COVID 1619

By The Rev. Ute Molitor | Jun 04, 2020
The Rev. Ute Molitor

Camden — This past week has been one of the hardest in our country’s recent history. We are all still reeling from it. Although Maine has had relatively few cases of COVID-19, our country has surpassed the 100,000 death-toll from this pandemic. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color in direct relation to systemic inequalities. Victims of the virus die struggling to breathe. We have also witnessed how George Floyd was killed by a white police officer who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck, even long after Floyd had become unresponsive. Unarmed, handcuffed and pinned down, Floyd had repeatedly called out, “I can’t breathe!” but his pleas and those of shocked bystanders were ignored. We have all witnessed the protests that have erupted all over the country, unleashing anger and frustration resulting from centuries of violence and discrimination against people of color in general, and African Americans in particular.

Several African American leaders like Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III (trinitychicago.org) have begun to refer to the brutal manifestations of racism and injustice as an infectious disease still holding us captive. They have called it “COVID 1619,” referring to the year when some 50 African slaves were brought to the shores of Jamestown, Virginia. Some 401 years later, we are still reaping the fruits of the dehumanization brought by slavery and all the false narratives used to justify it. Such narratives of racial inferiority and white supremacy have gone “viral” and still poison the “body politic” of our shared lives. We need to hold ourselves and our national leadership accountable to address them.

One key element of our common humanity is our dependence on our breath, second by second. We are literally inspired – breathed into life – moment by moment. Christians just celebrated the gift of the Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, the uniting, transformative and guiding energy of the divine enlivening all of us, no matter the color of our skin or the beliefs we may hold. On Pentecost, Christians remember that the good news of God’s uniting love could be heard in all the languages of the people (gathered for the Jewish festival of Shavuot in Jerusalem). God was speaking a message of belovedness, dignity, and belonging to all. In light of such love, all lives matter and injustices to any one are injustices to us all. They need to be addressed, no matter who is affected. However, for too long, people of color have had to feel that neither their suffering nor their creativity and abilities are being heard, valued and addressed equally. It is time to say and mean: “Black Lives Matter,” for all our sakes.

I hope and pray that those of us who have benefitted, even if unintentionally, from white privilege will take this time to listen to how people of color, and especially African Americans, tell the story of their experience in our country. How many of us truly know what it is like to be seen as a threat, as inferior, and to be afraid for one’s life just based on the color of one’s skin? Listening exposes us to painful truths but it remains a needed step before we can really live into lasting good news together.

Saying “Black Lives Matter” of course does not mean that the lives of others do not. Food insecurity, lack of affordable housing, low wages, and lack of access to affordable health care affect under-resourced persons regardless of race, ethnic identity or location. Maine is full of hard-working families who cannot make ends meet despite their efforts and COVID-19 is putting many of us in ever greater economic peril. We have seen increases in domestic abuse and mental health crises as well. We need compassion and resolve to support each other in these difficult times.

Can we muster the grace to let whatever suffering we may be experiencing broaden our hearts to hearing the hurt and pain of others as well? Will we embrace this time as a call to seek new inspiration rather than submit to the violence of “expiration” as yet another African American man dies unable to breathe? The great African American scholar W.E.B. Dubois once wrote, “What a world this will be when human possibilities are freed, when we discover each other, when the stranger is no longer the potential criminal and the certain inferior!” May we strive to seek such discoveries more deeply and earnestly at this time when our African American siblings are calling out to be heard and seen.

P.S.: If you would like to join a group of us in this vital and urgent work of listening and learning, please contact me, ute@camdenucc.org.

The Rev. Dr. Ute S. Molitor is the minister at the First Congregational Church, UCC in Camden.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Jun 04, 2020 11:05

Can we muster the grace to let whatever suffering we may be experiencing broaden our hearts to hearing the hurt and pain of others as well?" We had all better hope so!




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