The Sunday evening rally was organized by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a local organization called “Not in My Town,” an organization committed to anti-bigotry and anti-bullying. Within twenty four hours, the planners were able to organize this rally for justice and one thousand concerned citizens showed up at the promenade outside the Law and Justice Center in downtown Bloomington, Illinois.
When we arrived a few minutes before 5pm, people were standing and sitting and many were holding signs and placards with messages such as “White Silence is Violence” and “We Remember George Floyd” and “Black Lives Matter.” Even upon arrival, one could viscerally feel the emotion, the pathos, the pain. We felt compelled to come and show solidarity and concern, but being at any type of rally felt strange and new for us. We were at the back of the crowd, where it was often difficult to hear the speaker. A person would speak for a short time and then chants would cascade across the promenade, the crowd shouting “No justice, no peace” or “I can’t breathe” or “Say his name…George Floyd” or “Black Lives Matter.” For me to say “I can’t breathe” out loud with the group helped me to enter into the moment and the pain. To be honest, it was mildly difficult for me to voice those words. While I struggled to utter and internalize the unutterable words of a man killed within the last week, I felt like I needed to verbalize and internalize these words. I needed to enter into the pain of George Floyd and the others gathered to promote justice on this Pentecost Sunday.
Rally for Justice in Bloomington, Illinois
Photo Credit: Ryan Denham, WGLT
Photo Credit: Ryan Denham, WGLT
The following day Kristi and I participated with over one hundred staff of the Presbyterian Mission Agency to process and lament together. Laurie Krauss, the director of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), co-facilitated our shared time. She framed our time by sharing how when the tongues of fire came down at Pentecost, people responded in one of two ways to the new languages they heard spoken. Some were open to what God was doing while others dismissed the disciples as being drunk on wine. Laurie suggested that the protests and riots happening in our country could be seen as a new language. We can be open to the protests and the pain and ask, “Even though I don't understand what is going on, what message does God have for me and for us at this time? Or, we choose to disengage from the messengers because we don’t understand or agree with the method.
Kristi and I feel like we have been on a journey of learning the language of pain and protest from the African American community for several years now, though we often feel like new kids on the block. With a group of fellow mission co-workers, we are currently reading a book called White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo (link here). We are also listening to black and brown voices share their pain and their hope for a better world. One recent poignant interview was with Dr. Dwight Radcliff of Fuller Theological Seminary (podcast link here). We are on a journey, trying to learn a new language, the language of pain and protest. We will keep listening, keep reading, keep asking questions and keep showing up until we see a new heaven and a new earth rise up like a phoenix out of the broken ashes of our world, a world where division and poverty and racism hold sway. We will keep holding court with Jesus in prayer and we will continue entering spaces which are not comfortable, forcing us to listen to “voices long silenced” and to narratives not our own.
Friend, where are you on this journey? What steps are you taking to understand the language of pain and protest? We invite you to join us on this journey, a journey we believe to be transformative and healing.