Articles, Essays & Sermons

The death of George Floyd was a match that lit a bonfire

Four testifiers

by Ken Sehested

 

I encourage you to open a second tab and listen to the song “Stand Up
by DGLS, a young African American quartet, as you read this post.

 

As has been said, no one can create a movement. But you can be prepared for it. And the evidence suggests we are now witnessing—and, hopefully, participating in—one here in the US (with echoes sounding around the world).

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The author Ta-Nehisi Coates is no sentimental optimist regarding the state of racial injustice. He writes as candidly about the state of our sin sick soul as anyone I know.

So when he says this—“I can’t believe I’m gonna say this, but I see hope. I see progress right now.” —“Why Ta-Nehisi Coates Is Hopeful,” conversation with Ezra Klein, Reader Supported News

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Rebecca Stolnit is on my short list of essential interpreters for the living of these days. Below is a paragraph from her newest essay, “The Slow Road to Sudden Change” (Literary Hub).  I highly commend it to you (along with everything else she’s written).

“The death of George Floyd was a match that lit a bonfire, and how the fuel for the bonfire piled up is worth studying. That is, for a national and international uprising against anti-Black racism and police violence to achieve such scale and power, many must have been ready for it, whether they knew it or not. Not in the sense of planning it or expecting these events, but by having changed their minds and committed their hearts beforehand.”

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Finally, Vincent Harding is in my opinion the best interpreter of the Civil Rights Movement. He also wrote the first draft of Martin Luther King’s most controversial speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence.” Years ago I was in a retreat Harding led, and he began his first session playing a recording of the Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway rendition of that old hymn, “Come Ye Disconsolate.” Then he asked those of us in the room, “What do you do with your disconsolation.”

It wasn’t a rhetorical question. The group’s interactive lamenting went on for two days. It wasn’t depressing; it was empowering. It was as if we were able to put a bridle on our sorrow and anger and frustration to guide and hasten our journeys. Such is the goal of lament’s proper work.

Here is a short excerpt from Harding’s There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America:

“Somewhere near the heart of this work is a search for meaning, an attempt to apprehend and share with others my own tentative grasp of the harrowing and terrifying beauty of my people’s pilgrimage in this strangely promised land. Why did it happen?

“…this collective venture toward wholeness. A sense of meaning – which we surely create out of our particular responses to the ‘facts’ of experience – is crucial if we are to join ourselves to the past and the future, to commune with the ancestors as well as the coming children.

“Without it we lose touch with ourselves, our fellow humans, and other creatures, with the earth our mother, and with the cosmos itself. Without the search for meaning, the quest for vision, there can be no authentic movements toward liberation, no true identity or radical integration for an individual or a people.

“Above all, where there is no vision we lose the sense of our great power to transcend history and create a new future for ourselves with others, and we perish utterly in hopelessness, mutual terror, and despair. Therefore the quest is not a luxury; life itself demands it of us.”

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Finally: “What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?” —listen to this short (2:07) video of Valarie Kaur, civil rights activist rooted in the Sikh religious tradition, filmmaker, and founder of the Revolutionary Love Project.

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The times are hard and harrowing; but there is also an unforeseen fallowness in our social landscape—an apparently fertile moment—that holds out hope for meaningful change.

So we continue scheming (see the art at top) together, anticipating the day when hope and history align. And we “Stand Up,”  no matter how small and circumspect your circumstances allow, or how large and bodacious the path you take.

Participate in this work of personal and social repentance and transformation whenever you can, however you can, in what particular way you can, given whatever light the Spirit shines on your way.

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©ken sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org