President’s Blog #9 – The Holy Pause of Holy Saturday
June 5, 2020
President’s Blog 9 – The Holy Pause of Holy Saturday
Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. Luke 23: 53-54 (NRSV)
As I seek to respond to the tragedies and situations confronting New Brunswick Theological Seminary, churches in America and around the world, and denominations and their leaders, and speak a rhema word to those who ask my opinion and advice, I am reminded of the words of Erol Ozan, “Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.”
In our current climate, several Seminary Presidents and Deans asked me to join them in crafting a response. We called for changes in:
- The removal of military equipment from our neighborhoods as tools for policing.
- The end of the 1033 Program, whereby Congress transfers excess military equipment to local police agencies for use in counter-drug activities.
- The immediate work to create police reform initiatives as well as community oriented policing methodologies to include the following:
- A revision of police union contracts so that police are held accountable for misconduct, to include clarity about “excessive force”
- A moratorium on no-knock warrants for drug-related arrests
- An end to “broken-windows” policing.
- The implementation of swift and strong fines against persons who make emergency calls to police departments based upon false allegations against Black citizens.
- State and local level public policy initiatives that ensure police review boards comprise citizens representing its diverse neighborhoods. Effective policy requires community oversight.
- The refusal to hire/retain any officer who has been found guilty of misconduct.
- An end to the practice of aggressive police persons not receiving repercussions and prosecution when they cross the justice line and end the process of internal policing, powerful police unions, powerless civil arbitration boards, and ineffective external (non-police) review boards being used to release accused police persons from justice.
- An end to the standard of reasonableness that allows police officers to shoot to kill Black and other racial minorities on the officer’s assertion that they feared for their life.
- Pressure on insurance companies to demand changes in police procedures and policies used by police departments that consistently lead to high incidents of police brutality against racial minorities by refusing those departments coverage.
- The immediate clarification by the FBI that Black Lives Matter is not a “black identity extremist” movement.
- The removal of military equipment from our neighborhoods as tools for policing.
Changes within the American Academy of Religion/ Society of Biblical Literature:
- The immediate development and support of the Policing in Black and Brown Communities Initiative that will work with journalists who cover religion. Black people’s religious conceptualizations drive the way they move in the world. Through AAR/SBL support, this initiative’s aim is to place scholars of religion in conversation with mainstream journalists around the country so that the narratives around our lives convey truth and sensitivity.
And changes within Association of Theological Schools:
- Include on its agenda for its upcoming Biennial Meeting a time for the Presidents of ATS schools to discuss what is both the impact and theological work needed to address the consistent killings of Black people.
Another colleague and friend, Reverend Earl James, concludes his letter to the Reformed Church in America with
- Continue embracing peaceful public demonstrations for racial equity and justice, and for elimination of police brutality. (I reached out to an organizer of the protest I was part of to learn more and serve.)
- Find and continually express great care to those among your families and friends, of any generation. In frequent and diverse ways, tell them they matter and are of great value. Tell them specific things about their character and actions that impress you and that you hold dear. Always let them know in various and diverse ways they are gifts from God to you and to life itself.
- Work to re-craft use-of-force policies in your location to ensure that deaths of unarmed persons by police are eliminated or carry swift and substantial penalties. (I am talking with some people where I live who might want to conduct this work.)
- Review, talk about, and incorporate into conversations, education, sermons, advocacy, and so on the two postings mentioned previously from Stratton C. Lee III and Justin Pletcher. Explore how they practically live out the Belhar Confession’s principles of justice, reconciliation, and unity.
- Have inter-generational conversations and activities that can nurture inter-generational racial equity and justice understanding.
- Host one or more virtual or in-person congregational, family, or town hall meetings on any part of this matter. (Others and I are planning two or three virtual engagements to occur in June and/or July.)
- Learn about and participate in The Blackout Coalition’s July 7, 2020, day of not spending money.
- Watch the movie “Just Mercy” and discuss it. It is an exceptional telling of a true story about the dangers of systemic racism in American life. During June 2020, it may be streamed at no cost. Here is how.
I was amazed at the statement and recommendations from the ice cream company, Ben & Jerry’s. In their statement, “We Must Dismantle White Supremacy,” the company called for:
First, we call upon President Trump, elected officials, and political parties to commit our nation to a formal process of healing and reconciliation. Instead of calling for the use of aggressive tactics on protestors, the President must take the first step by disavowing white supremacists and nationalist groups that overtly support him, and by not using his Twitter feed to promote and normalize their ideas and agendas. The world is watching America’s response.
Second, we call upon the Congress to pass H.R. 40, legislation that would create a commission to study the effects of slavery and discrimination from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies. We cannot move forward together as a nation until we begin to grapple with the sins of our past. Slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation were systems of legalized and monetized white supremacy for which generations of Black and Brown people paid an immeasurable price. That cost must be acknowledged and the privilege that accrued to some at the expense of others must be reckoned with and redressed.
Third, we support Floyd’s family’s call to create a national task force that would draft bipartisan legislation aimed at ending racial violence and increasing police accountability. We can’t continue to fund a criminal justice system that perpetuates mass incarceration while at the same time threatens the lives of a whole segment of the population.
And finally, we call on the Department of Justice to reinvigorate its Civil Rights Division as a staunch defender of the rights of Black and Brown people. The DOJ must also reinstate policies rolled back under the Trump Administration, such as consent decrees to curb police abuses.
Ben & Jerry’s concluded that:
Unless and until white America is willing to collectively acknowledge its privilege, take responsibility for its past and the impact it has on the present, and commit to creating a future steeped in justice, the list of names that George Floyd has been added to will never end. We have to use this moment to accelerate our nation’s long journey towards justice and a more perfect union.
I have contemplated all week what to say. Initially, it was just around the painful deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. Then, it was the issue of three of President Trump’s responses to the protestors (as reported by CNN):
- “You have to dominate, or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks, you have to arrest and try people,” the President told governors in a call from the basement White House Situation Room… “It’s a movement, if you don’t put it down it will get worse and worse,” Trump said. “The only time it’s successful is when you’re weak and most of you are weak.” (CNN June 1, 2020)
- Two protests by Americans within a month; two vastly different responses by Donald Trump. The President praised the first group, urging elected officials to hear their concerns and “make a deal.” The second group Trump smeared as “so-called protesters,” threatening them with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons.” (CNN, May 31, 2020)
- Attorney General William Barr on Monday evening ordered authorities to clear a crowd of protesters that had gathered near the White House, according to a Justice Department official, minutes ahead of President Donald Trump’s televised address from the Rose Garden, … [Trump later] walk[ed] to the nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo-op. (CNN, June 2, 2020)
As I listen and reflect on the challenges, we face during this current crisis I sense a weight on our nation that hangs in the balance. A weight of 140 million people in America classified as poor. A weight of 700 people dying every day from poverty. A weight of 80 million people living with insufficient or no medical insurance. A weight where a police officer uses his knee to restrain a Black man for 8 minutes and 46 second until he is unable to breathe and dies.
This weight we have carried as a nation for generations is harder to bear because of the sheer volume of violence, neglect, stereotyping, ostracizing, cycles of poverty, and death of the most vulnerable Americans — that is, Americans who are poor, female, mentally ill, physically challenged, mentally challenged, older, homeless, and Black and Brown. Black and Brown Americans are disproportionately disadvantaged by the weights of systemic racism and oppression (i.e., slavery, black codes, Jim Crow laws, segregation, red lining, etc.).
Here I mirror Franklin D. Roosevelt who said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” The weight feels like death. Death is a season of life and many like me have become accustomed to death. But, fortunately, when I reflect on Jesus, I celebrate the Lord’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension. To me, death is my winter or season that leads to hibernation. But, death is not the only or final season. When I reflect on Luke 23: 53-54 we are told that during Jesus’ winter he is 1) taken down from the cross, 2) wrapped it in a linen cloth, and 3) laid in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. We are also told by Luke, the only Gentile writer in the Bible, that it was the day of preparation and the sabbath was beginning. What a gift! What a powerful metaphor for us during this crisis. A metaphor that can assist us in finding our true self, finding balance within and without.
My life and ministry have been driven by a need and desire to find balance in life. As a seminary president, Minister of Word and Sacrament, engineer, and pastoral psychologist, I have searched for insight and direction during every crisis for ways to improve all. One of the greatest revelations during these times of reflection is that God is both beyond me and within me at the same time. Finding revelations such as this, “exquisite balance of God” needs worship, a laboratory, a sanctuary, a prayer closet, a Holy Saturday.
Holy Saturday is a time of silence and a period between your injury and your healing. Holy Saturday is a period of reflection and contemplation – between your crucifixion and your resurrection. I am convinced we all experience crucifixion. But I am convicted that we have the power of the Holy Spirit to remove ourselves from our crosses, wrap ourselves with allies and like-minded colleagues, and rest in safe places. Holy Saturday can be a powerful intermediate preparation before resurrection. Holy Saturday is an opportunity to engage a Holy Pause.
I have found the Holy Pause to be a meaningful time of inspiration and meditation. The Holy Pause is a gift of suspending time, worry, anxiety, and care. I like to think of the Holy Pause on Holy Saturday as the space between the experienced stimulus (death) & my response to death (resurrection). Viktor Frankl suggested that we are all conditioned by a stimulus and response pattern. We experience a stimulus and we develop a response. But the power of Dr. Frankl’s idea is that he realized and voiced that there is a pause between the stimulus and our response. This pause is our Holy Saturday, our Holy Pause, our escape from routine, our entrance into the unknown with the spiritual companion who created the unknowing unknown. This pause is the time to focus on how we can reorient ourselves once our isolation is over.
As our nation and world has fallen into a strange xenophobia, where we fear neighbor, political parties, and colleagues who hold a different opinion, I suggest we allow the universe to take away the weight from the battles we fight, wrap us in a linen cloth of history and her-story, and lay us in a sacred space where we can reflect and renew. In our Holy Pause, we can critically and systematically analyze and examine our long-held beliefs about social justice and racial reconciliation. We can re-acclimate and reorient our hermeneutics to help us interpret events in light of the changes in context. We can practice improving our ability to accept (Mindfulness); increasing our tolerance of negative emotion, rather than trying to escape them (Distress Tolerance); managing and changing intense emotions that are causing problems in our lives (Emotional Regulation); and perfecting the abilities to communicate with others in a way that is assertive, maintains self-respect, and strengthens relationships (Interpersonal effectiveness skills).
I hope you will try the Holy Pause technique during this Holy Saturday. Finally, I wish you more Resurrection Sundays than Crucifixion Fridays.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the WORD of God endures forever.
Micah L. McCreary
President, New Brunswick Theological Seminary