Sunday, August 13, 2017
Making Sense of Yesterday
"Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we
cannot live within" James Baldwin
"Peace is flowing like a river, flowing out from you and me,
flowing out into the desert, setting all the captives free."
As I drove home from the vigil on Thursday night, I noticed a hushed stillness had fallen across town. It was quiet. The streets were empty. The wind wasn't kicking up any leaves. Pulling out of Westminster's parking lot, I found myself behind a compact car with a New Jersey license plate. There was a bicycle hooked to a rack on the back fender while plastic crates, clothes, and random wires pressed against the car's windows. A new or returning student. Did she know what was coming? Did her parents warn her back in NJ to stay home on Saturday? Welcome to UVA.
At 8:30 on Thursday night, there were no marching people with signs on the streets, no one throwing rocks and bottles, no bloodied faces, no drones swooping through the air and no robed and fearless clergy. I drove by the Jefferson School and wondered how the Charlottesville police would block off streets. And then I recalled what one person after the vigil telling me how we should have sang the last verse of the final hymn at least one more time:
Sing! Sing a new song!
Sing of that great day when all will be one!
God will reign and we'll walk with each other
as sisters and brothers united in love!
Thursday night was the quiet before the storm. On Friday night, torch-wielding children of God walked across the UVA campus. Then on Saturday morning, surrounded by loving people of faith, we walked up to McGuffey Park. Katie Couric marched with us. At McGuffey Park, we heard speeches about love overcoming hate; about the desire to end racism and bigotry in America; we watched UVA students, stand up and give speeches about their hope and dreams for all people getting along.We thought the millennials didn't care. They do. It's hard to make sense of yesterday.
Whether you were downtown or at home or out of town or watched it all on CNN, it's hard for us to understand how Americanscould be so different from another. I watch one man lash out and pound another man with his fists.
Another man passes me by, blood streaming down his face, covering his shirt.
Elton and Cheryl Oliver and I watchas lines of police officers decked in riot gear walk by us. The Oliver’s worry where their son might be. They know he is closer to the action. I breathe in a breath of tear gas and gulp hard.
It's hard to understand. It's hard to make sense of it all.
If the writer of Psalm 85 had been in Charlottesville on Saturday, I'm sure she would have been in and among the clergy draped in their stoles and cassocks.
But in stark contrast to yesterday, this psalm looks back and remembers how good life used to be. She remembersthe good ole days when she recalls life was so much better. In the first three verses, the psalmist, basically, prays to God, "God, you were so much nicer to us back then. What happened? Remember, God? Back then you restored the fortunes of Jacob; you forgave us and pardoned us; you reversed your anger toward your people; and everybody got along. What went wrong?
The psalmist's looks back on better days, past days of victory and stability, days when everything was sunshine and light. Sure people were enslaved and some people were not permitted to use public restrooms or drink from the same fountain as white people; some were beaten and killed for the color of their skin, but it wasn't all so bad. Sure people were not treated fairly or with equity or with love; some were not considered full human beings, some where not allowed to vote, but looking back-- those were the good ole days.
Really? Hindsight is always so 20/20.
This looking back with rose colored glasses reminds meof that person we used to know, that person we knew in our childhood or in high school, but, today, he or she is no longer the person we remember. It reminds me of my ten year high school reunion when I saw Mike Pearson again. In high school, Mike had been President of the Student Body, the star of our state championship soccer team, king for the queen of the prom, confident and athletic, the most popular guy in school, but when we graduated, a rumor had it that Mike had a brain tumor. I lost track of him after that.
So, at my 10 year high school reunion, as 30 of us sat at picnic tables eating fried chicken, some of us began to notice this bald guy, overweight, looking confused, and peeking at us from behind a tree. He appeared to be hiding. And I remember one of the guys at the table going over, putting arm around him, and inviting him to sit with us. The scar on his head told us everything we needed to know. It was Mike Pearson.
What happened? What happened to the Mike I remembered? What happened to those high school days of glory? Whathappened to the God we used to know? What happened to the church we used to attend? It's not the same anymore. What happened to all that talk back in the 60s about equal rights under the law and treating every human being with respect? Indeed, what happened to Martin Luther King Jr.'s words to us over 50 years ago: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
What happened?Clearly, we are not there yet.
And so it comes as no surprisethat the psalmist petitionsGod to do what God did before. It's human to want was lost. In essence, the psalmist prays that if God was nice back then, why can't God be nice again? In other words, if God can hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning last night, certainly God hit another home run tonight. Please, God, the psalmist prays, bring back the glory days. O God, bring back that sweet steadfast love.
But we can't go back, can we? And if we did, might we discover something about ourselves we don't like. At this point in studying the psalm, a quote from the 6th BCE came to mind and I wonder if, at this point in the psalm, the psalmist had the same moment insight:
“No one ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river
and he or she not the same person.” (Heraclites 544 BCE)
Think about the flowing waters of a river.
Think of the James, the Rivana, and the Ripidan. We make our plans based on what we know about the past; we work hard to solve the problems of race; we want God to tell us how to silence the voices of hatred, but the answers to these problems do not come easily; and while we worry and fret, while we hate and divide, God's strong and flowing river just keeps rolling on
Some of us might be tempted to go back to the past, to the way things used to be, but that's all water under the bridge, right? It not the same river it was 60 years ago. We are not the same people. And the river keeps flowing, God's beautiful river keeps washing it all away.
We want to make sense of what happened yesterday. We want to make sense of North Korea. We want to make sense of our President's politically savvy neutrality and indifference to people who suffer. We want to make sense of our own grief. We ask why? We ask what went wrong?But this river is wide, and this river is deep. And it's been flowing for a long time.
"Let me hear what Godwill speak" the psalmist prays standing beside this river. Let God's river of peace flow towards me." he prays, dipping his hand into the rushing waters. ". . .for God will speak peace, God will speak peace to God's people and they will turn to God in their hearts."
God's peace.God's Shalom. God's well-being for all people. If you haven't figured it out, that's the name of this river. And it flows by us every moment of every day. It is slow, its current is strong, and it bends toward the faithful.
And right now, standing beside this river, I must ask: What will you do now? We cannot hide our heads in the sand. That isn't an option anymore. Indeed, if God is not bringing back the glory days, how will you begin bring peace to this city?
Peace, God speaks. Deep and abiding peace, God whispers. Peace. Peace.
Call to Peace
This is a call to Peace. This is a call to Love. This is a call to say "no" to violence and hatred; this is a call to people of faith to stand up and become a holy presence in their communities. As I heard yesterday many, many times, downtown near Emancipation Park, it doesn't make sense that in 2017 we are still having this problem. And it's unfortunate that this problem had to raise its ugly head here in Charlottesville, VA. But then, it's been coming for a long time. It was simmering below the surface. This is our problem, an American problem, a problem of faith, a problem born of enslaved peoples and entitlement, a problem we have been denying existed. Trust me. It exists. So, let us pray for a greater understanding between people and that God's peace would reign in our hearts and actions.
(Some reflections after I returned home on Saturday)