police protests and the Spirit

yesterday, there were protests against the abuse of power by minneapolis police in the death of george floyd. this is the latest in another unfortunate death of a black man at the hands of public servants who are supposed to protect and serve the general public. as trained professionals, police officers put their lives on the line to protect us from violence and situations that endanger the public. most do a great job toward this end. in an ideal world, police officers help us be safe and live together in peace and harmony

but we do not live in an ideal world.

yesterday here in seattle, the downtown protests showed a contrast: there was a peaceful, emotion filled and even prayerful gathering at westlake center. i believe that it is important to have spaces for a sharing of stories and connect our common human experiences– especially when there is tragedy. george floyd’s death, like so many before him, reminds us that we have a long way to go in our understanding of race and the abuse of power. as a man of faith, i believe that the Holy Spirit moves mysteriously in these non violent protests. understanding, healing, solidarity and love can flourish in such gatherings.

a couple of blocks away there were chaotic protest actions by various people who broke windows and set fires. while i understand that emotions of anger can run high and that mob mentality can hijack the best of intentions, acts of violence are driven by other factors and spirits, not the Holy Spirit. we cannot use evil means to bring forth good ends. when we do, we can become the very thing that we despise as wrong. jesus, gandhi, m.l. king jr and many others have showed us this truth with their lives.

in all institutions, we bring our personal sin and imperfections to the various groups that gather. whether we are in healthcare, education, politics and yes– even the church– the reality is that we can hurt, exploit and even kill one another. in our desire to love one another, we sometimes need to shine light on this darkness that is a result of sins. when people kill one another, it ought to anger and sadden us because it is a sin against God’s gift of life. if we believe in love, we ought to speak out against these sins– especially when there is an abuse of power: whether it is a police officer, a bishop, or a president of a country.


today, we celebrate pentecost: the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. this is the first reading at mass from acts 2:

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.

misunderstandings regarding race/culture/language have existed since day one and they will continue.

after experiencing his resurrection, jesus’ followers needed the help, power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. in a reversal of the confusion of language from the tower of babel sin account, the Spirit brings us back to the “same language and same words”. (genesis 11: 1ff)

in a word, the Holy Spirit enables us to understand one another despite our linguistic racial and cultural differences. this is a grace from God.

we are at our best when we allow the Spirit within each of us to gift us with understanding. when this happens, we can see one another and the various situations quite differently than at first glance. we are enabled to care for and love one another by first understanding one another in our common humanity.

as with many things, when we only rely on our own skills/resources to solve problems, we will be limited in our results at best. for christians, at our worst, we allow other spirits to guide us and only give lip service to the Holy Spirit. then our selfishness/pride/jealousy/greed etc are the foundation of harmful words and actions toward one another. this is the antithesis of love. this is when we christians can be an anti-witnesses of jesus’ goodness and truth.

but when we realize that we participate in the life of the Spirit in our world and we share the gifts of the Spirit that are given to each of us, we are part of God’s loving grace in the world and the healing of relationships. Spirit-understanding is key: one of the mighty acts of God (not us) in the world. this is the christian ideal.

but we do not live in an ideal world.

so we pray to take steps toward God’s call: my prayer today is that each of us is renewed in the Holy Spirit– especially the gift of understanding. i pray that we may be instruments of that same Spirit as much as humanly possible in the situations we are in and that God’s healing and peace are gifts given through our actions. i pray that justice, peace and the integrity of all creation flourish through our actions; through public protests, may God’s light be shown on the darkness that exists in our world

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