We're on fire in America. In Minneapolis. Nashville. Washington, DC. We're on fire.
On Pentecost, the story is that the Holy Spirit arrived in the Upper Room in Jersusalem in a rush of wind and settled on each of the people in that room with "tongues of fire." That fire gave them the burning energy to proclaim to the world the glory of God and the story of Jesus and his ministry. That fire drove them out into the world that was no less dangerous for them than it was before the mighty wind gust blew open the windows and doors of their hearts and minds. With that powerful spirit inside them, surrounding them, lighting them up...they went out into the streets, into the countryside, off to distant lands to bring a new way of relating to the God of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Rachel and Leah. They were on fire.
Fire has the ability to rage. It burns. It destroys buildings.
Fire has the ability also to purify. A welder's fire brings metal to metal to form a bond. The heat of a fire on a stove can melt butter, sizzle oil, boil the water.
Right now in our country, with a deadly pandemic showing no mercy to anyone and disproportionally taking out those who cannot afford to stay home, we have fires burning inside and out. They are both the fires of destruction and the fires of purification. And they stem from a spark lit in Minneapolis with a white cop kneeling on the neck of a black man in handcuffs. George Floyd was pleading, "I can't breathe." And those were the words of his dying breath. That breath of spirit leaving him has lit up this nation and revived a part of the "normal" in America that I had prayed would not come back.
This spark, this ember, has been burning and igniting fires for centuries in this country...all the way back to colonial Virginia when wealthy landowners figured out that they needed to sow seeds of distrust between indentured whites and African slaves. Bacon's Rebellion of 1676, which burned Jamestown to the ground, was the beginning of the move for the white ruling class to set up legal distinctions between "white" and "black" people. By giving "white" indentured servants land and convincing them that they really had more in common with the ruling class than their fellow poor Africans, they were able to divide and conquer more easily. Aside: Nathaniel Bacon was no hero either as his motive to make a militia of black and white servants was motivated by hatred of the indigenous tribes of Virginia and a power struggle with his wealthy white relative who was Governor at the time. A hundred years later, a Revolution, and a nation was born...but the fire of racism was, and still is, burning.
This new fire...fueled by the taking of George Floyd's life...is destroying buildings. And it is having the power to purify. I am witnessing an awakening of some of my fellow white people to realize that we have always had one advantage: we aren't black. We aren't immediately deemed "suspect" when we walk into a store. We can drive, walk, jog, check out things in our neighborhood without having to worry that there will be some misunderstanding or misread about us. It is a sobering realization. But it is one that, once that fire is lit within, can help to purify the soul to do the work of repairing the breach.
The Holy Spirit is often represented as the wind or the breath of our souls and bodies. And as long as the George Floyds of America gasp that they cannot breathe and have their breaths taken away, none of us can breathe freely. Time to let that other image of the Holy Spirit...that fiery tongue...rest on white America to call out for an end to this madness of our own making, acknowledge the cries of the unheard, and purify the soul of this country. May I have the courage to do this work.