Gethsemane & Grand Rapids

Today is Holy Saturday, a day in the liturgical calendar representing the day after Jesus was crucified. It is a day I imagine was full of grief and deep sorrow. A day that felt empty of any signs of impending resurrection or relief from the violence and suffering present in the world. A day where the man who was a Living Manifestation of Love, Hope, and All-Things-Good was no more. How did they reckon with the reality of these circumstances two thousand years ago? How do we reckon with the reality of our circumstances now?

I don’t have the perfect answers to these questions, but the below reflection on the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Patrick Lyoya and Jesus is my humble attempt at “reckoning with reality.”

___________________________________

I normally don’t watch the videos. But this time I did. I don’t know why. All I know is that I did. 

And when I saw that video, what I saw was Fear. Fear dressed in uniform, adorned with a taser and gun, desperate for control and power. 

And when I saw Patrick Lyoya, I saw a beautiful black-skinned man, deeply committed to a recognition of his humanity, desperate for dignity rather than power or control.

There is no Fear in Love. But perfect love casts out fear. 1 John 4:18

I normally don’t watch the videos. But this time I did. I still don’t really know why, but I think maybe it had something to do with this all happening so close to Good Friday, the day Jesus was murdered by the poli…powers of the Roman state.

“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”

Matthew 27:22-25

Why? What crime has he committed?

A mismatched license plate. A replica toy gun. Wearing a hoodie. Going on a run.

I normally don’t watch the videos. But this time I did. I don’t know if I ever will again. But what I do know is that the proximity of Good Friday and the murder of Patrick Lyoya is challenging me to be honest about the ways in which I’ve anesthetized one of the most defining events of the Christian faith.

Somehow/somewhere, I learned to metaphorize away the grotesqueness of what happened on the Cross, regularly treating Jesus’ death as a hypothetical situation to fuel a writing prompt on what things to let “die” in my life. (Even now, I notice my decision to use the phrase “Jesus’ death” instead of “Jesus’ murder” as an attempt to evade acknowledging and feeling fully the severity of what happened to Jesus).

But the reality is: whether I choose to watch the video or not, whether I would have looked directly or averted my gaze from Jesus on the Cross, a deep and systemic violence occurred, resulting in the death of a sacred human being, and I must reckon with that. 

I normally don’t watch the videos of encounters between black folk and police officers because I don’t feel the desire to watch footage of the deep sorrows my body already holds from the centuries of brutality my ancestors endured. But for whatever reason, this time I did. And for whatever reason, the version of the video I watched was a recording of the Grand Rapid Police Department’s Incident Briefing Press Conference in its entirety (a press conference that was intentionally scheduled in a church, of all places).

As I watched the Chief of Police respond to questions, I quickly noticed that his answers were simply different versions of the following:

“That is a great question and one that we will definitely come to an answer with. However, I am not running the investigation, this is the video of the information that I have, but there is an entire investigation being conducted by the Michigan State Police which I do not have access to by design for conflict of interest. I will not make a policy decision, nor will I come to a conclusion of criminal law at this time.”

My chest constricted and a sensation of heat rose up my neck as I listened to the Chief of Police give his canned response on repeat, and I turned off the press conference recording after no more than seven minutes of hearing this man speak. But one phrase continued to reverberate through my mind: “I do not have access by design for conflict of interest.”

The experience of heat rising from my chest into my throat signaled to me that I wasn’t in shock, but enraged–enraged by seeing so clearly a “justice” system designed to distance us from conflict. Just like Pilate washing his hands and yelling to the crowds, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility!”, I witnessed the Chief of Police turn to the crowds of Grand Rapids, Michigan, exclaiming, “I am not running the investigation. It is the responsibility of the Michigan State Police!”The words and actions of these public authorities illuminate the deadly consequences of systems of power built upon choosing Fear over Love.

“I do not have access by design for conflict of interest.”

Watching that video made me wonder if there have been ways in which I’ve been like Pilate and the Police Chief, signing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), opting into systems predesigned to distance me from the messiness of life, and strategically making decisions to avoid conflict of interest in my personal/social(&social media) life. I already confess that with what’s happening in Ukraine, what just happened in Brooklyn, and now Patrick Lyoya, I can feel paralyzed by the overwhelming volume of violence and tragedy; I have no idea where to begin with reflecting/responding/reckoning.

___________________________________

But I don’t think we’re really supposed to have any perfect answers. Because there’s no perfect formula for how to reckon with the horrors of humanity.

But…

But maybe reckoning looks like committing to speak the full truth of what has happened, no longer allowing for dismissive/anesthetized words & storylines to make violent acts more palatable.

Perhaps reckoning looks like differentiating between the NDAs of life we’ve signed based on comfort&convenience rather than legitimate safety and security concerns.

And maybe reckoning looks like engaging with lament/grief/repentance rituals as a way to help us draw near instead of distancing ourselves from the messiness of life.

Whatever the specifics, I think reckoning means choosing Love over Fear.

So today, on this Holy Saturday, I’ll choose Love by sharing this post and saying no to the voice of Fear that tells me not to post because I don’t see many people talking about Patrick Lyoya. Today, I’ll choose Love by lighting a candle in silent meditation and say no to the voice of Fear that I’ll be a paralyzed puddle of tears if I dare to name the truth of what’s happening in my life and in this world. And I know some days I won’t have it in me to do these things; some days, for my mental health, I will need to opt-in to distancing and opt-out of drawing near. But I don’t believe that some days have to be all days.

______________________________________________________

May we find the courage to start somewhere, even if that somewhere feels like nowehere. Even if that somewhere looks like simply saying “I’m sad and overwhelmed”, and that’s it. On this Holy Saturday, may you, I, and those around us dare to to choose Love over Fear, believing that some days don’t have to be all days. Amen&Asè.

There is no fear in Love. But perfect love casts out fear.

1 John 4:18

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s