[This post is for my White friends and peers of faith. I write from a Christian lens, but I’m imagining that other faith traditions with martyrs will have connection points.]
The tongues of fire are here, and they are speaking every language, and we are here to listen.
Pentecost is rooted in Easter. And watching the tongues of flame head for the heavens yesterday on the Falcon 9 completed that arc of Easter for me, and made me think again about our Christian Easter story. It’s a tough look into humanity—the crowds calling for Jesus’ death, the betrayal, the torturous murder on the Cross.
When you think of the Easter story, who do you imagine yourself as?
I would always imagine myself as one of the disciples, not one of the ones whose name rolls off the tips of our tongues like Paul or Thomas. Not one of the betrayers, either. We don’t like to put ourselves in stories as the antagonists. Although, a few years ago, I started to feel like I would have been Peter, because I have a strong self-protective mechanism. I could have told a white lie about not knowing Jesus a few times.
And then the last couple years I started to feel most like I’d be one of the people yelling for Jesus’ death. I have a comfortable life and I wouldn’t have been throwing it away to follow a crazy person. I would have noticed injustice, but tried to “work within the system” to fix it. I wouldn’t have wanted a revolution. Jesus was revolutionary.
The interesting thing about this moment is that we are putting ideas about what kind of people we are—justice-loving people, kind people, people who want us to all work toward equality, people who follow Jesus—up against the discomfort in how we feel about what’s happening around us. We share words that may not be words of justice—they might be words that lay blame on others and protect ourselves from having to do the work of gaining equality and giving up our own privilege.
Equality sounds good, but the work is scary. Windows are broken.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence.Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail
As White Christians we have a lot of reckoning to do with how we’ve upheld racist systems in the past and continue to do so with our judgments, our inactions, and our self-protections. Luckily it’s Pentecost, and the flames of the Holy Spirit will speak to us in a language we can hear. Let our hearts and our lives be open to receiving the message.