May 30, 2020: The Language of the Unheard
Dear People of St. Paul’s,
I write to you on the eve of Pentecost, the day we remember and celebrate the release of spiritual power into the lives of those who followed Jesus. It was a moment of transformative awareness that all Jesus had been and done and said and promised was IN THEM as well. They were empowered to become the one they followed.
There are many forms power takes in this world. All too often we participate in the power of oppression: the rigging of the system in a way that privileges and benefits some at the expense of others. There is the coercive power of fear and sanctioned retribution, which enforces that system. This is what Jesus called “the kingdom of this world.”
Racism and the violence it inevitably perpetrates is topping the news again this week in the awful death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and of Jose Soto in Connecticut, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. The tragedy of this news is that it is nothing new. Racism-based oppression was woven into our nation’s founding, and it is woven into our common life like a cancer, sometimes dressed up or papered over, but always very much present, erupting with ever-greater frequency while at the same time we begin to see through its false legitimacy. We must examine like never before the way we have normalized institutionalized racism and the way it infects us all.
If Covid-19 is showing us how interconnected we all are, and how deadly behaving as if we aren’t can be, then we must also admit that unless and until we take on this ongoing abuse of power at its root levels, and our collective participation in it, we will only embed more suffering and disease and death into our common soul.
Like the current pandemic, we can end this. Hate is a learned behavior, and the work of becoming conscious of unearned privilege, and changing public policy that supports it, begins to unravel racism at its roots. This is our work. This taps into what Jesus called “the kin(g)dom of heaven.” This is a movement of the Spirit in our time. This is the power of God.
The Race and Social Justice Coalition at St. Paul’s has been doing this important work in our midst for the past several years, and in the coming days, weeks, and months, members are focusing their efforts on creating actionable projects we can engage in to address this plague within us. I commend their work, and urge us all to once again bring this to the center of our prayer, and to find ways to get actively involved in dismantling the long-held structures that dehumanize us.
“A riot is the language of the unheard,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us. There is so much we have yet to truly hear with the ears of the heart. “That they all may be one, as you and I are one,” Jesus prayed before his crucifixion. This is not a formula for the next life; this is a true possibility for this one. Wherever that awareness of union with God and solidarity with suffering in humanity and creation combine, new Pentecostal power is released in the world.
Let it be so with us in these days.
For more on the response of the Episcopal Church to this week’s events, read the statement from the bishops of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut.