This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, the “Birthday of the Church,” the recognition of the gift of the Holy Spirit. We use red to symbolize Pentecost because it reminds us of the tongues of fire that descended on the crowd in Jerusalem fifty days after Easter.
Those flames are on my mind today–those flames and the ones that have burned this week in Minneapolis.
In case you’ve forgotten since junior high science classes, a fire needs two things to continue burning after it’s started: fuel and oxygen. At Pentecost, I believe the divine spark that God had imparted upon humans came into contact with the two elements necessary to keep a fire burning: fuel and air. They possessed fuel, something with form and substance, in the Gospel. They had air in the breath of God, the Holy Spirit.
We celebrate the flames of Pentecost; we mourn the flames in Minneapolis.
What is so different between the two? They begin the same, with the divine spark that God has imparted upon humans. But the flames that consume and destroy in Minneapolis are fed by a different fuel and air. George Floyd (His name could be Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean….) was murdered by men (I am including the three who did not stop the murder.) who do not believe that the divine spark of God rests upon black men and women. (If you find yourself tensing up and organizing your evidence to argue that point with me, please don’t. Today is not a day when my broken heart and weary mind can hear the evidence or entertain the argument with compassion. We will both suffer from the attempt.)
And now the flames rise on the fuel of black bodies and the air of prejudice, racism, and the supremacy of whiteness. The flames rise while we are devastated by a Coronavirus pandemic that gives us cover to once again turn our attention away from our epidemic of discounting black lives—an epidemic that is more pervasive, longer lasting, and further from a cure. An epidemic that we aren’t even seriously trying to mitigate.
“I can’t breathe,” George Floyd said, and it was not the first time our nation has heard that plea.
“If you can talk, you can breathe,” said a Mississippi mayor. It would be so rational, so simple to believe him. But follow his thought to its logical conclusion, and every person who has ever said “I can’t breathe” was lying, including the millions whose lungs are inflamed by COVID-19.
I don’t have any answers right now for the flames that burn in Minneapolis. But because the flames of Pentecost still burn, because they still rise on the fuel of the Gospel and the air of the Holy Spirit, I believe that we, people of faith and decency and compassion, will create answers and will find hope and will move beyond the complacency that kills. I challenge all of us to do these things with the same sense of urgency for which we are seeking vaccines and cures for the pandemic.
One final thing: While I wait, I have the luxury of living relatively safely in skin that does not draw the fire of prejudice and racism. For all of you who don’t have that luxury, if you can find the energy after contending with the daily assaults upon you for driving while black, jogging while black, sleeping and eating Skittles and playing with your nephew while black, please let me know how to best be with you. Let me know what you wish I would do, see, understand, fight against, and fight for. And please, don’t give up. Don’t quit hoping. Breathe.
May God Bless You and Keep You,