“These tragedies have reminded us that words matter and that the power of life and death is in the tongue.”
Chaplain to the Senate, The Rev. Barry Black.
January 6th. The Feast of the Epiphany in our Christian calendar. Much of that was lost on most people in the United States on Wednesday. For me, the day started with prayer, our Christmas season finally coming to its end. It also ended in prayer, a prayer offered by the Chaplain of the Senate, the Rev. Barry Black, who was asked by the Vice President to pray immediately after the Congress finally, finished their work for our democracy, in the middle of the night hours of Thursday morning.
Between those two prayers, a lot happened.
We collectively watched scenes not many of us would ever have believed would be possible just a few years ago. I don’t know about you, but in these last years I know many have said something like, “Surely this time… surely this will be enough…” In all that time little changed. In all that time, many have said – many of you have said to me – “these are just words.” “He is just like that.” “He speaks in hyperbole.” “He is unusual and crude, but…” And on and on.
I tried to listen, as uneasy as that always made me, and I would step back and think, maybe this will be the last time. Far too many of us did. I confess to you, I did, for too long, and I regret it now. I will not be doing it again.
Some of you said to me, “You need to stay out of politics.” Like many of our flash point words, “politics” is a word that is actually neutral. Its impact comes from us, comes from all we project upon it, all we burden it with.
Here is where I stand.
My primary allegiance is to Jesus Christ.
My primary flag is the cross
It is, for me, not about politics, but instead about the Gospel.
I have been willing to tell many of you who have engaged me in this discussion that he lost me when I saw the “Access Hollywood” tape before his election. That was a bridge too far for me. And then there were simply more and more reasons as the years went by – children separated from their parents, put in cages, many of whom to this day have not been reunited with their parents. An attempt to ban refugees from other countries, especially Muslims. “Very fine people on both sides.” Tear gassing peaceful protestors for a photo op, holding a Bible, in front of a church. Lies. Gaslighting us all. And all along the way, instigation, inciting unrest, pitting people against one another while he hides behind all that protects him. Even with his Twitter account closed down, he has found a way to continue, even now, to insinuate bloodshed and violence, when as our leader he should be doing exactly the opposite. It is easy for him to do this, as he is so protected, so safe, so insulated.
White supremacy is real. This President has, wittingly and unwittingly, used it, played along with it, promoted it, fanned the flames of it every day. Wednesday, the Feast of the Epiphany, he did that, clearly, before us all. He didn’t just suggest it. He told his followers he had asked to come to our capital city, “I will walk with you.” He told his followers, he told us all, “you can’t save our country by being weak.” He told us, and all those he called to do his bidding, “you have to get your people to fight.” Those were his words.
His sycophant attorney stood before them and used these words, urging them to give those in that building a “a trial by combat.” How can anyone now say they were not insisting, inciting, hoping for just what happened, if not worse?
He did all of this while a pandemic that has taken entirely too many lives, far more than we had to lose, with it raging worse than it has in all the months we have fought it, totally ignored. Thousands a day, every day, die, and continue to, all across this country, due to our simply abysmal response to the virus. A response he single-handedly, with his words, derailed, confused, hijacked for these last months. In fact, in these very days, as we focus on his latest self-absorbed side-show, the new record of more than 4,000 a day has been reached. The US is now the 11th worst country in the world, out of 152 studied, in COVID deaths per capita in the world. He ignored the plight of the people, for his self-serving gain, not only on this day, but most especially on this day.
He incited those sad scenes we saw on the Feast of the Epiphany, and then sat, safely in the White House, as our nation’s capital was raided, desecrated, and ransacked. People died. People continue to. People lost their lives, that day in our capital, and that day in our packed hospitals, all over this country, while he sat and watched, and smiled, at how devoted those storming our Capitol were to him. Despite his reluctant “right” words afterward, he continues, behind the scenes, to foment violence and insurrection.
Now, his Cabinet is jumping ship. People that have held his hand and made every excuse for him along the way, are suddenly saying “I am out.” All of this about 48 hours and, perhaps years, too late.
I could blame him, and I do, but it is not only him. White supremacy and white privilege raided and looted our Capitol on Wednesday, the Feast of the Epiphany. White supremacy and white privilege were on full display on that day and have been the last four years and quite frankly for the entirety of the history of our country. This was true long before him, and it will be true after him, and it is only we who can change it.
I know many of you, if you have continued to read this, are so angry already I have probably lost you, but let me say clearly, which will not make it better for some of you, that I am part of this problem. I do not exempt myself. I have benefited from white supremacy and white privilege and continue to. I strive daily, and will continue to strive, not to play along. I agree with those who are saying, if those banging down the doors of our halls of government on the Feast of the Epiphany, had been Black and/or brown, or any people of color, the death toll would be far higher, and the narrative remarkably different.
Even he said to us, with protestors that are not “for him” that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” But these folks, on this Epiphany, were “his” folks, “great patriots” as his daughter proudly tweeted out as it was happening.
I believe white supremacy is real, and it worked just as it is designed to work on Wednesday. We cannot expect him to change it, but we have to.
It was a sad day. I shed tears during the day at the sight of all that was happening. I shed tears when those who we elected, rather bravely I think, went back to work and got the work of the day, even though it took nearly two, done. And then, as I breathed a sigh of relief, that the work had gotten done, that no more people died, that no more bloodshed occurred, that our government was working again, our Vice President called upon the Chaplain of the Senate to offer a prayer, a book end of the day. It was 1 a.m. Pacific Time, Thursday morning.
I had not expected it, but I was so glad it happened. There, at a podium, that just hours earlier had been overrun by vandals, terrorists, and insurrectionists, there the Chaplain stood to address our God. For me, it was the best moment of the long day. I didn’t see it covered or mentioned on any news program. The New York Times and a few others picked it up. I want to share it, while I also give great thanks to Chaplain Barry Black for writing it, for speaking the truth, for the gentle admonition it contains, for the way it convicts me personally. Chaplain Barry Black stepped up to that podium, in our just saved Capitol, and our just pulled from the brink democracy and prayed this prayer.
Lord of our Lives and sovereign of our beloved nation, we deplore the desecration of the United States Capitol building, the shedding of innocent blood, the loss of life, and the quagmire of dysfunction that threaten our democracy. These tragedies have reminded us that words matter and that the power of life and death is in the tongue. We have been warned that external vigilance continues to be freedom’s price. Lord, you have helped us remember that we need to see in each other a common humanity that reflects your image. You have strengthened our resolve to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies domestic as well as foreign. Use us to bring healing and unity to our hurting and divided nation and world. Thank you for what you have blessed our lawmakers to accomplish in spite of threats to liberty. Bless and keep us. Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to do your will and guide our feet on the path of peace. And God Bless America. We pray in your sovereign Name. Amen.
These are the words I intend to keep, and hopefully live, from this Feast of the Epiphany, 2021. We do have to remain vigilant. We will have to hold this next administration equally accountable. They are no more exempt from this culture that is part of our common life now than any of us. We will have to hold ourselves accountable too. The work of changing this society, for healing it, is work for each and every one of us. No one person, no one party, no one ideology, can change it.
Though it be far too late, may it not be in vain, and may the events of these days be a true Epiphany for us all.