Sunday, August 31, 2014

"Ain't No Grave Can Hold My Body Down"

Out of the depths I call to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my cry!
May your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
I wait for the Lord,
my soul waits
and I hope for his word.
My soul looks for the Lord
more than sentinels for daybreak.
More than sentinels for daybreak,
let Israel hope in the Lord,
For with the Lord is mercy,
with him is plenteous redemption…” [Psalm 130: 1-2, 6-7]

And the Psalm continues the act of radical faith by proclaiming over and over that God will hear, God will forgive; God will save.  And in this summer of 2014, yet again:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
and she refused to be comforted,
because they were no more. (Jer. 31:15; Matt. 2:18)

The mother of Oscar Grant, the young man killed at Fruitvale Station, Oakland, California, in 2009, writes to the mother of Michael Brown, the manchild killed in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014. Attending to Michael Brown’s mother is the mother of Trayvon Martin, the child killed in Sanford, Florida in 2012.  The old song says, “Mary don’t you weep/ Martha don’t you mourn…”

But we have no one’s permission to tell the mothers of sorrow when and how to grieve their sons. We can only say, "For as long as your heart is full, we are with you."

And also weeping: the grandmother of Kajieme Powell, who was 25 years old, when he was killed, “holding a steak knife” in front of a convenience store in north St. Louis, on August 19, 2014.

And the parents of Gregory Towns, who, on April 11, 2014, in East Point, Georgia, died after police shocked him with a Taser as many as 13 times because he said he was too tired to walk, due to a foot chase.

And those who are weeping over Ezell Ford, of Los Angeles, John Crawford, of Beavercreek, Ohio, and Eric Garner, of Staten Island, New York.

And the children of Rachel are male and female,
 created in the image of God,
 reflecting the beauty of our people.
 All unarmed, all killed by police officers:

Tarika Wilson, 26 (Lima, Ohio); Aiyana Jones, 7 (Detroit, Michigan); Miriam Carey, 34 (Washington, D.C.); Shereese Francis, 30 (Queens, New York); Shantel Davis, 23 (Brooklyn, New York); Sharmel Edwards, 49 (Las Vegas, Nevada); Rekia Boyd, 22 (Chicago, Illinois) Tyisha Miller, 19 (Riverside, California) Yvette Smith, 47 (Bastrop, Texas). [Compiled by Khadijah Costley White, Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick]

Let us be truly attentive. For if we do not hold on to this act of radical faith, then our children are dead. Finally dead. Simply dead. And we do not have their permission to leave them unfinished and defamed.  Their names shall not be “scandalized.”

A meditation that might be useful is to consider that when Abel offered a sacrifice pleasing to God, his brother, Cain, grew increasingly angry.  What is often overlooked in this story (Genesis 4: 2 – 16) is that God spoke directly to Cain and said: “Why are you angry and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Cain would not listen to God. Inviting his brother into the country, Cain slew his brother Abel. When God confronted him, asking where Abel was, Cain said, “I do not know, am I my brother’s keeper?”

God indeed did place a mark on Cain – but not a mark of “blackness” as the proponents of racism have maintained for centuries. God marked Cain with a sign that would prohibit others from slaying him. Abel, the innocent, beloved of God, was killed by his brother. And Cain was forgiven. And the world saw that sign.

Today, do we need to pray over the signs that protect those who would kill their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters? We hear the dying gasps of the children, the weeping and mourning of the fathers and mothers, the grandmothers and grandfathers, the children of the slain. And we wonder. We wonder.
Is the mark of Cain today, the police uniform, the badge, and the riot gear? And just what do they protect? And whom do they serve? Those who are captured by their own fears? Their own nakedness? Their own doubts? How deep the source, how thick the wall that must be maintained at all costs – and from the beginning to now, how do we reckon the price, the worth of a child of God?

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” James Baldwin

For every generation of those who are determined to hold on to something larger and stronger than the dark abyss -- otherwise known as the Valley of the Shadow of Death – there has been a song.  The assembly of those who crawled out of the cabins or who slipped away to the hush harbors or who gathered in the yards and kitchens of the grief-stricken, told one another to look for something to cling to:

And today, in the language of the harrowed heart, some of the young are finding out the wisdom of the people:  find your song and bring others within the sound of your voice to the truth you and they will need. 

This is one voice -- among many others -- emerging from the silence after the whirlwind. And he says it is “we” who sing.

J Cole: “LIFE HITS. We become distracted. We become numb. I became numb. But not anymore. That coulda been me, easily. It could have been my best friend. I’m tired of being desensitized to the murder of black men. I don’t give a fuck if it’s by police or peers. This shit is not normal.

I made a song. This is how we feel.”

Once a song runs through the body, the spirit awakens.