When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like a rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. (Acts 2:1-3)
We live in an apartment between the medical center and downtown Houston. Several times a day I will see helicopters fly over from the medical center to someone in great distress, and I will see the same helicopters returning in hopes to save a person’s life. When I see these helicopters going and returning, I will often say a prayer for the pilot, the medical technicians, and the patient or victim.
During the last couple of nights, I have been seeing many more helicopters. They are not going to pick up someone in distress. Instead, they are circling a city that is in distress with protests, violence, looting, and burning.
Someone has recently said to me that they are having a hard time understanding the violence and destruction that is happening in many of our cities. She is, of course, not alone in being confused or dumbfounded, or even repulsed by such actions. Although I understand and support people protesting, I must say that I don’t fully understand, nor do I support, the burning and looting that is happening. As I write these words, I know I need to pause and say that I don’t think it may be possible for white people—of which I am one—to fully understand the justifiable fear and anger that exists in our black community. We can’t fully understand because we haven’t been enslaved, abused, cheated, raped, or murdered like they have been.
As white people, we must not allow all of our focus to be hijacked into judging the destruction we are seeing. We also must not allow the dismaying things that are happening to distract us from looking at and admitting the larger and deeper issues of the entrenched racism in our country. And, finally, we must not allow the current violence in our streets to keep us from condemning the long-standing violence that has been perpetrated by those who are called to protect and preserve life, not attack and take it.
I imagine that someone who is reading this reflection may be saying to themselves, “I do wish this preacher would stop meddling in political issues, and just go back to spiritual issues and hope.” How would I respond to such sentiments? I would say that what we do with the ongoing injustice and racism in our land are spiritual issues. I would also say that we can’t really give words of hope unless we also face into the darkness, pain, mess, and sin that is all around us. If Jesus had only spoken about spiritual issues that were disconnected from the political realities of his day, He wouldn’t have been crucified.
I am writing these words on the day when we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. This is the day when we remember how the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples like a mighty wind, and like fire dancing on their heads, while also giving them new tongues to speak in languages they didn’t know.
As hard and as grim as things can now seem in our country, I believe that hope can be given to us when we recognize our need for a new Pentecost. We need the winds of the Holy Spirit to blow change—real change—into our hearts, our communities, our criminal justice system, our police forces, our leadership from top to bottom. And then we need the fire of the Holy Spirit to burn away all racism, all prejudices, all injustices, and all that is unfair in our schools, our legal system, our medical care, our food distribution. And, finally, we need the Holy Spirit to give us new tongues to speak words of truth, repentance, sorrow, peace, and compassion. Some of us may need to refrain from speaking until we have listened carefully and deeply to the pain of others.
We say that Pentecost is the birthday of the church. I pray that another Pentecost would come upon us for a new birth of fairness for all, liberty for all, protection for all, and justice for all. There will be no peace in our land until all of God’s children are treated the same.
As I watched the helicopters circle the downtown of Houston the last couple of nights, I prayed non-stop. I ask that you would join me. We must not stop our praying, changing, and acting until it is clear that all of us are made in God’s image, all equally precious in His sight.
- How are you responding to what is going on right now in our cities?
- What do you think would bring healing and peace to our country?
- What could you do for the welfare and peace of our common life?