"Do you not care that we are perishing?"
This text from Mark chapter 4 appears in the lectionary on this June 21, a Sunday in ordinary time. It is the story of Jesus getting in the boat to get to the other side, the other side of the lake. Whether it is to preach to others gathered or just to get away we don't know. I have read sermons today that speculate that Jesus was going to the other side to meet with those who were other, different than those on the side of the lake he was leaving.
What we are sure about is that while they were going a storm rose and there was wind and waves and trouble. The scripture reads in Eugene Peterson's translation of the text in The Message., "And Jesus was in the stern, head on a pillow sleeping!"
I wonder was he really sleeping, or was he "playing possum" as my grandmother would say, pretending to be asleep waiting for his disciples or someone else on the boat to take care of the problem, to batten down the hatches and ride out the storm, or steer a course away from the rough seas. Was he waiting to see what the people who followed him would do?
"Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?" was the question.
I haven't posted on this blog since July of 2013 when I was writing in response to the acquittal of, George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin. Anyway, I was writing to my dark skinned boys to say how much I loved them and to ponder whether the absence of love in our lives matters.
Yes, it has been two years since I have made any entry. Today I am writing because we are only days away from the murder of nine African Americans: Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. Depayne Middleton, Rev. Clement Pinkney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons and Myra Thompson. They were killed by a 21 year old white boy who mouthed racist rants and shot them. What is worst than the heinous murder of nine people, what is worst then the racial rants, as if that is not enough, is that they were shot down in a church during a bible study. Yes, a bible study, where this man was welcomed with opened arms, a bible study where the members of Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina were discussing the word of God and talking about God's goodness.
What this horrendous event has done is opened up for me the wounds and pain of growing up and living while Black in the United States of America. Rev. Billy Michael Honor, a preacher in Atlanta writes, "Being Black in America is exhausting. Constantly having to navigate the perils of the color line and having to live within a system that repeatedly reminds you of your contested existence is beyond burdensome."
I, like Rev. Honor, know too well what it means to navigate the system, to try and try to prove again and again that you belong, that you are smart enough to do the job, that you deserve a chance, that you are not the cook or the janitor at the place where you preach and preside at table. Yes, I have endured these things, but I know that this is par for the course for being Black in the U. S. of A. I have lived long enough to know that being Black comes with hazards, whether you are driving in the suburbs or shopping. Yet, the events of this week have hurt me to my core and left me weeping.
Before this week I had smacked my lips, prayed about and railed against the incidence of injustices that happened in the last two years: the murders of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamar Rice, Reka Boyd, Ferguson, Baltimore.... just to name a few. I shook my head and prayed about the incident just this month of the manhandling by a white police officer of a teenaged Black girl in a bikini at a pool party in a mostly white neighborhood in McKinney, Texas. I have even been left speechless this month by the idea of a white woman parading around as Black. Being hired and using the identity as an African American to her advantage to gain prestige and to be taken as an expert on Blackness. But this, the murder of nine people at a Bible Study in an historically Black church. This is too much!
"Teacher is it nothing to you that we are going down?"
Over the years our society has been debating whether or not we have reached a post-racial period in our history. This was especially the conversation after the presidential election of 2008. Of course, we are post-racial. See, we elected a Black man as president of the United States of America. Isn't that proof enough? I have even had a fellow clergy person in the ELCA tell me there was no more racism because, at that time, I was a successful pastor in a predominately white congregation --- as if that were the measure of the end of racism. Folks, let me tell you racism is far from over.
In case you don't understand let me define racism. Racism is the social construct that decides that one group of people, because of skin color, physical features or parentage is inferior to another. Systemic racism is prejudice plus power. It ". . . involves having the power to carry out systemic discriminatory practices through the major institutions of our society." We live in a racist society, because "whites dominate and control the institutions that create and enforce American cultural norms and values." The problem with racism is that most white people don't recognize that they receive "benefits automatically, unconsciously, unintentionally." So if they are not in someones face yelling racial slurs most whites believe they are not racist, yet whites, as I said benefit in American society just because they are white.
Racism isn't always in our faces, most of the time it is those subtle things. So when an incident of clear racial hatred occurs most people are shocked! We must realize that a racist society produces the opportunity for subtle and yes, extreme racial hatred.
"Master, carest thou not that we perish"
I am convinced that Jesus cares, I am convinced that Jesus is able to do something about this storm, this wind and waves that are buffeting us about so much so that we might drown, go under, or perish.
In the fourth chapter of Mark, Jesus fixed the problem. Jesus has the power to do that. Jesus loves us and does care whether or not we perish. So Jesus spoke to the wind and waves and calmed the sea. But then, Jesus reprimanded the disciples: "Why are you such cowards?" "Don't you have any faith at all?" It is though he is saying to all of us. "Of course I care, but haven't I loved you enough that you might care? You batten down the hatches! You steer the boat in another direction! You do something to get us out of this storm of racism, hatred and injustice!" Do you not care that you are perishing?
Yes, Jesus loves and yes Jesus has the power to calm the storms; yet, I am asking you my brothers and sisters, "Do you not care that we are perishing?" Through the power of God's love what will you do to stand up to racism? Will you call out your friends when they tell that "off color" joke? Will you investigate the practices of your company--in hiring, in lending, in everything and see if they are discriminatory? Will you stop being shocked and become a little more outraged at the incidence that keep on happening in our communities? The disciples asked Jesus, "is it nothing to you that we go down?" And Jesus did something. Will you?
I hope you do care and can hear my rambling.
Here is a list of articles you might read on the internet:
"White Fragility and the Rule of Engagement"
"Conspiracy of Silence" Jim Rigby
"My Commitment to Social Justice Does Not Mean I Hate White People" Michelle Denise Jackson
"11 Ways White America Avoids Taking Responsibility for Racism" Dr. Robin Diangelo
"A Beginner's Guide To Becoming An Ally To The Black Community"