It’s been 30 days since Jesus was murdered on Good Friday. About 7 weeks prior, on February 23rd, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered in broad daylight in Brunswick, Georgia.
It has been great to see the response of so many running and walking to honor the life of Ahmaud. Friends of mine from a lifetime ago and family members have shared their support and honored his life and death, and celebrated the movement toward justice of Ahmaud’s murderers arrest and subsequent charges.
But what is the next step for white people, for white straight people, for white straight Christian people? What is the next step now that we’ve run 2.23 miles or reposted a picture or two? What is the next step for me and my beautiful white brothers and sisters once we’ve had the cathartic experience? What is the way forward once we’ve imagined Ahmaud as our son, our daughter, our brother, our friend? What is the way forward once we’ve seen the video of his body falling to the ground, and what is the way forward after our stomach clenches at the sight of his blood soaked white t-shirt? What do we do after our pastors do or do not acknowledge Ahmaud and the injustice of his death?
There is much work to do, and many steps to take, and that work is not extra-curricular to your formation. Maybe you’ve heard or read the scoffing of fellow privileged individuals saying something like, what good is it to run 2.23 miles and post a pic of your Nike app? Don’t listen to them, because their words are probably just a projection of judgement they’ve yet to own within themselves (we’ve all been there). Maybe you have heard similar words from people of color. Listen to them. Because in reality it is not enough to run a few miles and post on Insta every time injustice get’s the spotlight.
Sacramental vs. Memorial
If you’d like a new paradigm, here you go. The best next step I can think of is this: Let Ahmaud’s death become sacramental rather than memorial. Sacraments are holy, memorials are common. Sacraments tell a larger story of which you are not the center, and yet you are invited into, memorials tell a tribal story from your experience or perspective. Sacraments pull us forward into the present, memorials root us in the past. Sacraments are embodied and felt, memorials rely on memory, and memories that are not embodied are forgotten.
We memorialize Jesus. Every year on the day of his death, Instagram and Facebook blow up with banners of support and quippy hopeful-ish sayings. By Sunday we’ve forgotten about the suffering, and are caught admiring the silver lining of the tomb, which we’ve also memorialized. Jesus' body, his experience as an oppressed Jew in Rome has yet to penetrate far past our intellect - Jesus’ body has stayed his body, and our bodies remain unaffected. How ironic we call ourselves the body of Christ. Jesus' body was murdered, and we are grateful for his sacrifice. So grateful that we’ve cleaned up the crime scene, washed down the cross, scapegoated the Romans and the Jews, and maybe ourselves a little, and rewritten the story to be free of any political or social implications.
If you’re white like me, then you are afforded privileges of which you may or may not be aware - privileges not given to people of color, and if you can agree with that, then you’ve done some good work, but we’re not done, not by a long shot.
When white people first take steps toward the conversation of race we tend to only dip our toes in the water because we are afraid of the political backlash. Ok. We’re going to have to dig deep and push past that, because race is essentially political. Ahmaud wasn’t killed by a couple of bad seeds. His death is predicated on hundreds of years of white-centric lawmaking, social policy and good ole American racism. Brunswick, Georgia is about 20 minutes from the port city Jekyll Island (I played a few soccer tournaments there as a kid), which is home to possibly the last documented shipment of African Slaves into America.
Ahmaud is Jesus, and Jesus didn’t die for you to think highly of him. Jesus didn’t die to be remembered solemnly on Good Friday, or sung to on Easter, or any day for that matter - Jesus died to show us that we must die too. Jesus and Ahmaud have been crucified and likely in vain if you think the invitation is to hold them in your thoughts and prayers or venerate them as saints, or be sad for a bit and then force out a hallelujah a few days later. The true invitation of Jesus is to follow him, to take up our cross even if it’s awkward and the wood gives us splinters. The invitation is to keep running, educating ourselves and working out our own salvation instead of staving off anxiety with sayings of how God’s in control.
The invitation is to move our bodies, our minds, our communities into action. Educate yourself and put those Amazon dollars to good use. Buy/Read some books: Just Mercy, The Way of the Heart, When God is Silent, Between the World and Me, Sabbath As Resistance, and Prayers for a Privileged People. Put your Bible down for a bit, because if you can’t imagine what it’s like to be a starving, homeless person of the wrong color living under foriegn occupation, then you’re likely missing some things. If you’ve done some of this work already, pick up your Bibles and integrate, read anew, create tension and paradox instead of a more woke dichotomy.
Get involved. Research and plan to attend virtual events webinars that are being held through universities, libraries, cultural centers, churches and advocacy groups. Get uncomfortable. Don’t ask too many questions, just listen, investigate, feel the discomfort of being hosted in another’s space. Take the next step.
The Good New of Jesus for Privileged people comes to us from an interaction between Jesus and a very privileged religious politician named Nicodemus. Nicodemus said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Nicodemus is perfectly fine memorializing Jesus, putting him on a pedestal, and acknowledging his greatness, but Jesus invites this man into an embodied spirituality. Jesus invites him to get small, to enter the kingdom through the vulnerability of the womb and wound. The Good News for privileged people, for white people primarily, is that you have a wound to enter through. Your work is to stop hiding from it, to stop constructing bypasses in order to avoid it. It is to stop looking for the empty tomb, and start considering the womb or wound you can enter through to be reborn again, and again and again. Talk about a next step… You’re likely surrounded by wombs and wounds to enter through.
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."
Let Ahmaud’s body become sacrament, holy and whole-making. Don’t just do it in remembrance of him, because if you try to remember, you’ll forget, but allow his life and death to be Re-Membered and grafted into your body, your experience, your life. Allow the chasm between holiness and justice, to shrink. Wherever you are, be there and then choose to move forward through the wound of Jesus, the wound of Ahmaud Arbery, and your own wounds and discover what it truly means to be born again.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our elder brother, who suffers alongside us.