taking the words of Jesus seriously

A lot has happened in the two years since the horrific police murder of George Floyd. Riots. Global protests. Public statements. The New York Times Best Sellers list briefly packed with racial justice books. Derek Chauvin behind bars. Confederate monuments torn down. A white backlash against anything deemed “critical race theory.” And all the while, police still killing Black people at three times the rate of white people.

But for all that has and has not transpired over the past two years, what grips me today are these simple, poignant words penned by my friend, Black journalist and advocate Chanté Griffin, one year ago:

I wish I didn’t know who George Floyd was. I wish I had never heard his name, never cried or protested over his death.

I wish he had lived a life in obscurity to everyone except those who knew him intimately.

I wish a lot of things,

mostly that he were alive today,

one year to the date his life was snuffed away.

Chanté’s words remind us that our response to our nation’s centuries-long, ongoing idolatry of white supremacy can never be solely activism—learning more history, attending protests, elevating voices of color, advocating for systemic change—though the love of God and neighbor will compel us to do these things. More fundamentally, we must continue to grow in a spiritual practice that many of us are abysmal at: we must lament.

In his book Prophetic Lament, Soong-Chan Rah writes that, while 40% of the biblical psalms are psalms of lament, only 5% of our popular worship songs even scratch the surface of lament. The white American church, he writes, has left many of us without the “permission, language or tools to adequately sit with the despair and sadness of recent racial injustices.” Our triumphalist American faith does not know what to do with scriptures like Psalm 88, which concludes not with praise or hope, but with words of disorientation and pain that are all too relevant today:

“You have taken from me friend and neighbor—

darkness is my closest friend.”

Yet there can be no lasting racial reconciliation in the United States—or the American church— that does not begin with lament. As Emmanuel Katongole wrote in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, “The resurrection of the church begins with lament.”

So today, I offer up an elegy—a poetic lament for George Floyd, inspired by Chanté’s words. The poem’s title, Image, speaks to the living, breathing image of God in George Floyd, whom we in our idolatry have reduced to a lifeless image, a hashtag, a memory. In the midst of all the work to be done, we must not forget—even two years later—to stop and lament the tragedy of his death. Let us mourn with the psalmist, aware that no amount of progress in racial justice will ever be able to restore George’s unique and irreplaceable life.

Take a few deep breaths. Invite God to draw near to you. Then read these words, letting them lead you to a place of lament—a place to sit with Jesus, “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:3).

Image

I wish I didn’t know who George Floyd was,

had never heard his name or seen his face

displayed on screens or blazoned on brick walls,

unbreathing monuments to life erased.

I wish that George was playing with his daughter,

unknown to all the world, lost in her eyes.

I think of all the things he would have taught her,

their lives unshattered and unscrutinized.

 

Instead, the whole world watched a white man kneel

upon her father’s neck until he died.

My God! What do we do? How do we heal

this hell of hashtags hewn from priceless lives?

Today, Lord, help us mourn for George and feel

the richness of the years he was denied.

About The Author

Michael Stalcup is a biracial Thai American missionary living in Bangkok, Thailand. His poetry has been published in Sojourners Magazine, Commonweal Magazine, Ekstasis Magazine, PAX, and elsewhere. He co-leads Spirit & Scribe, a workshop integrating spiritual formation and writing craft. Read more of his poetry at michaelstalcup.com.

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