These names that we know only because of the evil visited on them- living with the possibility that we too are just one police encounter away from becoming a hashtag. This is very traumatic.
In Belize we have a saying, “Wen fish cuh fah riva batam an seh aligayta di dung deh, bileev ah”, that translates, “When a fish comes back from the bottom of the river and says there is an alligator down there, you should believe it.” Literally it means that the retelling of a person’s lived experience is to be believed, even if what they are talking about is something you’ve never experienced yourself.
There are at least three factors that are already in place every time a Black or Brown person in America is killed because of systemic racist policies and racism. The first is generational trauma that comes from Slavery and Jim Crow laws. It is there, even if we never acknowledge it. That’s just the way life works. The trauma continues unrelieved because although a lot has changed, there is still much that hasn’t.
The second is that whenever there is a loss like this, the Black and Brown community feels it as if a member of their own family died. It is a community-wide loss that is felt deep in a person’s being. And they happen so frequently that we go from tragedy to tragedy, with hardly any time to play catch up and heal. Have you ever noticed how we call each other ‘Brother’ and ‘Sister’ even though we don’t know each other, or aren’t related? No matter how bitter the argument there might be between us, we still refer to each other in that way. There is an understanding that we are all in this together.
And thirdly, we all know that what happened to that man, woman, girl, or boy, could happen to any one of us, at any time. The color of our skin makes us targets of suspicion, and on any given day, we too, could become a hashtag calling for justice.
The retelling of a person’s lived experience is to be believed, even if what they are talking about is something you’ve never experienced yourself.
All of these issues are there even before we even take into consideration the challenges we face in our personal lives.
All of this is what I carried into a special worship night at church yesterday as new names have been added to the long list we all already know. Brutal, sudden, senseless killings of people I consider ‘brothers’ even though I’ve never met them, never knew of them before this week. The tears just flowed from me. Oh Lord, I thought, how much more of this?
My spirit was clenched inside of me. There was hate and anger like I’ve never felt. I said things in my head that I didn’t mean, alternating between tears and stony silence, to questions for God about why this keeps happening.
First song we sing is ‘Refiner’ from Maverick City. I sit on the floor, cross legged. Tears rolling down my face were swallowed up by my mask. I felt wooden, and thought, “What do these words even mean?”
Suddenly a memory from a few months ago flashed before me. The first time I heard this song, I felt a strong pushback in my spirit. The lyrics were not words I could bring myself to sing. “I wanna be tried by fire, purified – You take whatever You desire, Lord here’s my life.” I had been through too much fire in my life, if I could live the rest of my life without fire, that wouldn’t be soon enough.
Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego were not alone in the fire that was meant to kill them, (Daniel 3), and in Isaiah 43:2b the Lord says, “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” I realized as I sat there in worship that when I cringed at the thought of singing those words, I wasn’t taking His presence in the fire with me into consideration.
All of this is the refiner’s fire. We don’t know what to do, where to turn. We don’t know how to process, so sometimes we just have to sit with the Father, and take some deep breaths, knowing that He is with us. In those moments when there is nothing we can do, just rest in Him and let Him hold us.
So I let Him hold me and I feel His comfort. Still, my heart is broken for the families reeling with these losses. I hate the thought that I have to hear Rev Al Sharpton deliver another eulogy. He’s a great speaker, but he’s had to give too many eulogies for too many Black men he didn’t know.
It is well with my soul. I know it is, but what about the souls of those families? What about the soul of this country? How can I sing about the well-being of my own soul when there is so much suffering, so much evil?
And then we sang, ‘It is well with my soul’. I know it is, but what about the souls of those families? What about the soul of this country? How can I sing about the well-being of my own soul when there is so much suffering, so much evil? As Christians we have to balance gratitude for the fact that ‘it is well with my soul’ with the fact that it isn’t well for so much of the soul of this country. I guess that is true of any country, but this is where I’m living, where the Lord has led us, and it is a heavy thought to process. My heart breaks for so many families who have suffered unnecessary and inequitable loss, but have to balance that too with the joy of the Lord.
Oh God, how much more of this? Will You hear our cries from earth and answer us? Will You point us towards repentance where necessary, and bring us freedom, justice, and equality? Will You hear from heaven and heal this land? We are traumatized. Will You heal us so we can sing together, not just individually, that ‘It is well with our souls’. We are ready for collective healing, collective freedom, collective equality, and collective wellness. We will go through the fire with You, Lord – but would You not just purify us individually, would You heal this land too. You say You will give us more than we can ask or imagine, so I’m asking for something big.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
© Debbie Mendoza
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