Fires were burning on that early morning of Shavuot, the one spoken of in the second chapter of Acts. Most Christians call it Pentecost from the Greek, but it was a Hebrew holiday, the 50th day after Passover in a series of the feasts of the Lord. He directed His people in Torah about these holy rehearsals, divine appointments. It was on this day that Torah was given on Mt. Sinai, a day of fire & of heavenly demonstration. The Book of Acts commemorates this particular Shavuot as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with the next divine fire, filling believers and writing Torah on hearts to become agencies of change in the world. Holy fire marks us for a purpose, imparts, and changes. Isaiah's lips were touched with coals that purified and prophesied. Unholy fire inflames the tongue with hateful speech, and destroys, as witnessed in rioting fires that have now burned in civil protest across several states.
On that day in Acts 2, it tells us the believers there were waiting, expectant, on the timetable that Jesus had followed with them. They were together, in one accord when the miracle came, the presence of the Spirit enduing them with fire and power. It describes a supernatural event…that in the joy of expressing Him, in the presence of the Spirit, they had divine understanding beyond their varied languages and dialects. They were a sign to those gathered outside with a shared understanding.
Are we? Christians, believers, professed students of the Word, supposed carriers of an anointing, are we in one accord?
Do we possess a shared understanding that is a holy witness to those outside? Do we gather in one accord, or are busy striving over differences? Are we one voice, one utterance, with a shared understanding to bridge the gap to our brothers and sisters engulfed in the pangs of racial injustices? Do we share and know and involve ourselves with our brethren of color to the degree that we understand why things pain them, and what things hurt and why?
What would happen if the whole Body of Messiah gathered in one accord and spoke as one voice as it relates to racism? Would the world be as astonished as those in the streets of Jerusalem that day? Would you be able to tell who was who, white from black, black from white, or any shade in between, if we spoke with one voice? If we lifted one cause? Do we not bleed the same color? Are we as advertised, when we say one nation under God?
God knows we are deeply concerned for the nation my grandson will live in, and know it will take our children’s generation with us to accomplish major shifts. As for this author (Cathie) I respect the thoughts of all in protest against systems or generations that have held freedom at bay to so many. I defend everyone’s right to express those thoughts, ideas, and ideals in every available venue (I have family who died in wars to defend that freedom). The other ‘skin’ I have in the game: the many close personal friends who are grieving again because of the egregious murder of a man of color, again. His name was – and is – George Floyd.
I worked nearly 4 decades in a pastoral capacity in a large Little Rock church, very inter-racial (often making the news because biracial churches in the South are uncommon, Sunday being the most segregated day of the week, and maybe you’re aware of Little Rock’s painful racial history). I’ve married biracial couples, and sadly have buried many, many black friends and family members and their children. One May, I recall eulogizing an 18-year-old at one funeral and joining a graduation of another the same day. To some degree, I understand the range of the black experience in America and in Arkansas.
In the year the Billy Graham organization came to Little Rock to prepare for his crusade at War Memorial Stadium, I had the privilege of working closely with pastors, leaders, & businessmen from across the region as we worked with BGEA staff. Gaining the trust of many of the black pastors was a process, and I came to understand why.
While interviewing one pastor from a historic black church, covering the events for Christian television, I listened at length about that church’s history and experience. It had been founded in the 1870s to help former slaves transition into free life in Arkansas. The pastor spoke of the rich history and struggle, and how amazingly, the congregation still remains. The state capital is in its view. At the end of the interview, I thanked him for all he had shared, and he said something that stunned me.
He looked at me and said, “I’ve led other congregations in the US. I’ve been interviewed by CBS and other media, but this is the most respect I’ve ever been treated with in an interview.” I wish I had asked, “What do you mean by that, and why? How have you been treated??” I guess as a twenty-something discovering a deeper history from a seasoned leader, I was too scared to do anything more than just say thank you for letting me know and for telling the stories.
Racism is never, never, never okay. Hatred and division because of the color of human skin is unacceptable. Never was, never will be.
I do not disagree with civil protest. What I challenge is the vitriol against any side or any leader. I cannot see where caustic dialogue and destructive actions help the cause.
The problem is broader than the black/white American history and experience though I am painfully aware of this history in many personal stories past to present. I’ve stood in countries where police beat citizens with canes on the street as a matter of policy, where darker browns are treated differently from lighter browns. Caste systems are alive and well all over. I’ve stood in an African Muslim nation, where I met and talked with young men who held the gates of their church for 3 days awaiting police help, while rioting radical factions (and once peaceful neighbors) stormed them because they were Christians who were suddenly no longer tolerated. Property was destroyed and that weekend, 70+ churches were burned to the ground. Many of my friends there survived and are still there.
In February, I was in Jerusalem’s West Bank with a Jewish friend, where we are working on a new project. I am amazed at what balance it takes to live in Israel surrounded by enemies and such constant hostility. I am saying all this so you understand my words are not in a vacuum. I am not afraid of uncomfortable conversations, nor do I endorse property seizures or destruction, knowing friends with descendants of Kristallnacht and understanding these things lead down worse paths.
Racism is everywhere. Sadly, it is almost everywhere people are. It is to be condemned. It thrives in certain environments, so it is up to us to change the environment. True climate change comes with the help of God as we work in the context of a divine injunction, “…what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
Can we please find out together how that looks?
Martin Luther King is rightly celebrated and credited with saying, “I have a dream…” – a great speech with such powerful meaning that his call for racial equity still resonates with us. I have a friend who marched with him…those were hard days. And FYI, all students in a two-hundred-mile radius should be required to visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. For King, it was a dream that seemed reachable yet unreachable. His story and the timelines of the cause should be bedrock in our American understanding and soul.
To my brothers and sisters of color, we are family. We hurt with you. We want not only your children’s freedom and equality, but we want what Jesus died to give us all – dignity. That’s also what MLK fought for, the God-given human dignity that rioting robs people of, on both sides. Victims and perpetrators are reduced and robbed and violated. To all those in this gap, how can we walk together so that you will not suffer from a PTSD that is triggered so deeply at every act of injustice? Body of Messiah, how better can we live to heal these wounded places in men’s souls?
If I can pull from further back, to the man who inspired the birth of the nation of Israel through constant struggle, “If you will it, it is not a dream.” Theodore Herzl held on to and enabled others to see that the dream of a free nation could be more than a dream if willed by the human spirit. Israel is a visual lesson for us to this day. It exists and thrives against all odds. May we challenge ourselves to do the same, to work hard, hold fast to the truths of the ancient paths, to stand fast with our brethren along the broken walls we must rebuild, and fight for a society with a just balance of mercy and humility.
“...And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly I say to you inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'” - Matthew 25:40
Let’s do it together, and live in what Moses, Jesus, and the apostles all agreed on – Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. Do this, and you will live. (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 19:17-19, Mark 12:29-31, Luke 10:26-28, James 2:8, Gal. 5:14, Romans 13:9)
If we will it, it is not a dream.
If we will.