Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd A Trinity June 7, 2020
II Corinthians 13:11-13
The fiery flames of Pentecost from last Sunday seem to have ignited the U.S. and Canada this past week. The Spirit’s passion for justice has kindled many a heart and people are rising up not just because of one incident. George Floyd’s killing was one of many instances of racism and police brutality in Canada as well as the U.S.
I spoke with a few African-Canadian people here in Winnipeg about their reactions. One of them was a refugee from Burundi. She is a brilliant human rights activist and one of my mentors. She told me about some instances of police brutality here in Winnipeg and that Black people do not always feel safe with police because of this. The same could be said about the experience of Indigenous people here. This is not an easy truth to hear.
Another friend is a survivor of the Rwandan massacre. He came over to Canada as a refugee and is one of the few surviving members of his own family. He said that when he watched the video of the police killing George Floyd, it brought back not only the horror of what he saw in Rwanda, but also the racism that he faces here. He told me that when he was a security guard, two people passed him one time and, presuming that he didn’t understand French, made a terribly racist comment. He replied to them in perfect French—one of his many languages—and they quickly began back-pedalling. His beautiful grown daughters are now talking about racist comments they are receiving here in Winnipeg.
Last Tuesday, the day after I spoke with this friend, he called us, shaken, and said that that very morning he was unlocking his bike on a street in Wolseley when a stranger came up to him and said, “I hate **** (referring to his colour). They scare me.” My friend straightened up and asked him to repeat what he had just said. The white man in his 60s replied, “Get lost.” When our friend told us this, I was shocked and felt as if I had hit a wall. I had to sit down and our friend then tried to look after us by saying that there are still good people in Winnipeg because some others who saw this immediately came up to him and asked how they could support him. Their support made all the difference for him. He didn’t feel as alone or unsafe because of them.
We need to acknowledge that racism is real and it happens right now, right here and those of us with white-skin privilege have a responsibility to stand with people of colour and say “No more.” It starts with acknowledging the racist tendencies that we all have inside ourselves. Do I respond with fear when I see someone of colour walking towards me? Do I question the motives of someone of colour in a way that I wouldn’t of a white person? Can I hear their painful experiences or do I try to explain them away? Do I tell racist jokes? Do I laugh when others tell them? It is time to look deeply within each of us and identify ways in which we need to work on our own racism.
When this friend called us to tell us what had just happened to him, I felt incredibly sad. This friend is such a caring, gentle man. He had just made crepes for all of the children on our block. We call him the mayor of our block, because he looks out for all of us. My sadness turns to anger when I continue to hear stories of racial violence in the news.
I’ve actually found anger rise within me a number of times over the past couple of weeks. I continue to be angry at the neglect in personal care homes. Like racism, this is not new and it also has been documented and reported over and over. But not until COVID has it finally come to the public’s attention. People are finally rising up and saying, “No more.”
I was angry at the New Brunswick doctor who did not self-isolate after a trip to Québec and has now spread COVID to a growing number of people, some of whom live in personal care homes.
I’m also angry at how long people in retirement homes are remaining in lock down—some of them with dementia and not understanding why they are imprisoned and not allowed to even leave their rooms for months on end. I’m angry at how families have not been allowed to be with their loved ones in the hospital even when they were dying.
I’m also aware of rising frustration in myself at being unable to see my parents in Victoria for the foreseeable future.
That’s a lot of anger to hold and I know that I’m not alone. We have been cooped up for so long. When tragedy hits, we are not starting at square one, but already have a mountain of anger that doesn’t take much more to spill over.
So what do we do with all of this anger? I’ve found a few things that have helped me. The first is to recognize that anger, in itself, is not bad. It is a sign that something is not right and it is important to listen to it. It could well be fuelled by the Spirit niggling at our conscience. Usually there is another emotion underneath the anger and it helps to identify what this is. When we understand what anger is protecting, we can try to address the underlying hurt or fear.
Anger’s energy can also be channelled into constructive responses. We can call or mail cards to people who are shutdown in retirement homes. We can contact people of colour we know and ask how they have been holding up during these racially-charged times. It’s helpful for them to know who their allies are.
Anger can give us the energy to do something about what isn’t right. It can give us the courage to confront racist comments and acknowledge our own racism. Demonstrators are calling us to change, not just to vent or complain. Benjamin Franklin once said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
Anger can also give us the energy to look for the rest of the story. Anger does move us to judgement awfully quickly because it is a hot, explosive fire that sometimes jumps right over the brain. But if we can harness anger’s energy to look again, we might find compassion helping us see the complexity of the picture. As I was ranting about the irresponsibility of the New Brunswick doctor, I read a bit more about his situation. When I saw that his child was one of the ones who caught COVID, I was stopped in my tracks. Yes, he made a serious mistake, but he must be suffering so much as both he and his child are sick, as he is realizing how many people he has infected and as he has been suspended as a doctor and is facing an RCMP investigation. As I try to put myself in his shoes, I feel compassion begin to replace judgement and I can pray more effectively for him and for all those he has impacted.
When we look for the rest of the story, we will also be cured of our tendency to simplify and generalize. Yes, police brutality and excessive force is happening and we need to remain vigilant. But most police are compassionate and just in challenging work that requires split-second decisions. A police precinct near New Jersey disbanded and reformed in 2013 to prioritize building community relations. They focus on de-escalation and dialogue. When the community mobilized to march in protest of George Floyd’s killing, the police chief joined the front line of the march with them.
A communal focus brings us to our brief epistle reading on this Trinity Sunday. The western world has learned from our Orthodox friends about the relational aspect of the Trinity. Some refer to the Creator, the Christ and the Spirit as the social Trinity. By this, they mean that the interaction between each person of the Trinity and their unity as one God can teach us about social relations. Each person of the Trinity has their own role and responsibility: the Creator has made the universe and all that it contains, Jesus the Christ has become one of us to show us the way, and the Holy Spirit lives within us as guide and comforter. While they are their own person with their own role, the boundaries between them are permeable as they exist within each other to unite as one God.
This social understanding of the Trinity inspires us, as humans, to dissolve our own boundaries and divisions to become united in spirit as one people of the human race. This does not mean that we ignore our unique personhoods and identities. Rather, we should celebrate our various races and cultures, religions and philosophies. But at heart, we all connect to the same wellspring of wisdom that unites us as one.
Our reading from II Corinthians comes at the conclusion of a difficult letter where Paul confronts the Corinthians about their conflicts and divisions. He asks them to put things in order. The Greek literally means to pull yourselves together and can also mean to be restored to wholeness. This is a monumental task. What each of us needs to pull ourselves together and be restored to wholeness varies considerably. But if we listen to our anger and meet the needs of our underlying emotions, we will be well on our way to pulling ourselves together. Then we will be better able to listen to the pain of those who experience discrimination and abuse hurled at them simply because of the colour of their skin.
If you were on that street and saw what happened to my friend, how would you respond? It was a dangerous situation and some allies have been hurt standing up for a stranger, as what happened recently to a woman in Vancouver who defended a minority from discrimination. But walking away would be a violation of our Christian faith, as the story of the Good Samaritan reminds us. So what are the creative options that can diffuse the situation and let the person of colour know that they will not be left alone?
This leads to a bigger question: How can we use the power of our privilege to empower those who are marginalized? If we can ask ourselves this question every day, it will open us to the wisdom of God, the solidarity that Jesus teaches and the passion of the Holy Spirit to empower all of us to be restored to wholeness. Amen.