People of color are feeling deep pain as the result of the death of our brother, George Floyd, killed by a police office in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a couple of weeks ago. He is one of the recent and tragic examples of injustice wielded by systemic racism across the world. We are bent over, rocking back and forth for comfort, and asking God to respond.
As the spouse of a Black husband, mother to four Black sons, and a grandmother to many Black and biracial grandchildren, I have been profoundly impacted personally. "I can't breathe," Mr. Floyd said before he died. I join him and his family in feeling the suffocating effects of fear in our community in South Bend, Indiana. It's where I pray for God's protection every time the males in my family leave the house. I breathe a sigh of gratitude when they walk back in the door.
In a revision of the verse in 1 Corinthians 12:26, when one suffocates, we all suffocate. Shortly after Mr. Floyd's death, I cried out to God for a response to our collective pain. What I sensed as God's response was that WE are God's response. We are God's ambassadors for reconciliation and love in a world reeling with hate and separation. The Spirit moved within me during my prayer and Ezekiel 22:30 emerged in my heart: "I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land."
My personal application of the verse is this: The walls (structures) of our communities are falling down and crumbling through pandemic lock-down and the police brutality that is violating the bodies and souls of Black and Brown people; these same members of society are the most deeply impacted by the sufferings of COVID-19. As God's people, we can no longer live in the faith of yesterday and look from afar. We can no longer look at this mountain of challenge from behind the safety of our cell phones, out-of-office replies, and keeping with our own agendas.
We must move beyond lamenting racism's evils with only words and hymns. We must rise from our prayer groups and from behind our hymnbooks and follow Jesus into the highways and byways. We must DO church with our feet and hands. That means acting to help dismantle the systems that sanction the murder of George Floyd and so many others.
I'm calling for actions that cause unhealthy systems to fall, one brick at a time. As Anabaptists, we have historically seen ourselves as the "quiet in the land." Many Mennonites have sought to live godly and quiet lives to witness to faith, rather than messing with worldly powers. While yielding some fruits of the Spirit, this choice has often rendered us voiceless in the public square. If we are God's response to the world, then we need to take our songs and sermons of peace and justice out of our pews and into the pain.
Urgent events are disorienting our lives and challenging us to be God's "noisy" response to the world in which COVID-19 and lifeless Black bodies in the streets are twin evils. Corrupt systems are killing and challenging the identity, dignity and power of people of color. Glen Guyton, executive director for Mennonite Church USA, is inviting us to leave our comfort zones and to ACT for change. As God's response, we cannot remain silent or paralyzed.
During a June 3 meditation on Mennonite Mission Network's online Hope Series, I challenged our church to take new directions. We are looking for God, and God is looking for us. God is calling to us to come from under the rubble of the crumbing walls and stand accounted for in the broad daylight. That's where we as individuals, the church, and as a nation, are called to repent of inaction and to revolt in righteousness — to follow Jesus in the paths of peace by paving new roads for justice.
When God comes looking for someone to rebuild the walls, I pray we will be ready with tools in hand and willing hearts. May we be servants of reconstruction who dismantle the dividing wall of hostility and build a society of dignity for everyone, a renewal of the Spirit that offers life-sustaining breath for all.