Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry speaks so powerfully of the murder of Tyre Nichols, ‘There is a passage from the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, which is later quoted in Matthew’s Gospel when innocent baby boys are killed by an immoral dictator: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” —Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 2:18
With the murder of Tyre Nichols, another mother, as in the biblical texts, weeps, with the mothers of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others. A family grieves. A community fears. A nation is ashamed. Like the psalmist in the Bible, something in us cries out, “How long, O Lord, how long?” How long violence, how long cruelty, how long the utter disregard for the dignity and worth of every child of God? How long?”
While watching the violent murder of Tyre Nichols, I was again shaken to my core, as I was each time before. But this time, it was different. I have cried tears over the injustice, but that’s not enough. Tears don’t impact or change anything. I think that’s called empathy without action – or, my favorite, being lukewarm (Rev 3:16). Yeah me!
I can no longer feel the horror and not be moved to do something. What? – you ask. “You’re an old white grandma. Turn off the TV and go knit something.” Those negative voices that once allowed me to retreat back into complacency were now drowned out by God’s voice that calls me to “go”. As usual, he never seems to specify where. Like Abraham. Just go.
Since then, I have sat with, prayed about, and struggled with my deepest beliefs about who I am as a professed follower of Christ, who my neighbor is, and who we are as a nation. And the most profound question for me that has arisen now is: if and how we as Christians are culpable.
It has been messy and fluid with so many nuances, but here it is. This is a thought process that I began for my own understanding. But trying to know anything concerning God and the way he operates without any doubts is futile. I know that, but I keep going back there.
The need to know and understand presupposes that somehow we can reason this out. Like when Jesus asked his disciples, and now us, “Who do you say I am?” That is not an academic question and will not be satisfied by any amount of head knowledge. Instead, it is answered by first falling on our knees in awe of the magnificence of God’s love on full display in the life of Jesus.
That’s a great start, but it can’t stop there. And that’s the rub. We want it to stop before that. Let’s just go to church – get our cards punched –done – go home, and watch football or knit (BTW, I don’t even know how to knit). But Jesus never said, “Worship me”. He said, “Follow me”.
You may disagree with me when it’s all said and done, and that’s fine. But I believe it is incumbent upon each of us to take a stand once and for all. To not be afraid of what others will think or say about us. But rather, stop pretending to be the person we claim to be only when others are watching.
We should be more concerned that God is watching! And it’s not the god who keeps a running total of our church attendance and tithing spreadsheet. That would be a shallow, small-minded, authoritarian god who is out to get you if you make one wrong move.
The God I’m going to stick with tells us explicitly how we are to live and move and have our being in the world through the uncompromising words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13. I know these are verses we have heard so often they have probably lost their brilliance. So, perhaps reading them now while picturing all the hatred and violence we are witnessing, we could see them as God intended:
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
Love is patient.
Love is kind.
It does not envy.
It does not boast.
It is not proud.
It does not dishonor others.
It is not self-seeking.
It is not easily angered.
It keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is…following the “rules” some guys made up over beers in a bar…wait…no…that’s not it…sorry. Just seeing if you’re paying attention.
The greatest of these is love.
Many of us will choose between love and hate. I’m guessing a lot more prefer to think of themselves as neutral – it feels safer. But that stance needs to be reckoned with too. Too much is at stake. God is adamant about it when he says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16).
Let’s say you agree that you must decide where you stand and why. The “why” is critical. Stopping short of fully embracing your “why” leaves you wobbly and vulnerable to anyone who can shove you off-balance. I have had that happen more times than I care to admit.
So, this is where I landed: As a Christian, I am compelled to consider my life and purpose from my essence, my very being, where God resides. Not from any outside influence. If I own up to being a follower of Christ, how I live that life is to manifest his love in every moment and with every decision.
Not that seeing the hatred spewed by those who profess Jesus is anything new. Still, it has challenged me to look honestly at how I am living my life in light of Jesus’ words in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”. Nowhere does Jesus tell us to only love those like us, those who don’t threaten our comfort level.
Remember Jonah, who seriously needed a bath because of the awful fish smell after God told the whale to “Spit him out. I think he has learned his lesson”? So, here I am, a modern-day Jonah, asking God for a different assignment. “Can I pick this time, Lord?!”