“Let us love not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth.”
1 John 3: 18-19
“You are the light of the world… Let your light shine…” Matthew 5: 14-16
I’ve now spent a quarter of a year in quarantine, and it’s not over. During this time I’ve witnessed the sights and sounds of illness and death, most notably the sirens which have now, finally, gone quiet. I lost two relatives and two friends and possibly others I haven’t yet heard about. The most recent loss was an old college friend who died last month, a few weeks after his birthday. He was, as far as I could see, a healthy man in his 40s. It was hard not to notice the disproportionately high fatality rate from COVID for black and indigenous folks.
I was already grieving when I heard about the viral video of the woman in Central Park who essentially threatened the life and safety of an innocent black man by phoning in false charges against him to the police. In case you’re not aware there is no shortage of these videos on social media: people threatening to call the police on black people for doing things like sitting, walking, talking, and being in places where the caller has judged that they don’t belong.
I was already grieving the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, the young man in Georgia who was shot like an animal as he went jogging in a “white” neighborhood. I was taken by his photo, his wide sweet smile, his face so open, so beautiful. I was already grieving when I heard about the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. That week I had difficulty sleeping. Every time I closed my eyes, I imagined Floyd’s death by suffocation. For nine long minutes, though undoubtedly, he was dead before then.
It’s not hard for me to imagine being Ahmaud, George or Christian, the Central Park birder. I’ve had my share of humiliating and potentially lethal run-ins with police while driving or going about my business. I’ve had police called on me for being somewhere some anonymous caller had judged I didn’t belong. I’ve had dogs sent after me or had a warning shot fired when I went jogging in towns where my skin made me conspicuous. Anti-blackness and white supremacy are baked into the history and culture of the United States, and it’s been that way for a while. This is my reality.
In recent weeks, I was lucky to witness a series of Black Lives Matter marches. I briefly joined a couple of them. I was struck by the movement’s breadth: black, white, old, young. I saw a group, White Coats for Black Lives. I saw elders, I saw children. I saw motorists, bikers, pedestrians, all of whom enthusiastically supported the marchers. I felt some real hope in seeing this broad, diverse multiracial coalition coming together in support of black lives. Maybe this time of COVID and quarantine has helped us realize what is essential, what matters, and the truth of our interconnection. Without our usual distractions and constant pursuit of material trifles, maybe we’re realizing that what matters most, after-all, is our relationship with one other. If so, then as Christians, surely we can see this and say, this is the Good News.