This originally appeared on 5/28/20 in the parish newsletter of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, AR. To read the rest of the newsletter, click here. To subscribe to the weekly newsletter, click here.
Last night, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she is “too tired to make another statement.” The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows is the Bishop of Indianapolis, but she is also an African-American woman, a runner, and the mother of a school-age son. Instead of responding to the murder of George Floyd with yet another post about the death of an unarmed black man, she acknowledged her need to look for comfort in some homemade pasta eaten outdoors with her family. I have not spoken with her about the effects that the repeated violence perpetrated against people of color is having on her or those she loves, but the fatigue conveyed in her post makes me wonder what kind of “tired” that must be.
I, too, am tired—tired of having to add another victim’s name to the Prayers of the People, tired of reading the gruesome details associated with another killing, and tired of explaining to my children that systemic racism means that some people are more likely to die simply because of the color of their skin. But I don’t have to tell my children not to wear a hoodie when they are walking through town. And I don’t have to tell them that going out for a run could become deadly. And I don’t have to tell them to film every encounter they have with the police just in case.
I might be tired, but my experience of fatigue is sheltered and privileged. As such, the kind of tired I feel risks becoming numbness or apathy. I have the luxury of getting angry and then going about the rest of my day without needing to change anything. I can manufacture a healthy dose of self-righteous indignation when I like a post or use a hashtag or write an article for our parish’s weekly newsletter, but then I get to move on to writing a pastorally minded and only slightly provocative sermon about the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As a Christian, however, I cannot be faithful to God or to the death of Jesus Christ or to the animating power of the Holy Spirit if I allow my fatigue or my discomfort or my privilege to distract me from the urgency of this moment.
We do not need to agree on the politics behind the violence or on the political responses to it in order to agree that the death of unarmed, non-violent human beings at the hands of people in positions of power is antithetical to the way of God and to the teachings of Jesus. We can value the contributions that women and men in the police force make and respect the risks that they take to keep others safe yet also identify the sinful stain of systemic racism as the cause of unjustified police violence against people of color. We are allowed to feel exhaustion and powerlessness in the face of an evil that we alone are unable to defeat, but we cannot be committed to God’s unconditional and universal love for all of humanity and act as if one life—or one death—is less valuable or meaningful than others.
When you hear the names of the dead—George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner—or are asked to remember those whose names are not well-known because there was no video recording of their death, what sort of tired do you feel? What does that particular kind of fatigue say to you? Where do you allow it to lead your mind and heart? What are we going to do about it?
We will pray, of course, and prayer is an appropriate response to the extent that it draws us into the communal heartbreak and presents us before God as vehicles through which the Holy Spirit can act. Some of us will demonstrate or advocate or donate to organizations that work to end racism and injustice. Plenty of us will share posts that condemn violence and that call for societal change. Lots of us will be tired and will tell others that we are tired of this, but, as I am sure my friend in Indianapolis will do, when the initial moment of exhaustion passes, we must channel our fatigue into energy for change. We must seek God’s help in order that we might make every community, every neighborhood, every street corner, and every sidewalk, a place where God’s reign is fully established.
Other than pray and post, what can you do? Read a book like White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo or The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone. Become a member of the local chapter of the NAACP or an active participant in the Poor People’s Campaign. Fast for thirty days as an act of personal commitment and sacrifice for those who are the victims of violence. Make a virtual pilgrimage to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and, when the pandemic is over, make the trip in person. Join our parish’s Becoming Beloved Community and commit to the work of justice as a daily pursuit.
Whatever you do, do something. Ask God to give you strength that overcomes your fatigue. Ask God to give you urgency that overcomes your apathy. Ask God to give you humility that overcomes your privilege. Ask God to give you faith that overcomes your doubt that the world could ever change. With God’s help, it is changing because, with God’s help, each of us can change.