It is time to listen to the ‘wind from God’

The Rev. Kelley Becker

The first story of creation in the book of Genesis begins, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the deep was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (New Revised Standard Version).

This story is not meant to be a scientific or historical account of how our world came to be. It is meant to tell us something about God and the ways in which God interacts with creation. This story suggests the God of the Abrahamic traditions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is a God that brings order to chaos, that creates life from what seems to be nothing.

In the Christian tradition, the “wind from God” that swept over the water is understood to be the spirit of God, which we believe is the way God is able to be present with all people in all times and places.

Last Sunday, May 31, our church celebrated Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit made herself known to the early Jesus followers, following Jesus’ death. She came in wind, fire, and words that everyone could understand, regardless of their native language. Christians think of Pentecost as the birthday of the church. But Pentecost is much more than a birthday; it is an expansion of the plot in God’s great story. With Pentecost, the story of God expands to include everyone. In essence, the Spirit makes it clear, God chooses everyone. We are all children of God.

We are children of God first. That is the foundation of who we are. The wonderful things that make up the rest of who we are are all in addition to that, never instead of it. And that is why the last few weeks have been so painful. What we are experiencing in this country has reminded us again that we do not always act as if we believe each one of us is a child of God. Or for my humanist friends, we don’t always act as if we believe each one of us has inherent worth just because we are human beings.

If we believed it, George Floyd would not be dead. If we believed it, Ahmaud Arbery would not be dead. If we believed it, black men would not be afraid to leave their homes, black parents would not have to have “the talk” with their children, and it would be perfectly normal for all parents to talk with their children about how beautiful it is that each one of us is different and how wonderful it is that we can learn from and enjoy each other.

But instead, Minneapolis, LA, Chicago, and other cities in our country are burning, people are protesting, shouting, carrying signs that say, “Black Lives Matter” and “Please, I Can’t Breathe,” and marching with their hands up. There is vandalism, looting, pepper spray, and ready for battle-clad police. Neighbors are lining up on different sides, using social media to blast anyone who disagrees with their perspective. Some are yelling, “Burn it down!” Others are saying, “I understand why people are angry, but this is not the way.” And still others haven’t even acknowledged a problem with Mr. Floyd’s death. They are angry and calling the protesters criminals. I am guessing many people are still trying to figure out how they feel and what they believe.

For the ones who are struggling to understand why protesters are blocking traffic, disrupting commerce, and breaking the law, I will offer a brief explanation that draws on a really helpful video on YouTube created by comedian Trevor Noah. Noah is a black man who was born in South Africa, in the midst of Apartheid. He is the host of “The Daily Show”, a satirical news program that airs on Comedy Central.

I find Noah’s perspectives on race enlightening. The gist of his video is that society is, in a sense, a contract. As part of the society, we all agree to live according to a certain set of rules so we can live together in harmony. This works great as long as everyone adheres to the rules. The reason Mr. Floyd’s death has ignited the Black community is that it is one more example of the people with power and control not adhering to the rules. The policeman, who was supposed to protect human life, instead killed him, with his peers looking on, doing nothing to stop it. And this is not the first time.

Noah asks the question, “What vested interest do they [black people and others who are oppressed] have in maintaining the contract … There is no law or contract if law and people in power don’t uphold their end of it.”

Life in the United States for people of color is not just. It is not peaceful or prosperous. I get it, we are in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic … we are all hurting, but we cannot forget, the ones who are most affected are the ones who are living their lives with a knee to their neck, or as Howard Thurman, in his book “Jesus and the Disinherited”, described it, “with their backs against the wall.”

Thurman pointed out that Jesus (the one whose ways Christians are supposed to follow) was a member of a minority group in the midst of a larger dominant and more controlling group. The similarities between the social position of Jesus in Palestine and our black siblings must be obvious to anyone who has heard even a little bit about Jesus’ life and his death.

After Jesus’ death, on the day of the first Pentecost, the Spirit of God showed up in wind, fire, and words that everyone could understand. I have to wonder, maybe she is showing up right now in the streets of our cities, in the cries of our black neighbors. Maybe she is showing up in the flames as buildings that symbolize systemic racism burn. Maybe she is showing up in the winds of change blowing across this nation.

Maybe this is an opportunity for all of us to work together to continue the work of bringing order to chaos, bringing life to desolation. That is my hope and my fervent prayer. Friends, we are better together. We must stand together. You are loved.