What Can You Do?
posted on June 01
What Can You Do?
“If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
Romans 12:18 (NRSV)
Words are one of my great joys in life, but I’ve struggled to find words to adequately capture all the emotions I am feeling in this season of our nation’s history. I’ve searched the scriptures, the newspapers, and my own broken heart to find the right subjects and verbs to put together that would make sense of these dangerous and death-filled days. Our Bishop used an apt word – this is “pandemonium” … literally, “the abode of all demons.”
What is our Christian response to this global pandemic and to the cruel and senseless death of George Floyd? What can you do? There seem to be many answers to this question:
- Nothing. Many have chosen to do just that. Ignore both the spreading virus of COVID-19 and the systemic virus of racism, and hope they both just go away. There is a part of us that hope we can simply WILL them away by not giving them our attention.
- Prayer. It’s an important start. Prayer relieves our burdened spirits, gives us space for confession, and aligns our wills with God’s good will for all God’s children. From one of my favorite creeds, A Modern Affirmation: God’s “will is ever directed to (God’s) children’s good.”
- Activism. When borne out of prayers of confession and discernment, activism is a blessed next step. Activism has many different forms, as simple as a yard sign or a letter to Congress, as complex as organizing worship gatherings, advocacy groups, and peaceful protests.
- Violence. Some have turned to violence. Some violence is born out of pain. Some violence is born out of political opportunity. Some violence is born out of material gain. Violence is always complex, but we rarely see violence redeem violence.
I’ve always wondered why Paul used a conditional phrase in Romans 12 when reminding us to live in peace with each other. It seems like it should simply be an absolute truth. LIVE PEACEABLY WITH ALL. Period. End of sentence. But he doesn’t. No matter what translation I use to study Romans 12:18, I can’t find one that doesn’t begin with something like “If possible, so far as it depends on you…” As a child I memorized: “If possible, insofar as it depends on you, live peaceably with everyone.” There was always that conditional “if possible” lurking in there. I largely ignored that truth, until Monday, May 25 when George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis.
Ancient Rome has more in common with the Postmodern United States than I would like to admit. It was a place of occasional enforced quarantines. It was a place of occasional violence and gratuitous brute force. It was also a place of beautiful new beginnings. There were ancient George Floyds looking to begin again in Rome, looking for a community of faith, looking even in the catacombs for respite and worship, looking even amidst the violence of cruel soldiers. Paul knew violence in Rome; he was eventually a capital victim of it. He knew how much spiritual discipline was involved in the “if possible” and the “insofar as it depends on you” work of peace.
What a bitter irony that we have lived in an extended period of low crime rates and reflective isolation, only to emerge with police violence and community strife. We have emerged to endanger life and further devastate businesses.
I am angry about the death of George Floyd. It was categorically wrong and deserves multiple criminal charges. My heart is broken, and it is full of wrath. I hope God will someday call it “righteous anger.” Right now it just feels like disgust. Something in the fearful spirit of those police officers indicates to me that they were not in a personal place of “living peaceably with all.” If we are not angry at injustice, then God’s spirit is not stirring in our hearts. Paul knew that. He also knew that peace was not only the hope of Christ’s incarnation but the fullest expression of God’s kingdom. We know that it still is.
Today, as we remember both the 100,000 in the United States and the 1 in Minneapolis, what would it look like for you to “live peaceably with all”? How might that help to answer the question, “What can I do?” Living peaceably with all might look like writing to a government official. It might look like wearing a mask to buy groceries. It might look like empathy for the grieving. It might look like seeing life from someone else’s point of view. It might look like listening, instead of talking. It might look like positivity. It might look like protest. It might look like confession. It might look like advocacy. One thing is for certain, it does depend on you.
Blessings of Health and Peace,