Monday, July 06, 2015

We Should Refuse to be Comforted

I have been asked by several people, now, if I would be willing to share the words I spoke at the prayer service at the First Baptist Church on Main Street in Charlottesville on June 22nd, 2015.  The service was a response to the tragic murder of nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charlotte, S.C.  I had preached on the subject the day before, and was honored to have the opportunity to address the truly diverse crowd that gathered at First Baptist that night.

I serve a congregation that is named after Thomas Jefferson, a man who in many ways embodies the reality of America -- he talked a good game about freedom but was, himself, unable to live up to those ideals.  From that context, I offer these words:

From the book of Jeremiah, hear these words:  "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."  I read ablog post this afternoon by the Reverend Jennifer Bailey, an itinerant AME minister and founder of the FaithMatters Network, and she reminded me of these words:  "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."

Refusing to be comforted!  Refusing.  That means to me that she'd been  encouraged to be comforted, invited to be comforted, no doubt pushed, and pulled, and prodded toward being comforted. But she refused. She refused.

I don't know about you but when I'm in the vicinity of someone who is in mourning with great weeping I want to comfort them. I want to help them to feel better. I want to help them to see the big picture, to remember the context, to think about the plan. I want to help them feel hope.

But I'll tell you a secret:  as much as I want to be somehow comforting for them, I'm also wanting to do it for me because it's uncomfortable to be around great weeping. It's disconcerting. Distressing. Disturbing.  So the people around Rachel wanted to comfort her at least in part so that they wouldn't have to feel uncomfortable.  Rarely does the one who's feeling comfortable wants to be made to feel uncomfortable. But Rachel refused to be comforted.

She refused to be comforted, and maybe so should we. I know that the purpose of tonight is to bring us together -- to bring  us together so that we can heal, to bring us together to reclaim hope, to bring us together so we might comfort one another in our grief, and our anger, and our despair.  But while I think that the coming together is good, even necessary, this is not the time to come together in healing.  We should come together to demand that things change, We should come together to demand the end of these atrocities!   We  should come together and refuse to make others comfortable when we are grieving, grieving that so many of God's children, so many children of life itself, have been slaughtered for no other reason than being black in a country that can't live up to its ideals.  This has got to end, and I refuse to be comforted until it has.

Do you remember Dr. King saying there were some things to which he was, and always would be, maladjusted?  Do you remember that he called on us all to form -- and you gotta love this name -- the International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment?  Now that is a reason to come together! That is a group I would stand with, and sit with, and march with, and, yes, fight with, and mourn with, and weep with, and be with .. just as we are doing this evening. 

That's what I had to say that night.  And that's what I'd say today.

Pax tecum,


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arthurrashap said...

Seems to me to have been a perfect sharing for that event - and one that should not now be filed away so we can say that, gee, our Minister said good stuff and we get to say ditto and now its time to enjoy the summer, duck our heads when asked to pitch in, and hope that somehow, somewhere, someone will be the change agent.

We like and live the comfortable life in some many ways. I include me in the "we." The silence that now reigns on this and similar issues is rather deafening.

Arthur Rashap

RevWik said...

I couldn't agree more, Arthur. One of the "gifts" of white privilege is that we get to turn our heads away when we no longer want to look at issues of race and racism. Since "our" life is "normal" life, we can return to that comfortable complacency you point to because we can delude ourselves that we don't need to (or can't) really do anything -- and everything around us colludes to delude us.

I found a really interesting resource recently. You fill out a brief online questionnaire, and you are then given specific ways to get involved in your community to do the work of undoing racism. (Among the questions are, of course, your zip code so they can make it site specific, but also how much time per week you think you have to give.) I have not yet heard back from the site, but I have filled out the questionnaire and I am eager to see what the results are.