What is the value of the life of a black man in this country?
George Floyd went to Cup Foods on Chicago street in Minneapolis on Memorial Day to purchase a pack of Menthol cigarettes. He paid for the cigarettes with a $20 bill which, after he left, was discovered to be counterfeit. Of course, no one knows if Floyd even knew it was counterfeit. Police were called by the young clerk. In a matter of minutes George Floyd was dead.
The standard cost of a pack of cigarettes with tax in MN is $ 8.10. So one might say that the answer to the question of what is the value of the life of a black man: $ 8.10.
And now, you can add yet another name, another face, another tragedy to the ever growing list of victims of police brutality and violence, most especially people of color, and most especially black men. George Floyd was from the predominantly African-American Third Ward of Houston. He was known as “Big Floyd”, a gentle giant, and a man of faith. He was considered an elder statesman and a community leader in the Third Ward. More than all of that, he was a human being, and a child of God.
He had moved to Minnesota in 2018, and I can tell you that is not easy for anyone from Texas to do, especially when one is a loved as he was by that community. Floyd went however, to be part of a Christian work program. And when this latest video went viral, as with so many other times this has happened, we began to hear of others, most likely where the local authorities had success in keeping the brutality out of the press. Breonna Taylor is such a name. An emergency room technician in Louisville who was simply sleeping with her fiancé in her home when police batter rammed her house, and shot her at least 8 times. The police were allowed to enter on what is known as a “no knock” warrant which had been issued by a judge. The police in this case were casing a house where they believed drugs were being sold. They decided to add the address of Taylor because they believed one of the men they were after had used that address at one time. That one suspicion, that one “notion” turned deadly for her.
Rightfully, many of our fellow citizens took to the streets to protest, and the vast majority intended, and did in fact, protest peacefully. Sadly, today, in our Seattle streets, but also in streets all over our country, the protests have turned violent. In Minnesota, the mayors of both St. Paul, and Minneapolis, have publicly stated all those arrested last night in their cities were from other states, using this event to seek their own gain, capitalizing on this tragedy to make peaceful protesters the culprits. I hope you don’t fall for it.
All of that is sad, but ultimately it also misses the point. We, together, must work to change the ease at which George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the ever growing list we do know and the so many we will never know, can be so easily and so senselessly murdered by those trained and paid to protect us all.
Today, our Presiding Bishop said this:
Perhaps the deeper pain is the fact that this was not an isolated incident. It happened to Breonna Taylor on March 13 in Kentucky. It happened to Ahmaud Arbery on February 23 in Georgia. Racial terror in this form occurred when I was a teenager growing up black in Buffalo, New York. It extends back to the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 and well before that. It’s not just our present or our history. It is part of the fabric of American life.
He goes on to say, when all the TV cameras are gone, we have to stay fixed on these issues. And how many times have we all said that?
Thoughts and Prayers are good, but they do not change us. Peaceful protests are good, but they do not change us.
Finally, I want to say, the people that most HAVE to work on this, is my tribe, white people. We are the ones that have to consciously, intentionally, purposefully decide to be present, long after the cameras are gone, long after George Floyd and Brionna and Ahmaud are yesterday’s news. Their senseless deaths have to stay fresh for us. Then, we need to work on ourselves. We have to go to the difficult places inside ourselves, and find the racism and prejudice that reside in us. We have to learn more about that, so we can change ourselves. If we keep lulling ourselves into believing we are not part of the problem, it is going to be difficult to be part of the solution. Our privilege, our comfort, our unequal protection by the authorities is part of the problem. We need to use the privilege to change the balance.
Several years ago we put a lot of effort, in this diocese, to begin administering the Intercultural Development Inventory. Although, because this is certainly not a quick fix, and because this requires ongoing work, we have had some push back, and criticism. That usually comes because we all want the quick fix. By now we ought to know those are hard to come by. A couple hours in a class is not going to change this. Knowing the right words to use will not change this. This is very long term work. This is work for you to do on.....YOU, and the point of the work is to “develop” to evolve, to learn and grow.
My Anglo siblings, WE, most especially, need to do this work. I can tell you, my own work with this inventory has been transforming. Because of it, I can also tell you I have a long way to go. But I am working on it. Join me. We have to change this for the generations to come.
I end with our Presiding Bishop’s wise words,
Opening and changing hearts does not happen overnight. The Christian race is not a sprint; it is a marathon. Our prayers and our work for justice, healing and truth-telling must be unceasing. Let us recommit ourselves to following in the footsteps of Jesus, the way that leads to healing, justice and love.
I also want to pass along the invitation from the Union of Black Episcopalians, a group in which I am a life member, and a group that has taught me so much on this issue, and a prayer vigil via Zoom in which they are inviting all to attend.
You can read the entire post by the Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church here.
What: Prayer Vigil for Racial Justice and the Healing of our Nation
When: Sunday, May 31, 2020
4:00 PM to 5:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
How to Join Zoom Meeting:
Meeting ID: 921 4319 6842
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1 Covidians 12:1-11
Now concerning the wearing of masks, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that in the time before Covid, we were enticed and led astray thinking that we were not responsible for one another's health. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the spirit of love ever says 'masks be cursed!'; and no one can say 'masks are a really good idea for everybody!’ except through a spirit of love.
Now there are varieties of masks, but the same spirit of wearing them; and there are varieties of mask wearers, but the same virus; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same precautions that must be shown to everyone.
To each is given a manifestation of a mask for the common good. To one a mask is given through our mask makers, and to another a purchased one online, or in a store according to the same spirit of protection. Some fashion one after watching a video on YouTube, to another... they already had some. The knowledge of needing to wear one according to the same spirit, to another faith that the same spirit will improve health and save lives.
Another receives the gifts of healing by this generous spirit, to another this seems no less than the working of a miracle, another prophecies that we'll get through all of this sooner by observing these loving precautions, to another the discernment of figuring out how all can get one, to another the knowledge that a mask hides all kinds of mouths and tongues, to another the understanding that those mouths and tongues are still there, behind those masks.
All these are activated by one and the same spirit, and we hope to allot to each one individually just as they choose.
In other words, wear a mask!...
Because loving our neighbor as ourselves is the crux of it. When we wear a mask we are saying that we love and care for ourselves, and that we love and care for our neighbors. If our neighbor is sick (and perhaps doesn't even know it yet) our masks help protect US. If WE are sick (and perhaps don't even know it yet) our masks help protect OUR NEIGHBOR...
... it is a tangible and visible manifestation and practice of our LOVE.
The Rev Greg Brown
Holy Comforter Episcopal Church
The echoes of celebration are barely gone. The long lines of people standing to share their gratitude with, and for, our nurses, first responders, respiratory therapists, all those on the front lines, still ring in our ears. The nights of singing and ringing bells on our balconies and front yards to let them know they are our heroes, that we revere them, was like yesterday.
Those tributes were poignant and wholly appropriate, if not entirely inadequate. In fact, my last blog was about this very thing, the leadership and courage of our nurses, and all front line medical personnel. Collectively, we threw them right into harm’s way, and they eagerly, even if rightfully frightened, walked right into the fray. Some died for it. Some brought it home to their families. And we were grateful. Some of them, then, and still now, live in mobile homes in their front yards permanently isolated from hugging their own children, for weeks and months, so they could care for ours. And we fittingly called them heroes. Some sent their own families away, or left them, to walk straight to the front lines, and become the families for those real ones that could not be there. And we were brought to tears. That blog was posted during nurse’s week. One week ago. It ended on the 12th. Today is the 15th.
With all of that still so very fresh, and with this crisis hardly over, I now hear that many of these same heroes, are being asked to voluntarily furlough, or are even being laid off. In a matter of days, these “heroes” have gone from vitally essential, to a burden. If you don’t think our health care system is broken, or that our preparedness for this latest emergency lacking, nothing should assure of us that more than this latest turn of events.
We can bail out Pot Belly Sandwiches, the LA Lakers, Shake Shack, the Airlines, Banks, but when it comes to the very ones that, without whom, we would be far worse off now, with far more deaths, our message to them is.. you need to give still more, we can’t help. Is this our “Great” country?
It is true, and I am glad to say it, that many of the public traded companies returned their loans, and I don’t begrudge any that applied, even the large ones. For all of the failings in this I have to say the loans and stimulus checks were done quickly and for the most part well. All needed. But now, we have this new problem, and I have not heard much in the way of solutions for it. Our leaders say we “prevailed” but in so doing we have chosen to leave the brave ones that got us there, behind. Some of the media is paying attention, (https://www.insider.com/frontline-workers-are-going-without-salaries-while-ceos-keep-theirs-2020-5) but not many.
How can we leave these “heroes” so quickly, in a matter of days? For all of our “prevailing” we have one of the highest per capita death rates in the world, and one of the lowest per capita testing rates, and now on top of that, we are willing to simply let the capitalistic model be the only salve we can give front line workers that dealt with it all. And then today, our leadership, in our "great" country said, "vaccine or no vaccine, we are back" It is important to ask, who is "we?" Nearly 100,000 and probably more, will not be back. There was no mention of them, or our heroes, today.
The strength and character of any country is, in the end, judged by who we are willing to leave behind.
This does not feel “great” to me, at all.
I am a frequent flyer. Of course, right now, I am not flying anywhere, at all. That is one of the great gifts of this pandemic for me. Flying is necessary for me as a bishop, much more than I ever suspected when I took it on. Once exciting, most plane travel has lost all of its glamor. Over the years I have gotten much calmer about flying. Not a whole lot rattles me. My wife, who does not fly near as much, is always indignant about this. In all my flying I have had tense moments, worried ones. But after going through enough of it, you begin to calm, or at least I do.
Here is what I do. I watch the crew. If the crew is calm, I am calm. If they can laugh through the thunderstorm and turbulence we are going through, so can I. By the same token, if they start to look worried, frantic, concerned, I pay a little more attention. This has worked for me.
And so now, in this most current turbulence, and in the midst of what I believe to be failed leadership in many important parts of our common life, I have decided that I am going to look to one person to be my leader through this crisis, one person I am going to heed, or give the highest attention to, as I consider my role, my actions, my strategy for these days.
That’s right. The nurse is my leader right now. Doesn’t matter which one, doesn’t matter where they head to work each day, as long as they head to work today, to somewhere. Like I watch a flight crew, I am watching them, listening to them, and literally feeding them. My wife and I have been regularly giving to a GoFund me page that is sending regular meals to front line medical professionals. It started with a $25000 goal and is now nearing $350000.
Go Fund Mefor meals for Front line workers.
This is the week of the Nurse, national nurses day just a few days back. Nurses were celebrated like we never have before, as well they should be.
I have lived with a nurse all my life. Literally. My paternal grandmother was a nurse, my mother is a nurse, my wife is a nurse, and teaches to prepare nurses now.
So many of our elected leaders are saying they are making “data driven” decisions. And I believe they believe that AND I also do not totally trust it. Some of the data seems to be the Dow Jones, or the hate mail in their email box about them “taking away my personal freedom” or their 401(k) plan. Or it might be the party line. There is way too much “party saving” going on, on both sides, than on human saving. I hate to be cynical, but right now, about this, I am. But not when it comes to the nurses, and really, let that word be a metaphorical captive of any front line worker, respiratory therapists, doctors, EMTs, fireman, policeman, grocery workers, delivery workers.
But the nurse, the people who have become not only caregivers, but families, who are not only providing medical care, but now counseling, grief response, last rites, connectors, holding up Ipads and Iphones as people say goodbye to someone they have loved and known their entire life, these are my leaders. It is not enough that nurses, and others on the front lines, have to work their physical bodies to exhaustion on our behalf, but now they are also having to hold the emotions of all those who are connected to the sick. They have, overnight, had to become counselors, pastors, social workers. No one else looks this virus, our enemy right now, in the face, like nurses.
And with all of that, some of our leaders have the gall to suggest that nurses “don’t really know what they are talking about” when they give us the score. I believe they do, more than anyone.
Somebody asked me the other day this very question. Who are you looking to for your information as you lead and direct? And without batting an eye I said, out loud, “nurses”.
When they are nervous, I am nervous. When they are concerned, I am concerned. When they are frustrated, I am frustrated. When they call on us to please stay home and help them help us, I am going to do it, and I am going to facilitate all in my charge to do it too.
I want to get “back” like everyone does. But I would like to get “back” with as many of our fellow humans as we can when we do. Getting “back” is going to take while, and in a way, we will never be “back” but as we make moves toward that, regardless of the sacrifice, I hope we will decide who our real leaders are going to be. I have mine. The Nurse.
“A Pissing Section in the Pool.” That is what he said. I don’t even remember what news program and what epidemiologist, as I am in the Zoom/News blur of pandemic life, but I very much remember his answer. The reporter asked the epidemiologist, “with no federal coordinated response, and some governors defying guidelines for reopening, do you think this uncoordinated approach will work?” The epidemiologist just looked back at the camera and said, “does a pissing section in the pool work?”
And like a Damascus road experience I was suddenly able to see in a way I had not before. You may be wondering where I am going with this, and those of you that hound me about “staying out of politics” or “staying in my lane” which usually is translated really to, staying out of YOUR politics, or out of YOUR lane, I am going to look at this theologically, the Church, my lane.
This sudden epiphany made me see how our theology bleeds into our common life. As divided as our country is, so is Christianity. We have, over time, developed on a more overarching level, two distinct and nearly opposite theologies. One I call “personal freedom theology”. You recognize this by people in the protests carrying signs that say, “Jesus is my vaccine” or during interviews saying things like, “it is my God given right to..blah, blah, blah.” This is a personal God that only worries about you. This is the old Tom T. Hall song, “me and Jesus got our own thing going” theology. No one else matters. Or only those who can help me in some way matter. I find it very difficult to find much in our guide, Scripture, about this theology.
The other is a communion theology. It is based on a totally opposite idea, that the common good, the good of all is the Gospel. “Laying down your life for a friend” is communion theology. “Blessed are the meek” is communion theology. “Leaving everything behind and following” is communion theology. “Losing your life” is communion theology. These are complete contrasts to the belief that your life is the only life that is really important.
In reality, and probably a far healthier reality, is to live somewhere between, but can we?
I remember, almost 20 years ago, in a small fundamentalist church in Tennessee, the preacher came bounding out of the pulpit like a jackrabbit on steroids, bounding down the middle aisle, he quickly spun around and hunched down a bit for effect, and lowering his voice almost to a whisper, brought his two index fingers together, dramatically, and said, “you see that cross, you see that American Flag, they are exactly the same.” I have never forgotten that. And I have never forgotten the sour stomach I had for days after. No, they are not, exactly the same. The point of the cross, and what happened on it, is that no flag is primary any longer, no border, no country. Instead, God is primary, Jesus is primary. But it is just that kind of appropriation that gets us to moments like this, to division like this. I do love and admire the US, but as a Christian, it is no longer primary. It is high up there, way up there, but it is not what I worship. It is not primary.
When the epidemiologist asked sarcastically, “does a pissing section in a pool work?” It just became so clear. We, in this pampered, and generally more and more every day, selfish nation, have the idea that this virus will recognize us as the greatest country on earth, and thereby, it will respect our borders.
So how it that working for us?
“It doesn’t matter what happened every where else on the globe, it won’t happen here!” This is simply another symptom of the delusional after effects of personal freedom theology.
Many governors seem to be working off the same playbook. Surely if I do this in Florida, or Arkansas, or Georgia, the virus will stop at the border and go somewhere else.
A pissing section in the pool.
This is not an easy time. It is not easy now to be a leader of any group of humans at this time. There is so little we know, and so much yet to be known. We are flying blind to a degree, but one thing that seems pretty clear, in all of this, is that it takes us all working together, to even have a chance at beating this. And that, well, we are just not very good at it, and we haven’t been for a while.
Some say, and it is just an opinion I know, but I have heard it a lot, that Italy definitely had its bad days during their run with this, but they were far better than us at following guidelines and staying on the same page. There are lots of reasons for that, different culture, different geography, smaller geography, and all of that is real, But many are saying that the often energetic, hard to corral Italian, followed these orders because, in their culture, they care so much for the elderly. The elderly in their culture are icons, revered, to be protected. In short, there is not the “it is my God given right to do whatever I want, whenever I want, with whomever I want” even if that is scientifically proven to be detrimental to others. What do we say to those who are vulnerable in this? Well, in this theology it is said, “tough!” you have to find your own way. You shouldn’t have eaten so much, or gotten hypertension, or diabetes, or just gotten old. Why did you get old? Take responsibility!
People that know me know I am big into personal responsibility, but I do believe that as Christians, personal responsibility, calls us to a different response. Especially in instances and crisis such as this, where it is clear we have to work and act together to truly turn the tide on our woes.
I am not sure how we, the Church, navigate this difference. It does not give a very consistent face of Christianity to the world we say we want to offer this faith to. There is a huge difference in the theology of “This is my God given right to, ...... do whatever I need to do to take care of myself, and survive, regardless of the effect on others,” and a theology that says, “this is my call as a Christian in times like these, to look to the community, the whole, and to act so that we might be stronger together.”
Christianity is not a faith with “rights”. It is a faith with “calls”. We should spend a lot less time on what my personal right is, and more time on what the call of the Gospel, and of our God is, now, for me, in this time. I continue to be amazed that Christianity is a faith, the origin of which, comes directly from sacrifice, perhaps one of the greatest sacrifices ever, but much of our professed and practiced theology is one of entitlement, preference, avoiding sacrifice at all costs, most especially for anyone else.
I think the Gospel can have a saving effect for us in these days, but we are far from together on what it is, the Gospel that is. That quip was good for a virus we are trying to control, and I believe just as good for a faith we say, we really want to share. Trying to do it like we are, is about as effective as a pissing section in the pool.
The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel is the VIII Bishop of Olympia, the Episcopal Church in Western Washington State. He has been the bishop here since September, 2007.