And there appeared to them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat on each of them. Acts of the Apostles, 2:3
So, I wrote yesterday a bit about how anger got the best of me recently, and I’ve decided to try not to let that happen again.
I still stand by that. But…
But then the news about George Floyd’s death came out. And I found myself consumed by anger, again.
So I’m going to amend my statement to say: I resolve to be appropriately angry about the right things. And this, Beloved, is a right thing.
You know, Fr. Richard Rohr, that bald and beautiful Christian mystic, notes that we don’t understand the metaphor of hell that is used in scripture because we don’t understand the purifying work that fire is in the world.
Foresters understand it. Welders get it. But your average Jane and Joe? We’d rather stick with a literal idea of hell instead of wrestle with the metaphor…it’s easier that way.
But in a world where we see people rail against a kneeling football player, but aren’t outraged by a police officer kneeling on the neck of an already handcuffed man over a supposedly forged greenback…well…we can’t take the easy way out anymore.
Because the first kneeling was because of the second kind of kneeling.
Get it? Do you see now? Are your eyes adjusted to the most concrete analogy there is, now?!
If we burn it down to the core value at stake here, the outrage is over just this kind of thing: it’s still not safe to be black and brown in America.
I was talking to my friend who is a doctor the other day, and he noted that the whole Covid ward of his hospital is, right now, 25-60 year old males, “essential workers” (aka factories) who are black and brown. Proportionally, as far as race goes, this shouldn’t be the case…and yet, here we are.
And guess what?
They. Can’t. Breathe.
It’s what the pandemic does. And if the pandemic doesn’t kill you, well…looks like the streets of America will still do the job. Because what did Eric Garner choke out before his death? What did George Floyd yell out before his death?
The breath of God which blew on the disciples at the Pentecost was snuffed in that moment as they all say, in a chorus that echoes across this land right now: “I CAN’T BREATHE!”
Can you hear them now?
In the Acts of the Apostles the first scene, after Jesus ascends into heaven, has the Holy Spirit alighting as tongues of fire on the brown bodies of the gathered disciples. And in that moment they are able to speak in such a way that everyone, no matter their background, nationality, or even religion, can understand what they’re saying.
We need a Pentecost today, Beloved. We need to listen to the distilling fire dancing on black and brown bodies that is burning away any misconception that we might have about the dangers that still face our sisters and brothers of color today.
The hell our brothers and sisters are living in is real, more real than some eternal hell, and we must listen! We must let it burn away at our tendency to dismiss these experiences as some sort of aberration in America. We have the pandemic of racism and unequal treatment, and it started long before this current virus, and it continues even now to take its toll.
The fire of anger is absolutely appropriate in some instances, and this is one of them.
“But,” you might contend, “they were on fire for the Gospel!”
True. But who needs a savior if you’re not allowed to be alive in the first place? If you’re not allowed to jog in your neighborhood? If you’re not allowed to bird-watch? If you’re assumed dangerous just because of the color of your skin?
Jesus, after all, was killed by assumption, Beloved. We forget that. And he died by crucifixion which, ultimately, meant that he. couldn’t. breathe.
We forget that.
We need a Pentecost moment where, with tongues upon their heads, we listen to the black and brown bodies of the disciples around us as they tell us the truth about their experience. We need to listen and hear: cutting through the barriers of language, race, experience, politics, and every other obstacle we set up to insulate ourselves from having to be moved by a reality we don’t want to consider.
We can be on fire with anger, Beloved, about the right things.
This is one of them.