there? Does he have a job? Is he young or old? Does he need food? Is he ill or disabled? Does he have friends or family? What does his room look like? Is it decent or dirty? How does he feel about his life? Does he know about Jesus and God? Is he okay?
My next thought was, “I would never go up to his door at Magnolia Court, knock on it and ask him if he’s okay or if he needs anything or if he knows about Jesus.” Just as quickly, my thoughts switch from the man (or woman) with the dingy brown car at the Magnolia Court to these hard questions . . . What could I do, as a Christian, to see if this man needed help? How could I help? What would I do? And what do the answers to those questions say about my faith?
I don’t know, of course, but I imagine that in a similar situation, Jesus might have gone straight to the inn and checked on the people. Finding out how they were doing might have led him to heal one, encourage another, give another a basket of food or do all the blessing-kind-of-things Jesus always did.
Last week, we drove by Magnolia Court. The dingy brown car was not parked in its place. I looked around the Court to see if he had changed rooms, but the car was not there. I felt my heart quicken and my mind rushing through scenarios of what might have happened to the man in the end room of Magnolia Court. I was sad. Guilty. After about ten minutes, I managed to move on with my day and not think too much about the man.
Today, we again passed by Magnolia Court, twice! The car was gone. The man was probably gone too. I never saw him. I never checked on him. Why would I? Who would do that sort of thing in the violent, unsafe world we live in?
I don’t want to be trite about things like faith, but honestly, I really did wonder “What would Jesus do?”
“WWJD” might be an old, overused, trendy slogan, but for me this is just being concerned about a man I never saw.
I don’t have any idea what Jesus would do, but I suspect he may have done lots of things, including something similar to what he did with the tables of the money changers. You see, turning over those tables was about doing what is just and right. Jesus might have turned over some tables or lamps or nasty mattresses at Magnolia Court Motel, because it is a place of violence, drugs, and all manner of things that harm people.
I felt my heart quicken and my mind rushing through scenarios of what might have happened to the man in the end room of Magnolia Court. I was sad. Guilty.
Kathy Manis Findley
I have to wonder now, probably will always wonder, what became of the car at Magnolia Court and, more importantly, what became of the man who lived in a room at Magnolia Court Motel. As far as I can tell, he never left his room until the day he left. My thoughts of him over five years of trying to eavesdrop on his life yielded nothing for him. For me, it became an examination of just exactly what kind of faith I have and in what ways am I willing to go out into a world of need where God’s people live in shadows like Magnolia Court. It became a self-examination that prompted me to ask myself, “What do you intend to actually do when you proclaim yourself as a Jesus follower?”
So this is not a morality tale to urge you to examine your faith. It is for me. I am the one who needs to examine my faith, to ask what Jesus would do and then to admit what I will or won’t do. As for the old, dingy, brown car and the man who owns it . . . well, I did do one thing that Jesus would do. I blessed the man I never knew, whispering under my breath as we passed by this morning, “May God go with you and give you peace.”
This is one of my favorite Christian songs. It brings me to tears every time I hear it, especially on the day of my ordination in 1992. As the words were sung that day in a duet by my husband and best friend, my heart sang, “Here I am, Lord.”
I’m sitting on the front porch watching the birds and the bugs, admiring my flowers and feeling strong gusts of wind blow everything that’s movable and some things that are not so movable. Like my patio chair! I love a rushing wind blowing over me and, always, it reminds me of Pentecost.
Sunday is my favorite Sunday in the church year — Pentecost Sunday! I hold it as my favorite because I long for Spirit wind in my life — to move me, change me, fill me, refresh me and set me free. Spirit fills me with passion and sets me on a journey, a mission really, to bring Spirit to those who most need new hope. On the Sunday of Pentecost, I feel as if the wind is ready to blow!
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
”In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
Acts 2:1-4, 16-18
It must have been a shocking surprise, even stunning in its drama. It is no wonder that of all the church seasons, Pentecost has arguably inspired the most stunning art. Artists depict wind, fire, people receiving tongues of fire and all manner of colorful Spirit movement. Pentecost art is filled with movement, unpredictable and free!
No doubt, the artists who create art for the season of Pentecost offer us images of color, vibrancy, movement and freedom. I suppose that these qualities are the ones we want in our own lives, especially movement and freedom. The Spirit Wind that blows through my life and yours brings us that movement and freedom, almost as if Spirit removes the bonds that keep us still and stagnant. Instead “we live and move and have our being”* in a God who brings new life when we most need it.
And as for Pentecostal fire, well, we need that, too. It is a Refiner’s fire, a holy fire with the power to burn away everything that holds us back and then to put the “fire” of passion in our souls that inspires us to live out the calling and mission of our lives.
The wonderful news of Pentecost is that we do not have to rely on our own limited power. The great news of all Pentecost is the promise we hear in our souls, “The wind is ready to blow!” This is the hour for us to be permeated with the courage to run with Pentecostal winds and burn with Pentecostal fire.
God’s Spirit filling means very little to us in the midst of easy days, but in times life these, Spirit within us means everything. In these days of pandemic, police violence, mass shootings, violence in families, hungry children, adults desperate to find work, racial conflict, people marginalized and oppressed, we need to hold on to the promise of holy wind and fire.
As always, we are left with questions:
In the midst of thiskind of world, what can we possibly do? In the midst of my weakness, can I feel the Spirit-wind? In the midst of grief and loss, can I feel the Spirit-wind? In the midst of illness and pain, can I feel the Spirit-wind?
The answer is “YES!”
Pentecost can come upon us in the darkest of times, in the most impossible of circumstances . . . when only the wind and the fireof God’s Spirit could begin to pull off the miracle of new life. The Prophet Haggai would say to us: “Take courage! For I am with you. My Spirit abides among you.”
And so I proclaim to us this day, that if we are willing to be moved and changed by Spirit wind and fire, God’s Spirit is able to empower us. God’s Spirit is able to move us from limitedness into new life, togive us courage, to give our tired feet new strength to keep moving forward instead of giving up.
If we are willing, God’s Spirit windisable to breathe life into us. And when our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, I hope we will remember . . .
That the Spirit of Pentecost will ignite us with a fiery passion that disturbs our complacency.
That the Spirit of Pentecost longs to baptize us again and again and again with Spirit-fire and move us with Spirit-wind.
That the Spirit of Pentecost is able to re-kindle within us the courage to proclaim the Gospel of liberation to the ends of the earth.
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.
Psalm 27:14 ESV
Waiting is no easy thing. Most of us don’t really like it. We’re not good at it. We are impatient people. We want things to happen quickly. Isn’t it excruciating at times to wait when a traffic light stays red far too long, and no traffic can be seen anywhere! How often we have stood in a long, slow-moving line and frustratingly declared, “This is not worth the wait!”
The more important matter, though, is when the soul must wait, when our hearts must wait for pain to ease. When our hearts have to wait, when our souls have to wait in the silence of suffering, it’s almost impossible for us to bear. Yet the the words of the psalmist and the prophets echo through the ages:
For God alone my soul waits in silence;from God comes my salvation; God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress. I shall never be shaken.
Psalm 62:1-2 ESV
Those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:31 NKJV
Messages of hope, yes. Yet when we are suffering, when we are in pain or disheartened or in trouble, nothing really sounds much like hope. Waiting for pain to ease is difficult, even excruciating. I like the way Sue Monk Kidd offers insight about waiting in her book, “When the Heart Waits.”
I had tended to view waiting as mere passivity. When I looked it up in my dictionary however, I found that the words passive and passion come from the same Latin root, pati, which means “to endure.” Waiting is thus both passive and passionate. It’s a vibrant, contemplative work. It means descending into self, into God, into the deeper labyrinths of prayer. It involves listening to disinherited voices within, facing the wounded holes in the soul, the denied and undiscovered, the places one lives falsely. It means struggling with the vision of who we really are in God and molding the courage to live that vision.
Sue Monk Kidd, “When the Heart Waits”
I cannot explain it better than that and I won’t try. My deepest self desperately grasps for these words, “listening to disinherited voices within, facing the wounded holes in the soul.” I cannot respond with any meaningful comments, but I will offer another insight about waiting for a God who covers us with pure, merciful, amazing grace.
GRACE. The Hebrew word is Hesed.
Hesed is a Hebrew word that means grace in all its fulness. Hesed is defined as compassion, mercy, love, faithfulness and most often, grace. But none of these words fully capture this Hebrew word that means grace. Hesed is not just an emotion or a feeling. It describes the way God lavishly pours grace upon us in our most needful moments.
And so we learn to wait for God’s outpouring of grace. Sometimes we wait impatiently. Sometimes we wait in anger. Sometimes we wait with a holy sense of peace. Sometimes we wait with hope, joyfully expectant. And sometimes we wait in silence, without words, disconsolate and cast down.
A number of years ago, I found myself nursing a disconsolate, cast down soul and spirit. I had been through a trying time in my life that I can only remember as one of deep sorrow. I remember one day when I sat down at the piano after reading Psalm 42. One particular verse of the Psalm reverberated in my mind. Over and over again, I heard the words, but I did not hear them read. I heard them sung, with a simple, but hopeful strength. I heard myself singing, a soul-song from somewhere inside me. I began to play what I heard, first the melody and rhythm, then the chords that arose from somewhere I could not pinpoint. It sounded beautiful, and it sounded like it was emerging from a sacred promise from God — unequivocally for me. This was my soul song:
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
Psalm 42:11 NRSV
I think I was waiting that day, though I was not sure what I was waiting for. I just know that I found hope again that day, if just for a few moments of holy music. And in my disquieted spirit, I sensed pure grace once again — grace, hesed — God’s infinite, matchless, amazing grace.
Images can affect us profoundly, leaving indelible marks on us, on the inside of us. When I saw on video the images and sounds of George Floyd’s murder, I knew that I would never forget what I saw on that day of terror, May 25, 2020. When even the date is indelibly marked in my mind, I know that what happened disturbed me to the core.
This is true of most, if not all, of us. When images flash before our eyes — shocking images — they register immediately in us. We usually hold those events in our mind’s eye and in our spirits for a long time, perhaps forever if the shock hits us hard enough. But when some time has separated us from the initial shock, we begin the welcomed process of forgetting. Passing time melts the shocking vision away, and it gradually becomes unnoticed, leaving the seat of our emotions with fewer harsh and weighty memories.
I read their names today, these eight names and hundreds more. The names represented persons whose stories touched my soul when they were killed. Yet, I had forgotten so many of them, could not remember exactly how they died or what led to their murders. No wonder the demonstrators and marchers for justice bear signs that read, “#Say their names!”
So that we will not forget! So that we will not forget our unspeakable history and thus risk repeating it!
The history of murder on the streets of American cities, large and small, is long and distressing. The moans of mourning can be heard still if we listen carefully, yes the moaning of today’s atrocities, but also moans echoing across the tragic history of slavery. Through history, through time, they moan and mourn.
It is worth remembering, as Black liberation theologian James Cone (1938–2018) points out, that the lynchings of African Americans and the crucifixion of Jesus share much in common: “Both the cross and the lynching tree were symbols of terror, instruments of torture and execution, reserved primarily for slaves, criminals, and insurrectionists — the lowest of the low in society.”
Yet, somehow in the midst of the horrific, there is God — perhaps seen in the unshakable voices of demonstrators, perhaps seen in people of all colors marching together, perhaps seen in the messages of the brilliant art created on old buildings, bridges and underpasses, perhaps seen in the hope-filled eyes of a child creating a protest sign. God is present in these images.
In an article entitled, “Human Cargo,” Fr. Richard Rohr points to the writing of Barbara Holmes, who suggests that “crisis contemplation” actually arose out of necessity during slavery, beginning in the Middle Passage when people were transported across the ocean as human cargo. In difficult times, contemplation becomes the soul’s strategy of survival.
The poignant words of Barbara Holmes:
The only sound that would carry Africans over the bitter waters was the moan. Moans flowed through each wracked body and drew each soul toward the center of contemplation. On the slave ships, the moan became the language of stolen strangers, the sound of unspeakable fears . . . The moan is the birthing sound The first movement toward a creative response to, the entry into the heart of contemplation through the crucible of crisis.
Holmes explains how the stolen slaves often formed a community. “Yet, more often than not, these Africans were strangers to each other by virtue of language, culture, and tribe,” she says. “Their journey was a rite of passage of sorts that stripped captives of their personal control over the situation and forced them to turn to the spirit realm for relief and guidance.”
The reality is that contemplative moments can be found at the very center of these kinds of crises — in the holds of slave ships, on the auction blocks and in the brush arbors where slaves worshipped in secret.
In the words of Howard Thurman, “when all hope for release in this world seems unrealistic and groundless, the heart turns to a way of escape beyond the present order.” For captured Africans, there was no hope except in common cause and through the development of spiritual fortitude.
The stark and inconvenient truth is that we are hearing the echoing moan of black and brown communities today, crying out “How long, O Lord, must our people suffer?”
Poet Felicia Murrell has written words of poetry that combine a deep awareness of God’s presence while clearly naming the collective trauma of police brutality and lynchings. We must set our wills to remember. Of her poem, “Silence,” Richard Rohr says, “There is something about poetry that gives us permission to sit with the paradoxes of our pain, perhaps especially when addressing traumatic suffering.”
He is right, so I invite you to read Felicia Murrell’s challenging poem, reading her words slowly and contemplatively, “allowing your heart to break open to God’s love amidst the suffering of the world.”
If you’re silent,
you can hear the forest breathe, the holy hush of the tree’s limb.
“Silence,” said Thomas Merton, “is God’s first language”: the way it soaks into your skin, surrounds you, blanketing you like the forest’s breath.
Silence: The cadence of the land at rest, the body asleep, the heart awake.
Silence: The deep rhythmic breathing of a mind slowed down, an ocean still, wet dew clinging to grass blade.
Silence: The sacred song trapped in a bird’s breast before its first chirp, the still of night across a desert landscape wrapped in a bone-aching chill before the sun rises to scorch its parched earth.
Silence: The lusty gaze of onlookers staring at the negro on the lynching tree, neck snapped, life ended, feet dangling, back and forth, back and forth.
Silenced: Hands up, don’t shoot! Body thrumming with a heady sense of power. Hands in pocket, resting pose, knees embedded into a man’s neck.
I. Can’t. Breathe.
I challenge you to remember the names, to listen for the moans of mourning echoing across centuries, to hear the moans of present suffering and count the tears of those who mourn, to hear the voice of God who longs for justice. As it is written in the Book of Isaiah . . .
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him . . . you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you.
Isaiah 13: 18-19 ESV
I invite you to listen to “The Moan” sung by Marion Williams.
There was a time when I believed that I was invincible, with all the time in the world. Lately, though, I have thought a lot about how quickly time passes and about how I tend to constantly say, “I don’t have time.” I have also been thinking about healing. The reason for my healing thoughts could well be because at least two parts of my body reallyneed physical healing, and soon. I don’t have time to be incapacitated, or so I believe. I don’t have time for pain and I wonder if my two places of physical pain were of my own making. For instance, my wrist sprain — now an orangey ochre color from my knuckles to halfway up my elbow — that the doctor says will heal in 6 to 10 weeks is taking way too long to mend. 6 to 10 weeks is entirely unacceptable! Was my ungraceful fall in the kitchen due to my carelessness or my lack of mindfulness?
And then there’s the terribly painful throat invasion, allegedly identified as a cricopharyngeal spasm, that feels like choking with a large object stuck in my throat while something is tightening around my neck. Direct from Healthline.com: “Anxiety about the condition can aggravate your symptoms.”
Aha! Anxiety! Therein may be the source of many ailments. That, and a lack of rest, relaxation, quietness, peacefulness or mindfulness, all of which are highly touted methods of natural healing. Healing of the body, yes, but also the critically important healing of my heart, my mind, my soul and my spirit — emotional and spiritual healing. That healing is often harder than physical healing.
So I turned my thoughts, while suffering incessant physical pain, on the subject of emotional and spiritual healing. My thoughts raised the question of what exactly is the difference between the soul and the spirit, and how in the world would I heal there.
Here’s my attempt at an answer. Most of us would agree that we consist of body, soul and spirit. In fact, the Bible affirms the existence of all three:
May your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5:23).
Our physical bodies are fairly evident to us, but our souls and spirits are less distinguishable. In the preceding scripture passage, the Greek word for soul is psuche (ψυχή), or as we might call it, “psyche.” This word “soul” implies our mind, our will and desires as evidenced by our personal preferences, choices, and emotional responses to life’s situations. Our soul is reflected in our personality. Our soul is our life.
“Spirit” is a completely different word. The Greek word for spirit is pneuma (πνεύμα). It refers to the part of us that connects with God and receives the breath of life from the Holy Spirit (Άγιο πνεύμα). Our spirit is our breath, the breath that animates and enlivens us from deep within. I like the way Theologian David Galston explains it:
The soul is life, and the Greek word is psyche. The spirit is breath, and the Greek word is pneuma. Natural confusion exists between the [meaning of the] spirit and the soul since both words, in their roots, mean breath. But for the Greeks, there were two kinds of breath: the kind necessary for life, the psyche, and the kind necessary for [our very breath], the pneuma. In modern English, we might distinguish the two as life and energy.
I often ask my clients, mentees and friends this question: How is your heart? They usually have an understanding of how their heart is and why. But ask these questions — How is your soul? How is your spirit? — and the answers don’t come as easily. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think that, for myself, it is that I am able to more easily know my heart. I am more in touch with it. On the many times throughout my life when I was brokenhearted, I knew how my heart reacted and why. When I am sorrowful, happy, excited, surprised or feel many other emotions, I can place my hand over my heart and feel is as if I have literally touched it, that my heart has told me what emotion is there.
As for my soul and my spirit, well, they are deeper in me. In the innermost places of me, my soul mourns and celebrates and holds all manner of emotions. In my innermost parts, my spirit lies quietly within me always waiting for the brush of Spirit wings, waiting in stillness for the breath that animates and enlivens and ennobles. There was a time when I would always find time for the healing my soul and spirit needed.
So in the dense forrest of all of the 700+ words I just wrote, what is the lesson? What is the message from God we need to hear? Believe it or not, it’s not complicated. Isn’t it just like God to send us an uncomplicated message that we immediately make complicated? God’s bottom line here is easy, simple, uncomplicated: “Guard your heart, your soul, your spirit . . . all that is within you.
From Joshua Now, vigilantly guard your souls: Love God, your God.
From Deuteronomy Keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life.
From Proverbs Above all, guard your heart with all diligence; for from it flow the wellsprings of life.
From 1 Thessalonians And the God of peace sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And that’s it. There was a time when I would write 700 more words to tell you specifically how to do that. But today, I am not going to tell you how to heal. The ways are individually unique and the paths are many. So I will leave you with just one path that you may choose to follow: the path that leads you deep within yourself to your sacred, quiet place and then implores you to listen for God’s whisper and wait for the breeze of the Spirit. Where? In a beautiful, peaceful place, under a starlit sky, in a quiet filled with sounds of music.
In these many months of pandemic, experiencing loss and lostness, loneliness and isolation, mourning and tears, may you find comfort in the words of poet, William Wadsworth, here turned into beautiful music by Elaine Hagenberg.
Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind.
Complete text of anthem:
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, The earth, and every common sight, To me did seem Apparell’d in celestial light, The glory of a dream.
The rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose; The moon doth with delight Look round her when the heavens are bare; Waters on a starry night Are beautiful and fair; The sunshine is a glorious birth; But yet I know, where’er I go, That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.
Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind.
Stand fast therefore in the freedom by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Galatians 5:1 (NKJV)
What is it about freedom that scares us? What is it about freedom that causes us to refuse to offer it to everyone? Are we afraid that giving freedom to another person or group of persons will diminish our own freedom? What does freedom really mean to persons who are oppressed and to those who live inside the throes of injustice?
I have written very little lately about justice and accountability, the two words most used to describe Derek Chauvin’s conviction. Ican’t help but mark this very moment on the “long arc that bends toward justice.” I feel compelled to call our attention to this week! Actually it’s last week now, but you get the idea. Let’s call it “the week of the verdict.”
The week of the verdict has come full circle from George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020 to the conviction of Derick Chauvin almost one year later on April 29, 2021. It was a week we will not forget. It brought up emotions in me and perhaps in most people. Most of what I felt mirrored the emotions I imagine George Floyd’s family feeling — happy, calm, relieved, conflicted, hopeful, determined, vindicated. I also felt sad and helpless because the conviction did not end murders of black and brown brothers and sisters. And I felt joyful and hopeful because perhaps this flashpoint in the long history of racial injustice will help us turn the corner and finally see in our communities the justice we long for.
How can that happen? How can we turn the corner and move away from oppressive systems and oppressive people? How do we do that when just minutes after the verdict and less than ten miles away, 16 year old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by police in Ohio? It happened in the shadow of “the week of the verdict.”
Perhaps for us this is the week of the verdict — the week when the verdict will be read on our failure to end the systemic racism in our communities! Isn’t it past time for us to stand up and stand strong and stand determined and woke? My friends, it is time! This moment in the history of injustice may well be the turning point we need to end racism!
I have said this many times: We cannot just reform injustice, we must transform it. The transformation that results in genuine, lasting justice must begin in the soul and in the heart where intentions are formed. I must lament injustice, confess my own complicity in it, repent of the white supremacy within me, own other forms of oppression and commit to the hard work of transforming injustice in my community and in my world. Only then will transformation happen in the systems that oppress people.
Only transformed people can love neighbors as Jesus loved us. My friend and sister blogger never fails to remind me to answer the ultimate question, “How then shall I live?”* She offers this scripture to us today.
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
1 John 3:16-17
She then reminded us that conditions in India are dire and the people languish.
In India, today the virus surges almost beyond control, hospitals are choked, people die in line waiting for a doctor. How can those of us rejoicing in vaccination, cautious travel, new gatherings, not ask how we can help?
How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
And that is the soul-critical question we must answer. How then shall we live when all around us people suffer every kind of calamity — every kind of violence, disaster, racism, discrimination, dehumanization? Every kind of heartache. How do we, in our suffering world, become the heart, hands and feet of Jesus?
Getting back to the lament of my own heart, that one thing that inspires my passion — transforming the injustice of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia and all forms of evil exclusion and oppression. Transforming injustice! Setting our faces toward the hope of Beloved Community! This one thing I know, the steps of Jesus would have led him to the “healing” of injustice in any form. On every day he walked on this earth, Jesus would be loving every person who was in need and he would be lamenting every injustice that caused harm.
How can we not lament? How can we not expend ourselves in the hard work of transforming injustice? How can we not care for, and pray for, and love our brothers and sisters who are in need? How can we refuse to work for the freedom of black and brown people, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants and asylum seekers, and to any person who is enslaved? How can we deny God’s desire for justice and peace?
How can we refuse freedom to black and brown people, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants and asylum seekers, and to any person who is enslaved? How can we deny them God’s peace?
— Rev. Kathy Manis Findley
I do not have the answer for how we might do this. But I do have some convictions about it, especially about racism and white supremacy. One of my convictions is that dismantling racism begins in me, in my soul. And eradicating white supremacy begins when I look seriously at my own white supremacy. For you see, as long as white supremacy looks to me like a white-draped person burning a cross, I will never acknowledge that white supremacy is in me. As long as white supremacy looks to me like a man I might see on TV news with a truck, a confederate flag, a rifle and a mission, I can easily distance myself. I am not that white person; I am a different white person that would never tolerate racism.
Am I? Am I that different white person? Or are there ways I contribute to an unjust society? Are there ways I fail to seek Beloved Community? Are there thoughts and feelings within me that diminish other persons, persons not like me? Am I complacent about injustice? Am I complicit? Am I reticent? Am I avoiding, looking the other way?
As long as white supremacy looks to me like a white-draped person burning a cross in someone’s yard, I will never see that white supremacy is in me. As long as white supremacy looks to me like a man I might see on TV news with a pick-up truck, a confederate flag, a rifle and a mission, I can easily distance myself. I am not that kind of white person! Or am I?
Rev. Kathy Manis Findley
Racial injustice may currently be the most visible form of oppression, but we must remember that many groups of people are oppressed. Many people long for freedom from oppression. Only when we “see” and “hear” all of their voices, will we be on the way to transforming injustice. I don’t know everything about oppression, and I don’t know exactly how to make a difference. I don’t really know how to join hands with my community and set about to transform injustice. I do know that I must begin with my own lament, for only lament can open my eyes to every manner of suffering and oppression.
So meet me on the mountain where we find the strength from God to persevere, and then descend with me to all the places where oppression enslaves people. Come with me to the people, and together, let us remove from them the yoke of bondage and offer them new freedom. And may Spirit Wind surround us with courage. Thanks be to God.
*”How then Shall We Live?” was the inspiring theme of the Alliance of Baptists Annual Gathering.
Dedicated to my dear friends, T and J, and celebrating their new names
Two of my close friends, members of my Sunday School class, changed their names. And no, they didn’t get married. They just changed their names. The outer process, the legal process of changing their names was cumbersome, but not overly difficult. The inner process was harder, more introspective. It was a process of the heart, with the change-journey mapped out in the soul.
Why do I feel the need to do this? What should my name be, what name would most fully reflect who I am? Will I face repercussions? Will people “get it?” Why would I spend my energy to do this?
The answer to all the questions ended up being simple and straightforward and honest . . . I want to re-claim myself as I claim my new name.
We discussed this very thing when our class met on Sunday. In some ways, we honored our newly-named friends and acknowledged the soulwork and stamina it took for them to take the path to newness. We acknowledged the inner path to be dimly lit at times, filled with branches that could have blocked the way, and dangerous, as our paths and journeys often are. You know the dangerous places — our self-doubt, our rejections and betrayals, our times of being marginalized, misunderstood and dismissed. And Yet, when we memorialized and solemnized this journey to new names, we discovered the glistening light and vibrant color of it, the place from which our friends with new names emerged.
I want to re-claim myself as I claim my new name. I want to embrace who I really am as I embrace my new name.
Emerging . . . From a Good and Dangerous Place of Glistening Light and Vibrant Color
Over the past few years, our Sunday School class studied Biblical women who faced challenges, changes or trauma. There were many. We traveled their journeys with them and imagined their emotions. One of the things we noticed about many of them is that they were unnamed, dismissed, invisible. Their stories led us to our own stories of being dismissed, ignored, invisible unremembered and unnamed. Our grief rose up from our souls as we traveled with them, and we were taken aback by all the ways we have been “unnamed” and “unremembered” in our lives.
I read a post this morning by Dianna Butler Bass. As always, her words struck a chord. Interestingly, she cited one of my all-time favorite books, “In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins,” written by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, which uncovered the story of an unnamed Biblical woman. This is what Dianna wrote:
The opening image from Fiorenza’s “In Memory of Her” made me gasp.
“In the passion account of Mark’s Gospel three disciples figure prominently,” she wrote. Those three were Judas, Peter, and “the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus.” Fiorenza claims, “While the stories of Judas and Peter are engraved in the memory of Christians, the story of the woman is virtually forgotten. Although Jesus pronounces in Mark: ‘And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.’”
Yet, as Fiorenza notes, the woman has been largely passed over; “even her name is lost to us.” The women had disappeared to history — the very woman whom Jesus promised would live in memory. I realized that I didn’t want to disappear — that I wanted to be seen as fully human, to be remembered as one who loved Jesus, and as a faithful follower. I had lived too long in a theological community that erased women, excluded us from the story, and trivialized our experiences of Jesus. I wanted the disappearing act to end.” (p. 209).
Isn’t that what we all want and need? To not be unnamed or erased. To be named and remembered for the person ps we really are, not the persons, others define, describe and name. My comfort, as always, is that God knows my name. God never forgets who I am and, in fact, helps me to continually become the woman of worth I am meant to be. God has always guided me through that “good, glistening and dangerous place,” where I often go when I’m searching for my self. I emerge from that good and hard place every time, better and stronger.
The mystery and miracle is that God calls me “Beloved Daughter,” always, and that makes all the difference. So, if you need to, change your name! Change yourself, not into the person others want you to be, but into the person that is fully YOU. Dare to enter that good and hard place, that “good and glistening place” with the courage to meet your soul there and the assurance that you will emerge — new, renewed, known, named and cherished. God does that!
I am confident, friends, that my name and yours is locked in God’s heart, forever. God even knows our name when we change it! And the fullness of God’s grace is evident in the words of Mark’s Gospel:
And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.
Jesus spoke those grace-filled words, and his words are true of us, each of us. Imagine this for a moment. Whatever you do in Christ’s name, whatever kindness, compassion, assistance you offer to another person, whatever act of love you do or act of grace you give, what you have done will be told and remembered. Imagine overhearing the words Jesus spoke that day: “What she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Thanks be to God who always holds our names close and never, ever forgets them.
I searched for uplifting music to leave with you today, but could not decide between these two very different presentations. Enjoy and be inspired!