Dear First Congregational:
Grace and peace to you amidst these turbulent and frightening times we find ourselves living in. Many of you have expressed a myriad of emotions to me about the unfolding events taking place across our nation. Some of us are disturbed and frightened by the looting and violence that is occurring alongside peaceful protests. Others of us find ourselves confused by the incoherent or harmful reactions of people in power and yet others of us fear for the safety of our officers and business owners. Despite our collective concerns, there are those who see this time pregnant with the potential for a new social order that gives them hope; hope that this might be the time when our nation’s plaintive cries for justice are finally heard. And let us not be distracted by the core of what has taken place: anger over the unjustified killing of a black man in broad daylight.
And yet, despite this gruesome incident, we see examples of the innate goodness and love towards that which God has gifted us. When Shawn, a black man who lives in Nashville, posted he was afraid to take a walk in his own neighborhood, his whole neighborhood showed up to walk with him. Across the country, when peaceful protests turned into acts of property destruction, participants returned to sweep streets, scrub graffiti, and clean up. Police departments around the country took a knee to show their solidarity and hurt at our societal problems. Goodness is there, love is at work, hearts are being transformed.
No matter what we think or feel about these times it is very clear that as a nation we are in the midst of trauma and grief. We are traumatized by acts of brutality and violence, social unrest, and a lack of common decency. In the wake of this trauma we grieve injustice, we grieve change, we grieve our collective history of racism and ethnic genocide of our country. We grieve that in 2020, despite all our hard-won victories for the common good and the sacrifices made in the name of liberty, that we still have this mountain of injustice weighing so heavily upon us. It has not helped that the Covid-19 pandemic has placed the widening gap between the rich and poor on full display.
This common yearning for justice and equality is nothing new. Perhaps the Psalmist says it best when they wrote:
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
It is in times like these that our faith calls us to be a people of remarkable hope. We are called to see the world and its events not solely within their immediate context but placed within God’s unfolding story of divine justice and guided by the power of the Holy Spirit. To be a follower of Christ means that the narrative we use to interpret our world is one defined by hope, informed by grace, and full of the same potential we celebrate throughout the year from the manger, to the cross, to the empty tomb. Let us not doubt, that no matter how terrible our immediate circumstances appear, God will use it for righteous and beautiful purposes. When we speak from this narrative of hope, we shall say, like the Psalmist:
One generation shall laud your works to another and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed, and I will declare your greatness.
In order for us to declare God’s goodness and see God’s mighty acts, we have to start by listening and recognizing the Holy in our midst. To this end, I invite you to participate in two experiences this week to guide and inform us as to how the Holy Spirit is at work in these times pursuing justice and peace for all.
First, we will forgo our normal noon prayer chapel on Thursday June 4. In its place, I invite you to join an interactive webinar put on by faith leaders in the UCC from 12-1:30 PM called “Addressing systemic violence Against African Americans in Contemporary America.” We will gain greater insight into the situations which perpetuate the cycle of racial discrimination and violence we find ourselves in and hear opportunities we have to make positive change. You can register for this at UCC.org.
Second, in worship this Sunday we will feature a sermon from Rev. Otis Moss III, Senior Pastor at Trinity UCC in Chicago entitled “The Cross and the Lynching Tree: A Requiem for Ahmaud Arbery.” In this cinematic sermon, Rev. Moss explains the historical roots of slavery leading to the dehumanization of African Americans and gives a compelling biblical response as to the kind of justice God asks us to participate in delivering.
Lastly, what we are seeing is not a surprise. I do not claim this to dismiss our collective sense of shock or moral outrage. Rather, our nation has long struggled with various forms of hate and discrimination be it by race, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, socio-economic status, or innate condition. We are in the middle of great season of change; we cannot stop what is taking place. As people of faith we need to listen, to learn, to be prepared to have tough conversations, and be intentional in our actions so that all we do and all that we say is contributing towards God’s justice and righteousness. I want to close by sharing a quote from a recent article by Rev. William J. Barber, co-chair of The Poor People’s campaign:
If we take time to listen to this nation’s wounds, they tell us where to look for hope. The hope is in the mourning and the screams, which make us want to rush from this place. There is a sense in which right now we must refuse to be comforted too quickly. Only if these screams and tears and protests shake the very conscience of this nation – and until there is real political and judicial repentance, can we hope for a better society on the other side of this.
May we choose to listen first, may we hear the cries of those around us, may we understand God’s burning desire for justice, may we work for positive change, may we love our country and fellow citizens whole-heartedly, and may the Holy Spirit equip us to be the church in these turbulent times. Stay hopeful friends.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Nicholas J. Hatch
(This letter was read to the congregation on Facebook this afternoon)