Sunday again. I walk in the cool stillness of this early morning, surrounded by a silence so complete that I can hear every bird call, every rustle of tree leaves in the breeze, every movement of every bunny and squirrel darting here and there – with the sunrise all is light, all is peace, all is quiet, all is infinite beauty everywhere I look . . .
Certainly this world I am walking in cannot be the same world I saw on my TV screen. That world is dark, chaotic, ugly and full of noise. That world is a world lit only by burning buildings and cars on fire, a world with streets full of people throwing bricks and firecrackers, breaking windows, shouting, running, looting, carrying off the contents of store after store – while, while what? while nothing –
the thieves appear unchallenged as they destroy property not their own and take whatever they want – one would think they would be stopped, but there are no police to protect people’s private property, no firemen are there to put out the fires. it appears people are cheering, celebrating – celebrating what I wonder?
I wonder why I am not seeing any social distancing or wearing of face masks as these people continue with their get-together. Maybe riots and rioters are exempt from current Corona rules and regulations? I don’t think anyone took their temperatures or made them register online before showing up. I know the ban on large gatherings has not yet been lifted.
But the streets are packed full of people, people that have been pent up in their places for the last three months waiting to be released, now filling the streets with their anger and their violence. No matter that permission to assemble in large groups has yet to be granted. Theaters, museums, sports venues, libraries, places of worship are not open to people. No concerts, no baseball games but – overnight we have streets full of people in major cities all across our country.
And sadly these assemblies are not for the purpose of celebrating the lifting of the restrictions, the reopening of our culture and of our society. These are not celebrations of all that has gone uncelebrated while we were closed down – all the birthdays, anniversary’s, weddings, graduations, trips, Easter, Memorial Day, all the moments that have gone unmarked in the usual ways – moments passed by and passed over while we were otherwise engaged – moments and milestones now at last ready to be recognized and celebrated.
No, that is not what has filled our streets, filled them just as street fairs and farmers markets and marathons and parades used to fill them, just as football stadiums or baseball parks used to be full in their seasons. No this is not a full house on opening night or a church filled full with singing worshipers – no, gatherings such as these are currently deemed much too dangerous to be allowed.
No, this is something else – even though our right to assemble has been currently limited and put on hold – what I see on my TV screen, is something I cannot bear to watch, do not want to admit is really happening in my own city and in cities all across our country – something sinister and evil, something fueled by anger and by hate.
The words peaceful protest are used but that is not what I see before me. I see vandalism and violence, theft, arson, chaos, confusion and noise, so much noise. Everyone wants their voice to be heard but in the din of this chaos there are no distinct voices, there are no clear voices, there are no voices of reason or of compassion. There is no message put forth. Because the noise level is so loud, any message to honor the memory of the murdered man is lost. It is simply not heard above the chaos.
This would be the man whose murder ignited people’s pent up frustration, anger and despair which is now compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and ready to be released. We have witnessed this releasing and the damage, devastation and destruction that have resulted so far. Sadly, our attention is turned to the rioters and the burned out buildings they leave behind, not allowing us to properly grieve the loss of George Floyd. Turns out, his name is being totally eclipsed by the successive nights of violence and vandalism taking place in our cities. I wonder how many of the protesters/rioters filling the streets could even tell you his name if they were asked?
How I wish these rioters would take a page from the playbook of Martin Luther King Jr. – the man who proved to the world that there is such a thing as a peaceful protest. I would have thought these two words an oxymoron, but Dr. King proved that the peaceful protest is possible. Dr. King knew this truth – the answer to injustice is not more injustice.
On August 28th, 1963 two-hundred fifty thousand people showed up in Washington DC for the March on Washington. It was a mile march from the Washington Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial, where speeches were given and music was played. Many remarkable things came out of this peaceful protest, the most notable – Dr. King’s famous “I have a Dream” speech.
Dr. King’s words were heard, his message was received. The absence of chaos and crime during the March on Washington made this possible. When there is chaos, no voices are heard above the noise. No message is sent, nothing of value is received. Things are only torn down and taken away. No progress is made. Only setbacks result from riots, crime and violence.
In contrast to today’s riots, King’s peaceful protests left a legacy that endures, still here for others to follow even today. His “I Have a Dream” speech is possibly the all time greatest speech ever spoken in history. These powerful words could not have been delivered nor could they have been heard had the protesters turned out to be rioters. But as it is, we still have his words with us today.
There is a big difference between a protester and a rioter. The former cares deeply about human rights and about other human beings. The latter has no regard for the law, the rights of others or human life and liberty. They are opportunists cashing in on the misery, misfortune and heartache of others with no regard for the pain their actions will most certainly cause those with whom they share their community. Rioters care only for themselves.
It turns out, in some of the cities, there have been some peaceful gatherings of people protesting during the day. They are seeking justice for George Floyd and justice for other minorities that have been mistreated at the hands of the law. Hopefully, justice extended to one will result in justice being extended to all.
So if these began as peaceful gatherings, what happened? It got dark. Eventually night came. The result was the same in every city.
” . . . but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)
When morning comes, others are left to pick up the pieces of shattered glass and shattered lives and shattered dreams left in the wake of another night of fear and violence. No voices have been heard, nothing of value, lasting or otherwise, has been achieved.
There is a Shakespeare quote from Macbeth about our lives saying that they are “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” But that is not true. Dr. King’s life, legacy and words have signified much and continue to signify much as their positive, life affirming impact continues to be present with us to this very day.
It is those who abuse their power, those who oppress others, those who tear down and destroy, sowing dissension and reaping division and despair among people longing for peace and prosperity, it is those people who end up signifying nothing in the final analysis.
We were created to be free. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, (5:1) the following,
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us (me/you) free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
I want the privilege of being among those in Dr. King’s dream, who are holding hands and singing, “Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.”
sincerely, Grace Day