“There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” I find comfort in those words by Leonard Cohen. His message helps me handle my mistakes and mis-steps. Those hiccups are just cracks—the light they let in will be illustrative, all will be better than before, etc. That light-handed attitude is often helpful, keeping me from wallowing in my worries. However, the cracks around us today are overwhelming, incomprehensible chasms in the structure of this country.
As the protests began, I felt a measure of relief. Something was being done to express our corporate grief over the murder of George Floyd. I was moved as I stood outside the Bellingham Public Library. Several hundred people, most in their twenties, were standing around, speaking softly together or praying quietly to themselves. We all gazed at the candles, flowers, and placards placed in honor of Mr. Floyd. As the protests disintegrated into riots throughout the country, though, I found myself thinking it has all fallen apart
Our nation has been hit by a three-pronged perfect storm. We are reeling from the pandemic, racial unrest, and a lamentable lack of presidential leadership.
The pandemic hit us in so many ways. Fears for our health, fears for our lives. Discomfort from the Stay in Place orders. Disorientation as we faced closure of our churches, businesses, theaters and restaurants—the fabric of our communities. This crack in our social fabric flooded us with a discouraging spotlight: hospitals were incapable of handling the demands of the disease, people’s financial security crumbled with the loss of the first paycheck. We were forced to see, again, the poorest of the country being the most negatively affected.
The second thrust of the perfect storm was the murder of George Floyd. While there was horror, there was no surprise. We know the names of too many black men who have lost their lives at the hands of policemen. This time, we watched the murder happen. Not quickly by a bullet shot, but 8 minutes and 46 seconds of watching while a white knee was pressed to a black neck. The nation responded with a roaring NO!
The final leg of the storm was the lack of leadership from the presidency. Far from being a voice of consolation and direction, he stirred the pot of discord and disruption.
Many are comparing these days with the influenza of 1918, the Great Depression of 1929, and the race riots of 1968. Cornel West, Professor of Public Philosophy at Harvard, pointed to the truth of the time: the “Empire is imploding,” and “America is a failed social experiment.” It has all fallen apart.
It would be easy, but foolish, to pray for “things to get back to normal.” It’s becoming more and more obvious that “normal” won’t ever work again. Our perfect storm showed us all the flaws and fault lines in our country. We can do no less than work for a “new normal,” whatever that might be. I fell asleep Saturday evening, June 6, 2020, with images of city after city on fire, our skylines lit up with massive flames.
Sunday morning, June 7, I attended my on-line church service, ready to celebrate Pentecost. Pentecost, celebrated on the 49th day after Easter, is often called the birthday of the church. The disciples of Jesus gathered for a festival. They had come from many locations and spoke a number of different languages. Suddenly there was a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire touched each person there. The disciples, now filled with the Holy Spirit, began to speak—and all could understand one another. All could hear, and know they were being heard.
The evening before had filled me with despair … it has all fallen apart. Sabbath challenged me to see the potential waiting to be birthed. Fire was the symbol of both.
The service ended with a hymn including these words, “Spirit of Restlessness, stir me from placidness.” Placidness is not an option. It’s impossible to ignore that our country has been cracked wide open. Light glaring, almost-too-bright-to-stand light is illuminating it all. The Spirit is challenging us with tongues of fire.
I am becoming bold enough to believe that out of the horror of these days, new life will be formed. Placidness, be gone!