This is America

A weekly Rector’s Notes Article for Monday June 8, 2020

WARNING: Graphic Violence Depicted

I have always turned to music during times of stress, anxiety, and even hopelessness. Because of this, music has been constantly playing in my office these past months, and especially the past couple of weeks.

Music is important because it is able to convey deep, deep emotion, it is able to tap into your subconscious and embed itself in your mind, it is able to move your very soul. Through music, we are able to connect to an artistic, spiritual, emotional expression of our collective souls, the joys and happiness we share with others, and also the pain, hurt, fear, and righteous anger we hold.

It is this last emotion, righteous anger, that has been simmering in my heart these past two weeks in particular as the news about George Floyd’s murder, the video of his dying moments spread throughout the world, and the protests against an unending history of police violence and oppression. And, in that righteous anger, I have felt compelled and motivated to understand how I can not simply acknowledge but own my white privilege and the inherent racism of our systems that I have directly benefited from, intentionally or not. That starts with education, that starts with reading some of the powerful literature that is available (I have finally taken my copy of “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo off the shelf to read), that starts by listening to the many, many voices that have been asking and calling for radical change only for white people in power to implement minor, incremental change, if they’ve even bothered to do that. It is time for white people to step up and step out of our own way towards progressing our society into a truly equal and just society that honors the dignity of every human being throughout all facets of our society, from housing to banking to job opportunities to reimagining (and defunding) policing.

This is a very uncomfortable and daunting task with a lot of fear that is deeply embedded within our society, because fear is the tool of the system to keep itself alive and operating without change. And because of this fear, from the perspective of being a white person it is daunting to consider the task that lies before us, because our position of privilege and power holds such a strong grip on our understanding of how our society “works.” It is in this grip of fear that I turn to music to guide me once again in navigating the emotional complexities that are tied up within this challenge and call that lies before us.

Both videos above are modern day protest anthems that speak to the unchecked police (and white people) violence upon unarmed and innocent black lives.

In “This is America” by rapper/singer Childish Gambino (the alias of actor Donald Glover), the juxtaposition of an upbeat, almost gospel-esque chorus with powerful, haunting, dark verses, catches you in the emotional whiplash of what one man’s experience of being a black man in America is like. The music of this song, coupled with the symbolism-rich and uncomfortable to watch music video, expresses many of the realities of our current culture’s understanding of the value (or lack thereof) of black lives, and how we as a society respond (or more often fail to respond) to the challenging call that lies before us of real, institutional and systemic change. For a breakdown of the symbolism in the video, I recommend these two articles: https://time.com/5267890/childish-gambino-this-is-america-meaning/ and https://www.buzzworthy.com/references-from-childish-gambino-this-is-america/

The roots rock band Dispatch writes this about their song “Letter to Lady J”: “‘Letter to Lady J’ was written in the name of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and all the other innocent people killed by overly violent law enforcement. The song starts off with the idea of a friend writing a letter to Lady Justice, asking her to please come out from her isolation and out into the streets where she is so badly needed. Not only are people dying, but there is largely no accountability for this lethal action taken by the police. It makes us wonder, how far have we really come since the days of Dr. King’s marches when there is still racial profiling of this magnitude that results in the death of an innocent man or woman. It keeps happening. We’ve got to stand up, nonviolently come together, take pride in our differences, revel in our connection to each other, and fight for civil rights, for love, and justice for all.” This song hearkens back to folk and protest songs of the late 60s/early 70s, sharing a lineage and message with those anthems, nearly 50 years later.

These are just two of the songs that I am listening to in this moment in our history. Through these songs, and others that speak to the same truths inherent within them, I can grasp my own emotional response to the challenges that lay before us as a society, I can come to grips with how I subconsciously use my own white privilege to dismiss or look past calls for radical change, and I can be empowered and inspired to continue advocating for fundamental societal changes that bring us closer to the kingdom of God being known here on earth, a kingdom that cannot co-exist with systemic racism.

It may seem trivial in a moment like this, but I really do believe that art and music created in moments like this enable us to see the bigger picture beyond our bubble of the world. And, if we allow that art and music to move us at a core level, we cannot help but advocate for the changes that need to be seen. We can learn all that we want about these issues that plague our society, but without an emotional connection piece we will continue to fail to implement real change, because our fear and our privilege will allow us to remain comfortable because we have failed to allow the emotions and cries of those who are advocating for something different to move us.

We as a people of faith, as people of baptism and resurrection, must continue to:

  • renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God
  • renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God
  • renounce all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God
  • persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into the sin of white privilege and systemic racism, repent and return to the Lord
  • seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself
  • strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being

It is only when we have done all of these things, with God’s help, that our society will change. We have the music of yesterday, today, and tomorrow to help move us spiritually and emotionally in this call.

If you would like to speak more about the ongoing protests around police violence, the importance of meaning the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” or anything that I’ve written, please reach out to me, I welcome the conversation.

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