Issues of race are taking center stage during this time of social distancing.
Hello, I am Rev. Canon Cheryl Palmer. I am Black and I am offering Love Letters this week.
I refused to watch the video of the police officer using his knee to squeeze the breath of life out of George Floyd. It was disturbing enough to hear about it…seeing it would be fodder for nightmares. So I have spared myself the horror. However, when Dawn asked me to write this reflection, I was stumped. Maybe I should have watched the video.
As a Black woman living in Canada, I was not relating to the happenings in the United States. Yes, I was shocked, horrified and saddened, but so were many other people. Fear, hate and evil have that effect on most of humanity. My feelings were not uniquely Black. After the shock and horror wore off (rather quickly, I might add), I was left with only a little sadness and a lot of flatness (depending on the news article read or the podcast heard). And I knew those were not the right feelings. As a Black person, shouldn’t I be more exercised? I should be waving my fists and reciting all the wrongs I have experienced at the capricious white society in which I live and move and have my being. I should have more Black friends and gather with them in sorrow and anger. As a Black person who easily moves in both Black and white worlds, I should be coaching white people on how to right their wrongs. I should make sure that the world is a better place for my young nieces and nephews.
Maybe I should have watched that horrific video in order to stir up feelings that would incite me to attend a protest or write a really good reflection. Maybe the video could make me feel more united with my Black compatriots in the United States who have had hundreds of years of racial abuse.
Then it hit me… HUNDREDS of years of racial abuse… HUNDREDS of unbroken years. Turning that around to a new society where Blacks and whites harmoniously live as equals no longer seems like a long game, but an impossible game. I am not exercised, because I feel helpless and hopeless. How can one incident turn around 400 years of fear, hatred and evil in the United States against Blacks?
There are other videos of Blacks being brutalized or killed by police (Rodney King) and “citizens” (Ahmaud Arbery) and yet nothing has changed. Nothing. Has. Changed. And the country that claims to be the “land of the free and the home of the brave” is among the worst culprits of heinous acts against Blacks. From the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade in the 15th century between Portugal and Africa to our present day, Blacks have been systemically seen as “other” by Whites—an “other” to be abused, feared and hated. I feel helpless and hopeless to change that which is now in the DNA of some countries. This is therefore another season of lament.
Have pity on me, O Lord;
see the misery I suffer from those who hate me,
O you who lift me up from the gate of death. Psalm 9:13
Beginning of the meeting
Listen. You may wish to read this reflection again. Hear the lament. Resist the temptation for trite optimism or a solution. Let the words of lament be heard deep in your soul. Then quiet your thoughts, still your body, and be open to the stirring of the Holy Spirit who meets us in the reading of scripture.
Psalm 13, NRSV
1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 and my enemy will say, ‘I have prevailed’;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
If you are in an e-conference, reflect on each question for a few moments in silence, then invite discussion. Help the group identify common themes and issues. If you are alone, you may wish to record your reflections in a journal. You may wish to share your thoughts, questions and insights in the “reply” space below.
- What do you hear in the Psalm and in the reflection above?
- How do you feel when you hear it?
- How does the Psalm and the reflection challenge you?
Invite the people into an 8:46 period of silence, which was the length of time the police officer held down George Floyd with his knee and took his life.
As a closing prayer, invite people to listen to Lift Every Voice, known as the African American National Anthem.
Lift Every Voice and Sing
Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast’ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.
James Weldon Johnson – 1871-1938. Copyright © 1917, 1921, 1935 James Weldon Johnson, renewed 1963 by Grace Nail Johnson.
Learn more about Lift Every Voice as an anthem. Learn about slavery in your country and the history of the Black culture in your city or town. Where there are feelings of contrition or lament, perhaps you can use the words from the General Confession in the Prayer Book or read a Psalm of lament.