taking the words of Jesus seriously

Dedicated to the multitude who live for justice, peace, and love yesterday, today, and forever.

On Friday . . .
We remember the men, women, and children
Who wear their Sunday Best
They stand on crates
They straddle branches
They stretch out on grassy fields
They wave flags
They enjoy their picnic
They fan themselves
They pass around the apple pie
While one or more black beautiful souls
Hang from one tree after another

On Friday . . .
We recall the eagerness of those
Who cannot wait for dawn to break
These “mixed crowds” have come “to view
The ghastly body swaying in the sun” [1]
They arrive in their droves
They ride horses
On roads riddled with rocks
They steer their carriages
Across paths stubbled with stones
They drive cars
Of all makes and sizes and colors [2]
Across roads charred
By the horrors of time
They cycle
They walk
They run
Their mouths water
They relish the sight
Of burnt flesh
And between each bite
Of their food
Their eyes widen
As fire devours the skin
Of black bodies
Strung on trees

On Friday . . .
As people of different beliefs
We sing in a church
We find community
Community speaks our name
We come together
As community
Individuals
Generations
Cultures
Identities
And we sing
We sing because we can
We sing because we must
We are the dreamers
Who dare to dream dreams
With no end
And we dare to dream
Beyond the American dream
When Rev. Traci Blackmon
Gives voice to 1 Samuel 17
And preaches the sermon
“Where Are The Dreamers?” [3]
We dare to say yes
We are the dreamers
And as Dreamers
We cry out for justice
We cry out for love
We cry out for peace
We cry out for equality
We channel our ancestors
And sing
“I woke up this morning with my mind
Stayn’ on Freedom”
Freedom rings through our voices
Freedom pounds church floors
Freedom strides out of church
And takes freedom to the streets
For all
For all
For all

Friday night . . .
Children cannot leave the church
Elders cannot leave the church
Peoples of all hues and identities
Cannot leave the church
We the people
We the beloved
We the image bearers of God
Are “held hostage inside of the church”
We cannot leave this sacred building
For 30 minutes
30 minutes [4]
And yes some of us weep
And yes some of us are angry
And yes some of us are afraid
And yes some of us do not know what to do
Still, we are moved but will not be moved
Even when those who despise us
Would gladly remove us from this earth

Friday night . . .
Unmasked
Unhooded
Unrobed
The new bearers of the white sheet
Wear clothes stamped
With modern day brands [5]
They adorn themselves
With “Polos and Oxford button-downs
with neatly coifed hair” [6]
They wear caps emblazoned
With “Make America Great Again” [7]
Like a crown

They arm themselves with ammunition
Forged by their predecessors
“The women thronged to look, but never a one
Showed sorrow in her eyes of steely blue;
And little lads, lynchers that were to be,
Danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee” [8]
We witness this same “fiendish glee” [9]
We witness the same un-hooded sneer
On the faces of those carrying symbols of hate
As they alight Charlottesville, Virginia
With their fury
We wonder what clothes did their ancestors wear
Under their bright white sheets?
A shirt and tie?
A tailored suit?
A uniform?
A vestment?
A stole?
Shorts?
A shopkeeper’s apron?
A judge’s robe?
The costume of a politician?
The attire of a teacher?
Dungarees soiled by the sweat of misery?

We can only imagine
We can only imagine

The white sheets
Worn by their ancestors
Shadow them
Shadow us

Yesterday, today, and forever? [10]
We listen to the blood soaked lament of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”
And we wonder
We wonder
Whether this strange fruit
Is ever strange to those who fail to defend
The right of a human being
To live
And breathe
And move in their being
In a ‘free’ stolen land

Yesterday, today, and forever?
Claude McKay’s poem “Lynching” resounds in our spirit [11]
We grieve for the many whose “spirit is smoke ascended to high heaven” [12]
Though these departed souls rest in the bosom of the Creator
Anger finds voice when we share our hurt with the One who never sleeps
And the Creator hears us
Sees us
Joins us
And so
We mourn
We rage
We lament
We weep
For those pried
From the hands of our loved ones
We see
Their bodies
Imprinted on the hands of those
Who snatched them from life on earth

Yesterday, today, and forever?
We read Natasha Trethewey’s poem “Incident” [13]
The stories of the past live in the present
We must “tell the story every year” [14]

We must
We must
We must

Yesterday, today, and forever . . .
Jesus calls us to remember him
And follow him
He lives on yesterday, today, and forever
He “is the same yesterday and today and forever” [15]
We cannot recall a time when Jesus stood by
While someone ‘lynched’ another human being
This truth we must never forget or repeat

And yet
And yet

When the stench of history
Regurgitates its bile over all humanity
We note that for some
Its stench smells like cheap perfume
For others
Its stench fills their nostrils with burning human flesh
Others smell nothing at all

Hope never douses history with amnesia
Hope rebuffs silence
Love flourishes in the brambles
It weaves its way through a crown made of thorns
Love nourishes
Love heals
Love cherishes love
Even as batons created with gnarled tree limbs light up tiki torches
Even as wicks quiver “in their fonts of oil” [16]
Even as lights stoked with multiple hues blaze
Even as Jesus stretches out his hand
And invites the enemies of love
To abide in him and leave behind hate
Still “the awful sin” lingers . . . [17]

And still

Before
During
And after service
Many churchgoers stay silent
They close the doors of the church
Shut

Sing from closed hymnals
And follow the lyrics of songs
Without following its meaning

They sit up
They sit down
They sit up
They sit down

The sermon they hear
Remains cleansed of the stains of trauma
And unblemished by domestic terrorism
When they erase the despised from scripture
They divorce themselves from the disinherited
They absorb the sermon of their convictions
Because it allows them to live and move and breathe
As image bearers of themselves
They take pride in being good

Content
They clap politely
Their breath is but a whisper
As they leave church
On time
One by one by one

Yesterday, today, and forever . . .
The moon refuses to be eclipsed
Stars embroider the night
The air caresses the earth
Butterflies soar
Seas roar with the wind
And the bruised reed remains unbroken [18]
While the sun refuses to be dimmed
The light remains eternal
Heather perfumes the air
The rain cries

And the smoke of a smoldering wick [19]
Buoyed by the breath of life
Rises
Rises
Rises

_____________________

© Claudia May, 2017

[1] Claude McKay, “The Lynching” Harlem Shadows (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1922), p. 51. [2] Inspired by the testimony of Rev. Traci Blackmon, Facebook. August 12, 2017. 7:15pm. [3] Inspired by the article by Rev. Traci Blackmon, “The Dying Breaths of White Supremacy Witness to Charlottesville Outlines the Way Forward for Anti-Racists”, The St. Louis American, August 16, 2017.  [4] This stanza is inspired by the eyewitness account of Rev. Traci Blackmon, “The Dying Breaths of White Supremacy Witness to Charlottesville Outlines the Way Forward for Anti-Racists,” The St. Louis American, August 16, 2017. [5] Inspired by the testimony of Rev. Traci Blackmon, Facebook. August 12, 2017. 7:15pm. [6] Rev. Traci Blackmon, “The Dying Breaths of White Supremacy Witness to Charlottesville Outlines the Way Forward for Anti-Racists”, The St. Louis American, August 16, 2017. [7] Ibid. [8] Claude McKay, “The Lynching” Harlem Shadows (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1922), p. 51. [9] Ibid. [10] Inspired by Hebrews 13:8 (New Revised Standard Version). [11] Ibid. [12] Ibid. [13] Natasha Trethewey, “Incident”, Native Guard (New York: First Mariner Books, 2007), p. 25.  [14] Ibid. [15] Hebrews 13:8 (New Revised Standard Version). [16] Ibid. [17] Claude McKay, “The Lynching” Harlem Shadows (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1922), p. 51.  [18] Isaiah 42:3 (New Revised Standard Version). [19] Isaiah 42:3 (New International Version).

About The Author

mm

Claudia May is the Director of Reconciliation Studies and an Associate Professor of Reconciliation Studies at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is also a spiritual director (www.claudiamay.org). Dr. May has published articles in Patheos and other publications and is the author of “Jesus is Enough: Love, Hope, and Comfort in the Storms of Life” (Augsburg Fortress Press, http://ow.ly/TAKJz). She is a passionate follower of Jesus, a woman of prayer, and a lover of biblical stories and wisdom.

Related Posts

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

   
   

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
       
       
       
       
    Check which Newsletter(s) you'd like to receive:    
   
                   
           
   

You have Successfully Subscribed!