That We May Love the Way You Love

It was God who first breathed life into George Floyd, but it was a police officer who took away Floyd’s breath a week ago. It all started when police were called, with the report that Floyd might have used a counterfeit bill in a store. Forty-six-year-old Floyd was handcuffed and pinned to the ground by the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Three other officers stood by and did nothing. Even when Floyd cried out, “Please. Please. I can’t breathe,” and bystanders pleaded, the officer did not let up. For eight minutes and 46 seconds, officer Chauvin’s knee prevented Floyd from breathing. Finally, Floyd stopped moving.

The four officers who were present were later fired, and Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin had eighteen previous police misconduct complaints against him, without any disciplinary action. Breathe on us, breath of God, fill us with life anew. (UM Hymnal #420, adapted)

Floyd’s death is but the latest in a string of troubling incidents that have reignited the simmering cauldron of racism that continues to haunt our country. Earlier that same day in New York City’s Central Park, Amy Cooper, a white woman, called the police, claiming that a black man had threatened her. Evidently, the man, Christian Cooper (no relation), who was birding, had simply asked the woman to leash her dog, which is required in that area of the park because of the wildlife. Before she made the call, Amy Cooper warned Christian Cooper that she was going to call police and tell them that an African American man was threatening her, thereby setting him up. Fortunately, Christian Cooper recorded the incident on his cellphone, and Amy Cooper was fired from her job. That we may love the way you love and do what you would do.

On February 23, Ahmaud Arbery, who was jogging in a suburban neighborhood in Georgia, was allegedly shot to death by former police officer George McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, each of whom has been charged with aggravated assault and felony murder. Breathe on us, breath of God, until our hearts are pure.

And just a few weeks ago, DarQuan Jones, a 22-year-old black man and warehouse worker from Des Moines, was viciously assaulted by three white men in front of his girlfriend’s house. They shouted racial slurs and accused Jones of breaking into a nearby home. Chasing him into a nearby field, they choked Jones and dragged him to nearby water, where they held his head under the water and cocked a gun. “I can’t breathe.”

Fortunately, two women heard Jones’ screams and ran out of a house to help, which prompted the assailants to flee. DarQuan Jones was left with five fractured bones in his cheek and a broken wrist and nose.

A tense protest last night outside the Des Moines police headquarters ended peacefully when police agreed to take a knee in prayer with protestors in honor of the memory of George Floyd.  Until our will is one with yours, to do and to endure.

“On the day the Lord God made earth and sky before any wild plants appeared on the earth, and before any field crops grew, because the Lord God hadn’t yet sent rain on the earth and there was still no human being to farm the fertile land, though a stream rose from the earth and watered all of the fertile land; the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life.” (Genesis 2:5-7, CEB) Breathe on us, breath of God, till we are wholly thine.

The same breath of God that breathed life into you and me continues to create and recreate and offers to each one of us the power of the Holy Spirit. John 20:19-23 (CEB) tells the Pentecost story, “It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.’ Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.’” Till all this earthly part of us glows with thy fire divine.        

Breathing is a powerful and involuntary instinct. But what happens when entire groups of people cannot breathe? The United Methodist Church is very clear about the evil of racism. “Racism is the combination of the power to dominate by one race over other races and a value system that assumes that the dominant race is innately superior to the others. Racism includes both personal and institutional racism. Personal racism is manifested through the individual expressions, attitudes, and/or behaviors that accept the assumptions of a racist value system and that maintain the benefits of this system. Institutional racism is the established social pattern that supports implicitly or explicitly the racist value system.” (2016 United Methodist Social Principles) Breathe on us, Breath of God, so shall we never die.

The most important rituals of The United Methodist Church, among them baptism, confirmation, and church membership, include this question, “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”

In addition, the Ordering of Ministry liturgy at Annual Conference includes these words of responsibility and accountability from the examination of elders about to be ordained: “to lead the people of God in obedience to Christ’s mission in the world; to seek justice, peace, and freedom for all people; and to take a responsible place in the government of the Church and in service in and to the community.”

My prayer is that we will use this moment in history to be clear about and work toward the positive change that we are called to make in our world. That includes ensuring that all people, no matter the color of their skin, the language they speak, or where they live, are free to become who God created them to be. Only then will George Floyd not have died in vain. Freedom implies the responsibility to be empowered for good and create a more just and compassionate world. But live with you the perfect life for all eternity.

May the words of African-American poet, novelist, fiction writer, and playright Langston Hughes (1902-1967), Let America be America Again, lead us into a future where all people have the opportunity to discover and use their gifts to make a positive difference in the world (as referenced by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on May 31).

O, let America be America again –
The land that never has been yet –
And yet must be – the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine – the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME –
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose –
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

God of might and mercy, we confess to you our human struggle to live together as your beloved children on this earth and the deep harm we have caused by our refusal to create “the land that never has been yet – and yet must be – the land where everyone is free.” Purify our hearts, sharpen our senses, and give us the courage to embody the admonition to which you call us: to accept the freedom and power You give us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. Breathe on us, breath of God, till we are wholly thine. Till all this earthly part of us glows with the fire divine. Amen.

25 thoughts on “That We May Love the Way You Love

  1. Bishop Laurie, thank you so much for these important words. I’ve been interested in finding out if churches mentioned George Floyd or even anything about racial justice during their Sunday services either during the message or in prayers this week–and though some have, others (including my own) did not. That saddened me, and I did contact my pastor about it. I think our congregations, and especially our white congregations, need to have many conversations with each other about racial justice and white privilege. I hope to use my breath to speak up and with others.

  2. Very well said. Thank you for your response during this time. I will read some of this next Sunday for a portion of my pastoral prayer for Peace with Justice Sunday.

  3. Thank you, Bishop Laurie! I needed to read this…as my heart has been aching for several days about this. It has been shared on one of my church’s FB page. Blessings….

  4. Thank you Bishop for your words ! My heart and mind have felt so heavy and mixed up today as I read and listen to all that is going on around our country right now. I know that with the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we will get through this!!
    Thank you!

  5. As usual, a powerful and thought provoking message. I have always thought that one line in the hymn “America the Beautiful”, which, I personally feel should have been our national anthem, “and crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea”, is a badly needed prayer in our society. Thank you!

  6. Thank you Bishop Laurie for your inspiring and spirit filled words of wisdom. We are all God’s children, and need to stand up for one another. Racism is our nation’s original sin. As baptized believers, we sing the power and love of God and are called to resist the evil, injustice and oppression on whatever forms we experience them.

  7. Bishop Laurie,
    I can always count on your words to soothe and heal by plainly saying
    what is needed. For the past 2 months, I have experienced extremely high
    bouts of blood pressure ,as never before. My doctors concluded it
    is caused by anxiety… fear. I stopped looking at national news and now
    I only get a synopsis on the Today Show and the daily newspaper….
    It was too painful to watch and I can skip what is too painful to read.
    Acknowledgement of the situation and some guidance as to facing it,
    is what I need now. I am grateful for your words. Thank you.

    • God bless you, Reida. My heart goes out to you. You have been a wonderful support and encouragement to me over these part years.

  8. It would be nice if people would stand up against the rioting and looting as those have no part in a peaceful protest. Aggression only leads to more aggression, and when emotions run high a persons response is to act on the emotion they are feeling most. Anger is a motivational emotion, and in some cases it can be a good thing. In cases where it is driven by hate or jealousy it can only do harm. Everyone is allowed to stand up for themselves, but they should still have the self control to think of the best way to do so.

    Sorry for the rant.

  9. After Peace Officers agreed to take a knee in Des Moines what happen 3 hrs latter? RIOT

    Why have you not spoken out on the riots.
    Why not protest the death of a black man by a black man looting a store?
    What was the official cause of Floy’s death?
    Why were there drugs in his body?
    What do you have to say about Peace Officers lives matter?

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