“I can’t breathe” and 84 days

After 84 days away from our worship spaces, First Baptist Church Clinton TN and friends will be able to gather in person. Our church council has approved guidelines for re-gathering and those are available for your review; if you plan on attending in person please take a look at them. In short, the church that gathers on June 7th will be different than the one that gathered on March 15th. Things will look different because they are different.

I think this is appropriate also because things aren’t the same in our nation; a lot of things have happened these last several months in regard to the COVID-19 virus and now the death of George Floyd on a Minneapolis street has rocked our nation.

A few of our church members have asked me about what’s going on in our nation right now. The violence, looting, and other images on television are disturbing. One of the best things we can do is to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” An important question to help us better understand what is going on is this: Does the destruction of property bother us more than the destruction of a human life?

I spoke about this during my sermon last Sunday (May 31); you can locate some of my thoughts around the 41 minute portion of the worship service. My concern was that Floyd’s last words of “I can’t breathe” are an apt yet tragic description of what many people are experiencing in our country. First the COVID-19 takes our breath, and now a graphic reminder of how injustice and racism rob people of their breath has happened too. Suffice it to say, the killing of Floyd by a police officer has generated much protest and rioting. Leaders are attempting to validate the rage behind this killing while seeking to bring about some return of peace. As Melvin Carter, Mayor of Minneapolis said, “The anger is justified, the violence is not.” And, Congressman John Lewis, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. offered some of these words, “Vote. Organize. Be constructive, not destructive.”

It’s a challenge to be constructive these days; it’s easier to label and libel each other. I’m hopeful that the church wants to be constructive and helpful. Far too often, the church has been an accomplice with our culture by inciting violence and prejudice. Historically, the Baptist church does not have a good track record when it comes to how it has treated people of color. Jesus’ admonition to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” has remained elusive for far too long.

Prior to our move to Clinton, I was given a DVD on “The Clinton 12” which documents some of the violence and unrest this community went through in the desegregation of the public schools. This town knows something about the Governor having to send National Guard troops. In 1956, many out of town agitators stirred violence and hatred and were effective in stoking fear. This church and especially its pastor, Rev. Paul Turner, took a leadership role in standing for justice and togetherness at that pivotal time. But, not without great personal cost to Turner.

So, a lot has happened in our nation these last 84 days and we’ve all been affected in some way. It’s about more than just our not being able to be together in the church building. But, I’m hoping we’ll be able to gather on this Sunday to worship and reflect upon the kind of people God would have us be during these days. Join me in praying for the Holy Spirit to enable us to breathe better, and in so doing may we also create space for others to breathe around us.

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