Hebrew Bible: Job 38:1-11
Gospel Reading: Mark 4:35-41
In the later years of her life, my grandmother lived in Williamsburg, Virginia. We visited her every summer, and she rented a home for us on Virginia Beach for 2 weeks. It became a favorite place, a sacred place. Growing up in Up-State New York, where the closest shore line was 4 hours away, beach time was special. During the rest of the year I dreamt of the ocean. Save arctic temperatures, there is not an ocean that I can resist swimming in.
My father introduced me to the love of ocean. He was fearless. When I was a child, I would get on his shoulders, and we would go into the DEEP! I begged him, can we go into the deep today?! The deep was anywhere over my head, where I would drown if left alone. Where he could stand, but waves bigger than me and stronger than me could take me down. But on my father’s shoulders, the waves were gentle, playful, peaceful, calm.
My God would be a lucky deity if I loved my God as much as I love my father. It is a different kind of love, I suppose. I’ve never really connected to God as father; perhaps because I have a positive father figure in my life, who is clearly to me, not God. But the metaphor of God as parent is not lost on me. We come from God, we belong to God, we return to God. So Dad, I am going to speak of God as a father today, but don’t worry, I have no illusions about who you really are.
Imagine the safety, of wading into deep waters on God’s shoulders. That the storm, or waves around us in life, feel calm, even though the waves are beating with the intensity that they did, just moments ago, we feel peace. And the ocean, as metaphor for life. This planet is so distinctly marked by the presence of water, in our bodies, and beyond, our understanding of life is so tied to the ocean. Ocean represents power, power of the divine, the mystery of God, the depth. And for the amount of mystery there is in the ocean, the depths in our humans souls, which belong to God, are just as deep. The ocean is unpredictable, dangerous, beautiful.
I keep thinking about to words of Jesus to the stormy sea. “Peace, be still!” And the sea calms down. Or the disciples calm down. Or both.
I’ve tried to hold the words of Jesus ,“Peace, be still,” among the tragedy of the shooting in Charleston South Carolina this week, at the historic African Methodist Episcopal church, Mother Emmanuel, where 9 Black people were shot during a Bible study, 4 of them clergy, by a racist white 21 year old man who said sat with them for an hour during Bible Study and then opened fire and said, “I came to kill Black people.”
“Peace, be still” We are upset, grieving, broken hearted, have righteous anger! Peace be still? A friend of mine, Jackie Ambrosini wrote, “I never want to get numb to this horror of hate and loose my own humanity and outrage, which can fuel my energy to be part of the change that makes this kind of massacre never happen again.”
Peace be still. Sometimes these words can feel like “Relax, calm down, chill out.” Not the most helpful words. This week we are called to lament, to cry out, to pray, to allow God to transform pain and suffering and death in this world, into love and life. To honor each one of the victims by name give our lives over to Jesus, and the holy spirit, who transforms our hearts.
Whenever I wonder how to act as a Christian or as a Pastor, I often turn to Jesus. And I find him doing the strangest things. We find Jesus drawing in the sand, or talking about planting seeds. Jesus is always such a strange model of leadership.
In this story, while the storm is rocking the boat, Jesus is sleeping. How odd is it, that as this great windstorm arose, and waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped, Jesus was sleeping on a cushion in the stern? After bailing pales of water out, someone approaches Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
I hear this as the voice of 5 year old girl, whose grandma told her to play dead, to survive. I hear her as one of the voices of the disciples. Do you not see Jesus, that the sea we are sailing into waters that are killing us; that there are racist waters? Jesus, wake up! Help us! Do you not care that we are perishing?
Racism is this big gaping national wound and mark of shame, that has not been healed. We have seen senseless killings of unarmed Black teenagers, again and again. And now this; the murder of 9 Black church goers in Charleston, South Carolina. What is a white person to do? “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” Then the wind ceased, and where was dead calm. “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
What would it mean us to wake up in the midst of this horrible storm? What would it mean for me to have faith, while people are being murdered in this country?
I’ve asked myself a hard question this week: Does it make me more uncomfortable to see white people killing Black people or to be called racist? To imagine that my white skin connects me more to the shooter, than it does to my African American colleague of the cloth. Which feels more shocking to me; that I could be racist, or part of a racist system, or that white people are killing Black people? My pitiful answer, is that it is more shocking for me to be called racist. I am terrified of being called racist. I’ll soon begin to point to the ways I have to move in the world as a woman, or as a woman who loves women, how these factors of my persona cause me suffering, in a patriarchal, heteronormative world. And I will lament when racism rears its ugly head, and I will call it evil, and sinful, and I will think that I have examined myself; but sisters and brothers, this is a way of protecting white privilege. This is called white fragility. When we hear of Black people being murdered, over and over again, we are already in deep waters. People are perishing. And in times like these, we need to be strong, we need to have the courage of wading into the deep waters on God’s shoulders, we don’t have time to be fragile.
I was challenged this week by the writing of Dr. Robin Diangelo, a white professor, who does trainings on race awareness, and lifts of the concept of “white fragility,” “We think that if are well-intended and do not consciously dislike people of color, we cannot be racist. However, when you understand racism as a system of structured relations into which we are all socialized, you understand that intentions are irrelevant. And when you understand how socialization works, you understand that much of racial bias is unconscious. Negative messages about people of color circulate all around us. The societal default is white superiority and we are fed a steady diet of it 24/7. To not actively seek to interrupt racism is to internalize and accept it.”
Peace, be still. In the midst of a racist culture? Peace be still. I’ve realized the only way to transform a racist culture is to transform myself? Peace, be still. A person with my skin color, in my country, killed 9 people in a Bible study. Peace, be still. May God be like a father, who puts us on his shoulders, and carries us into the deep. Into the places that scare us. And may we hear the call, “peace be still,” not as silencing, not as complacency, not as belittling words to grieving family. May we experience “peace be still,” when we hear the parts of our ego that come up and say, “I can’t be racist, this is scary, I don’t feel safe, I have a lot of friends who are black and brown, this isn’t my problem.” These are the waves. Let the voice of Jesus calm your soul; peace be still.
To not actively seek to interrupt racism is to internalize it and accept it. I have surely been around someone when they have said something racist, and I have remained silent, not to be antagonistic. This is a way of internalizing and accepting racism.
Realizing how we as white people benefit from white superiority is huge. Accepting our imperfection and even loss of innocence with this topic is huge too; it is everything. With the concept of white fragility, Dr. Robin Diangelo writes the appropriate ways to give people feedback on racist behavior, and claims that the cardinal rule is to not give feedback at all. But if this rule is broken, this concept of white fragility, meaning we are so sensitive to the idea that we could be part of the problem, means that feedback must be given in a totally safe environment, with a proper tone, in a relationship where there is trust that is issue free, and the feedback must be given privately and immediately so not to be discounted, and as indirectly as possible, and then the person giving feedback must acknowledge that they have misunderstood, and apologize. This works to obscure racism and protect white dominance so perfectly. Because we don’t want to be bad! It is easier to protest things outside of ourselves, and so much more difficult to look within.
Dr. Robin Diangelo reported that she asked a group of people of color if they ever give white people feedback on behavior. Eye rolling, head shaking, outright laughter, and a general consensus of “never” arose from the group. Dr. Diangelo posed the question; “What would it be like if you could give us feedback, have us graciously receive it, reflect and work to change the behavior?” It would be revolutionary.
It would be revolutionary. And lets face it; we all want to do something, we all want a version of a revolution that stops the murder of innocent people in a Bible study. We all want to heal the wounds caused by slavery and racism in this culture. We can claim this sadness as our sadness, and we can lament along side of people in Charleston, and we should. But even more, white folks are the people who need to transform racism. When we are able to get beyond our own shock and offense, that we live and breathe a racist culture, and even that we benefit from it all the time, and perpetuate it all the time. We can begin the real work of examining ourselves, and our churches, our schools and our communities.
There is a prayer vigil on Tuesday night at Cross Street AME Zion church, from 6-7. The community is invited. But white folks, when we go there, be in a prayerful attitude. Don’t dominate the space. Listen. Don’t take the microphone to pray. Stand in solidarity. Because when we leave that prayer vigil, if we have pink skin or white skin or peach skin, we are able to opt out of thinking about it. We have choice, and that is privilege.
We must be able to wade into the deep waters, because so many people are there already, and don’t have a choice whether or not to wade, or wake up. We are each called by name by a God who loves us, to seek to transform our world to a place of peace, of justice, where every life matters. We have come from God, and we will return to God. And while we are on earth, while we have the privilege of life on this planet, we must each work to transform it for God, for the good. This is our call as Christians, this is our call as human beings. We must each examine ourselves, we must wake each other up like the disciples did to Jesus on the stormy sea.
There is a national crisis now. And no matter how much we think of ourselves as not racist, or an ally, well we are all in deep waters together, and the waters infected the way we think and breath and order our lives. And we need to look at it in ourselves, and recognize ourselves within it. The world doesn’t care how many protests I have been to, or how many times I post that #Blacklivesmatter on my facebook page or how many prayer vigils I go to, or what my intentions are. These are great ways to show solidarity. But I must remember, that the world sees white skin, and I am allowed to walk in the world differently because of that. The world doesn’t care how wealthy, how many degrees of higher education a Black man has; the world sees Black skin, and he walks in the world differently.
Let us allow God to be like a father, holding us on his shoulders in deep waters. Giving us the confidence, the courage, to face the big waves that could topple us over ourselves. Allow us to be like Jesus, asleep while others are perishing, but then waking up, and able to bring calm and peace to the places around us and within us. Let us be brave, and not fragile. People’s lives depend on it. Amen.