In the midst of the COVID crisis, I feel disconnected from the worshipping community I’m called to serve—we can’t chat over donuts in the Fellowship Hall; we can’t share quickly in the entry space before worship; I can’t look into your eyes and ask you questions during the sermon; I can’t field questions in Confirmation classes; I can’t enjoy the curiosity of our children; I can’t access the adult forum for our shared learning and discussion; I can’t stay late after committee meetings to hear about your pain and hurts.
For all these reasons, and more, I feel disconnected from the people of Trinity Lutheran Church in Saint Peter. As things keep happening in our country and in our world, people have been wondering about what their spiritual leaders have to say in response. When President Trump mandated (without the power to do so) the opening of worshipping communities, people have wondered why we remain virtual in our gatherings. When George Floyd was murdered by the police officers in Minneapolis (yes, I’m including those standing watch), we wondered how to respond to this injustice and call for an end to violence against black and brown bodies. I think Trinity needs a place where they can find their pastors’ perspectives easily and most importantly quickly after events like these unfold.
I'm hardly ever on Facebook or Instagram. But, I have recognized my privilege in being able to turn off my social media, or the news, or the notifications which pull me into the pain of George Floyd's murder and evidence of racial injustice all around us. My privilege has permitted me to remain distant from social media, and I've used "I'm not normally there" as an excuse to refrain from posting. I've discovered the sin in that silence. I am a white, male, young, heterosexual, cisgender, highly educated, middle-class citizen of the United States of America. These are my sources of privilege. This the perspective from which I write and the perspective that lulls me into complacency and inaction.
I don’t think that saying “Floyd” once or twice in a prayer or sermon is enough of a response from Trinity Lutheran Church, or from any who claim to represent the body of Christ in this world. This means, too, that God is calling us to more than a few posts on Facebook and a few mentions in our personal prayers, too. So, here’s a blog spot, where I can release statements and thoughts in a timely manner. (Let me be clear about this, too: blog posts will not be enough of a response either!)
Words on social media are not enough from white people--but that cannot be my excuse for staying silent on social media; prayers are meaningless without a committed body to embody those prayers--but that cannot be my excuse for keeping my words from God; marching can deteriorate into nothing more than a photo op--but that cannot be my excuse for staying home; navigating political realities can be messy and confusing--but this cannot be my excuse for ignoring my vote's power.
This should be self-evident and shouldn't need further commentary than the video footage of George Floyd's murder, but I nonetheless feel a need to express clearly:
Yesterday, I walked with a hundreds of clergy from across the state to lament George Floyd’s murder and to cry out for justice. Our march was a silent one, led by clergy of color to symbolize the white clergy’s commitment to value and uphold black and brown bodies as sacred in God’s sight. Though we walked in the quiet, with just the crunch of our shoes to fill the street, our protest was deafening in its prayers. As each religious leader marched, representing a diverse range of spiritual traditions and understandings, we focused our minds and hearts on our prayers. We spilt our voices to our various understandings of God with our complete selves: with our minds, with our senses, with our hearts, with our traditions, with our communal and individual spaces, with the worshipping communities we have at home.
Because we weren’t limited to one faith tradition, each of us prayed in different ways and in different words. When my feet started moving, a prayer came to my mind, which I would like to share with you. But first, let’s read this passage from Mark:
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” The word “drove” could actually be translated “exorcised,” as it’s the same Greek word used in the exorcism stories later on. Does that change your perspective on Jesus’ baptism? How about your own baptism? “And the Spirit immediately [exorcised] him out into the wilderness.”
Jesus’ baptism—and, I’d argue everyone’s baptism—does not only wrap him in God's comforting arms; it also thrusts Jesus out of comfort. His baptism pushes Jesus—against his wishes?—into a lonely place of vulnerability, sacrifice, and struggle against evil. He has no choice in this; vulnerability, sacrifice, and struggling against evil are the basic missions bestowed on God's baptized.
So, as I walked the streets of Minneapolis yesterday, surrounded by colleagues from many traditions and alone in my thoughts, my prayer was born of this passage. I am grateful for this word “exorcised” and for Jesus’ baptism, which has become my own. Here is my prayer from yesterday’s march—feel free to use it if you find it helpful (there is an audio recording of my prayer below):