Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
~ Proverbs 31:8 - 9
In Proverbs, King Lemuel takes the time to remember the things that his mother taught him. Among the warnings about women and drinking too much, there are two lines that strike to the heart of what will make him a good King, "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."
While I am no king, I read these lines and I am reminded at just how important this advice is. I watched as 60,000 people gathered to march with the family of George Floyd in Houston yesterday, and the advice that King Lemuel's mother came to mind.
The Bible is woven together by stories of those who have lost their voice and have needed to call on others to provide justice. As a chaplain, it goes beyond that. I recognize that we are a nation that is grieving.
I am reminded of the stages of grief offered by Kubler-Ross, and I realize that we have been pushed beyond the denial stage, and we have arrived at anger.
The denial involved years of living within broken systems, designed not to provide a voice for the voiceless, but to kill those who have a voice that is different than ours. It is no longer simply the silence of voices. No, it has been the killing of those who might have the opportunity to speak. We have lived in the denial of systemic silencing, and with every death, we have simply turned our heads and moved on.
There is something about the reality of watching a man being held down, crying that he cannot breathe and asking for his mother, being murdered before our eyes that suddenly moves us to a place where we no longer can live in that denial. I cannot help but think of the public crucifixion and murder of Jesus that moved people from denial into action, creating communities and inspiring others to find their voice and to speak for those who were silent.
I, like many others, want to know, "What do I do with the anger that I now feel?"
We are grieving, and it is healthy to feel anger.
As we try to frame our feelings about the death of Floyd and so many others, we are drawn to look at ourselves in the mirror and realize that his death also involves the voices that we have silenced. None of us are free from this image.
We no longer have the ability to live in the denial of what is happening. Voices that we have never heard before are now being broadcasted everywhere. It is as if Moses himself has appeared, and we are all being told, "Let my people go."
I have tried to find the words to tell friends, family, and members of the faith community I serve in, but when I do, I realize that the voice, is "my voice."
We have to try harder to understand the voices that we are now hearing. Anger, itself, can cause us to say and hear things differently, but it is the voices of the voiceless that we must try harder to understand while we grieve together.
I am drawn to join Jesus on the hillside as he begins to tell those who gather, "Blessed art thou..."
Grief is not just something that effects a single person. In this case, it has touched us all, and we are angry.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain at Essential Hospice, Webster, Texas, and is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.