A reflection on “Seattle Evangelicals for Racial Justice,” a Seattle Pacific University event hosted by First Free Methodist Church on Monday, December 15, 2014 -- by Megan Wildhood.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel who mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appears. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to the O Israel. We, the gathered in First Free’s sanctuary, are led by a 14-person worship team, sing after a welcome by SPU’s Chaplain Bo Lim, Dean of the School of Theology Doug Strong and Director of the John Perkins Center Tali Hairston. Ransom us, indeed, O Lord. How long will we be captivated by systems that benefit some at the expense of many? Lonely exile, indeed, Lord. How long will our black sisters and brothers be exiled from justice and thus of peace? Rejoice? Rejoicing is the hard choice we make in hope: You are who You say You are so we wait for You.
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?... Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, and you cannot look on wrongdoing; why do you look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they? (The full reading was Habakkuk 1:1-4, 12-13, by Lina Thompson of Lake Burien Presbyterian Church). For hundreds of years now, your dark-skinned children cried out under violence and subjugation. The United States has the world’s highest prison population – almost half is black; blacks are incarcerated at a rate six times higher than whites, if they make it to jail alive at all. An unarmed black man is killed every 28 hours by police or vigilantes in this country.
And so we lament. Led by Rainier Avenue Pastor Peter Chin in a prayer of lament, we lament for the lives of Eric Garner of New York, Rumain Brisbon of Arizona, Tamir Rice of Ohio, and Michael Brown of Missouri – and the countless other unnamed black men and women killed by the police. Eric Garner’s last words were “I can’t breathe,” on repeat. Tamir Rice was twelve years old. When Michael Brown was shot, his body lay uncovered on the sidewalk for four hours. Along with a few around me, together we bowed out heads to shed our tears for these brothers and others who left behind spouses and children, and were children themselves. There can be no peace until the lives of all image bearers matter equally.
Wait for the Lord, whose day is near. Wait for the Lord; keep watch, take heart. Wait for the Lord, I try to sing, choking up at the names of felled image bearers still reverberating in the room. Lord, how can I ask my family in Christ to wait for the peace that only comes with true justice? We wait for You but how long, O Lord, till the arc of the moral universe finds its resting place in equality on earth as it is in heaven?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted…blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God…rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.... (The full reading was Matthew 5:1-12, by Richard Dahlstrom of Bethany Community Church.) Lord, we cannot make peace out of our own strength. Too much has been torn; we are too separated from each other to reach back on our own. We rejoice that You are sufficient, even as we wait for You; and because the reward of the persecuted is great in heaven, we pray for Your will to be done here, now as it is in heaven.
We confess our brokenness, led by Linda Mae Smith of Sky Center for Spiritual Living. I know that I personally feel helpless and at a loss for what to say or do. But silence is consent so even in my brokenness, help me not remain quiet. Derek McNeil of the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology prays that “we are angry, hurt and confused,” and I can only nod in silence. Righteous indignation at racial injustice – yes. How to move forward in ways that help no hurt – not a clue. Lord, have mercy.
But the Lord, we sing, is exalted by justice, and the Holy God shows Himself holy by righteousness. Show Yourself to us, Lord. Show Your righteousness to a people mired in division, oppression, lethal prejudice. As I hear the words of Mary (Luke 1:46-55), read by Celeste Cranston, Director of the Center for Biblical and Theological Education, I think, the choice of blessing the lowly is one courageous miracle. I am led by SPU’s Professor Kerry Dearborn to confession – misdirected anger, complacency in a system where I benefit greatly and without effort, paralysis as to how to help. I ask for healing, along with the gathered, led by Eliana Maxim, of the Seattle Presbytery.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, I hear from the stage and try to do so. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. But I do not want to forget that the things of earth currently are such that black image bearers are brutalized, marginalized and seen as “less than.” Still. And yet, we, the gathered, all begin to sing: I need you, you need me, we're all a part of God's body. Stand with me, agree with me, we're all a part of God's body. It is his will that every need be supplied. You are important to me, I need you to survive. I pray for you, you pray for me. I love you. I need you to survive. I won't harm you with words from my mouth. I love you. I need you to survive. I looked across the multiracial, multiethnic gathering and raised my hands along with many others. The word “survive” takes on a heavier meaning: reconciliation really is about life and death.
In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob… nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (The full reading was Isaiah 2:1-5, by Pastor Eugene Cho of Quest Church.) I have always longed for peace. The current tumult in our nation that reveals a sore lack of honor and respect for all life throws sharper light on verses such as these. And yet, as Allen Belton of Breakthrough Partners leads us, there is hope. Afflicted but not crushed, he preaches, perplexed but not despairing, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not out.
And that is because, On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand. I, as a white person singing this, can only imagine how very true this is for those of color in this society. We continue in song: Soon and very soon, we are going to see the king, and I am challenged to hold out hope for difficult things in my own life, which are small in comparison to such persistent and overwhelming oppression.
Pastor Harvey Drake of Emerald City Bible Fellowship challenges us to think about and then act on what it means to be a people of peace. Peace delights in the truth for there can be no justice without truth and no peace without justice. We do not avoid saying what’s true and that means, where I am wrong, I need correcting; where I have sinned, I need repentance and forgiveness. How are we going to be a people of peace?
Jesus is the answer for the world today. Above Him there is no other, Jesus is the way, we sing in response. We will not make peace or keep peace on our own and it is time we stop trying to do so. How? I will bless the Lord at all times, we sing, as if the worship team anticipates my questions. At all times, and His praise will always be in my mouth. But this is not intended to be just a moving service. This gathering came about in ten days of planning – representatives from many communities, churches and parachurch organizations called – not so that we could have a good time worshipping together. We are challenged and called to do something to continue the work towards racial reconciliation in our communities and our country.
Chaplain Lim closed the evening with this Franciscan blessing as our benediction and commissioning: May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart. May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people. May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy. May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.
For photos from the event, click here.
Posted: Thursday, December 18, 2014