I stepped on the downtown pavement for the first time in months, surrounded by masked bodies holding make-shift cardboard signs with words written in paint or permanent marker, saying things like, “I CAN’T BREATHE,” or “NO JUSTICE NO PEACE,” or “SAY HIS NAME—GEORGE FLOYD.”
It was the first time I had been around more than ten people in months—let alone the hundreds who were gathered by the statue of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in downtown Sioux Falls. It was the first time I had ever participated in a peaceful protest, and I was alongside an array of people who simply wanted justice for the murder of a black man at the hands of the police. At our first group stop, I looked across the crowd of so many different signs and humans and watched the trees gently blowing in the breeze. I said to myself, “The Spirit is here. Thank you, Jesus.”
It was also the day of Pentecost. I had spent the morning and previous week processing the release of the Spirit on the disciples and masses after Jesus’ ascension. The Spirit who was empowering the people for ministry and the work of Christ in the world.
The Spirit was for all the people that day.
As I watched the trees blowing in the wind, I wondered about the significance of this day. Could it be that God foresaw on the day of Pentecost this protest? Perhaps the day that began a Spirit-filled ministry so many years ago represented a sort of ending for me on this day.
Maybe it’s because 2020 has seemed a year of endings that I’m prone to say it was this way for me. But either way, today the Spirit was inviting me into something I’ve never experienced before.
I remember my early years of college when I joined my campus ministry team. Back then, the ministry departments were divided into “discipleship,” “worship,” “missions,” and “justice and service.” I was on the discipleship team, overseeing our small groups on campus. I remember looking at the justice and service team and thinking that it was okay for me not to participate in their events because I didn’t really see how that applied to my life. They did things like advocate against sex trafficking and raise awareness about violence within specific marginalized communities. I didn’t see then that justice was actually integral to following Jesus.
Fast forward to my first year of seminary when I took a class called “Justice, Discipleship, and the Church.” When it finally clicked, I began the process of mourning my past self, her ignorance and unwillingness to see that the flourishing of the “other” did indeed have something to do with me and my faith. In fact, it had everything to do with living out our salvation, growing in Christ, and being sanctified as a collective people of God. I started a journey of unlearning and relearning how to understand my faith in relationship to the rest of creation. Maybe it was back then that several parts of myself were shed, as if it was the beginning of the sort of ending I am experiencing now.
I consider the time since I marched alongside many other brothers and sisters crying out—lamenting injustice—an ending of sorts. For me, it was a continuation of the ending that had started when I dove into my story with race a few years ago. It solidified a dying to myself, an unlearning and relearning our God, who is present both in the pages of the Word and in the faces of the oppressed. The end of a life being wishy-washy and being unwilling to demand justice and correction to the injustice around me. The end of seeing my relationship with the Triune God as only encompassing my individual eternity. The end of a heart that easily numbed out the conflict so clearly present in the world. The end of allowing my complicated identity as a multi-racial person to drown out how I’ve simultaneously contributed to sinful systems and bore the weight of them in my brown body. The ending of thinking that freedom and liberty for all can exist without Spirit.
I marched that day with Spirit’s abiding presence. I carried my make-shift cardboard sign and stood with my brothers and sisters, peacefully and prophetically crying out for a more just and righteous world.