We are fighting for our lives – as black and brown people, immigrants and those who have been “othered” in one way or another. We are fighting for our lives because we are living in the midst of what the Apostle Peter called a “corrupt generation.”
He spoke those words to religious folk as the fire of the Holy Spirit that had just descended still burned hot. Those who heard these words inquired as to what they should do in response. Peter told them, “Repent and be baptized…in the name of Jesus Christ…. Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:37-40).
With these words, Peter leveraged the power of the Holy Spirit to impact people in a way that changed and transformed them. With these words, scripture tells us, some 3,000 people were converted and “added” to the number of the People of Way, better known as the Jesus Movement.
At its most glorious and its most resonant, the Gospel message does this to people. It changes their lives and turns their minds towards the things of God. It saves them from corruption and sin and the sort of behavior that breaks down instead of building up.
That is the sort of witness that we must seek in these seemingly dark and last days, in this season when we are literally fighting for our lives. The burden is falling most acutely on black and brown people, as it has for centuries in this racist and xenophobic country that was founded on a platform and practice of genocide and slavery. The Nation of Islam once silenced Malcolm X because he told a truth – “America’s chickens are coming home to roost” – that was too hard for people to hear in the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
“We’re fighting for our lives, and we have to make it.”
There is another truth now that is not only too hard for some people to hear, but in fact, is more than they can bear: the America that once was will never be again. This generation will witness the demographic shift that will make white people in the United States a minority for the first time since the framers of the Constitution decreed that a census should be taken every 10 years. This generation will witness the so-called “mixing of the races” at a level never before seen, and certainly not in open and unapologetic ways.
For those of us who have been on the underside of history, this future presents an opportunity; but for those who see their shifting status as a loss of power and privilege to which they have become accustomed, it is simply intolerable. When all of this is combined with easy access to the weaponry of guns and social media, the results are deadly, and black and brown people once again find ourselves fighting for our lives.
“I continue to believe that redemption is possible for us – across the lines of race and class and the train tracks of history.”
This “corrupt generation” is the only way to understand and recognize the absolute cowardice of elected officials who will allow themselves to be held captive to special interests while people are literally dying in mass numbers. This “corrupt generation” is the only way to make sense of how a profoundly ignorant man who has shown himself repeatedly to be a bigot and a bully can still be sitting in the Oval Office occupying the president’s chair. It is only a “corrupt generation” of supposed “Christians” who will exchange the politics of Jesus for a seat on the United States Supreme Court and the right to keep on discriminating against gays and lesbians.
The death of Toni Morrison on Aug. 5 is just another reminder of the power that emanates from those who have the courage to tell the truth about the valleys of the American experience when all anyone wants to talk about is the view from the mountaintop. What made her works so hard to read – and the movie adaptations of Beloved and other books so hard to watch – is that she exposed the impact of the horrors of slavery and internalized racism and misogyny and so much else that threatens the survival of the human spirit. She held nothing back; she let those chickens that Malcom spoke of roost until they could not roost anymore. In so doing, she spoke to the lived experience of so many in this country; in so doing, she exposed a truth that was more than some people could bear, and thus, her legacy will be one of controversy and also contribution.
In confronting white nationalist terror and the Washington-based bigotry that has invited it into the mainstream, we must be both fierce in our struggle but also prayerful in our devotion. We must call this nation to repent for its sins and call it too to save itself from this “corrupt generation.”
I continue to believe that redemption is possible for us – across the lines of race and class and the train tracks of history. I continue to believe that the End that we are witnessing will soon yield to a Beginning that will be more beautiful than we can even now imagine. But first, we have to survive what Princeton professor Eddie Glaude has called this “cold civil war”; we have to survive it not just physically but emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
“The death of Toni Morrison is just another reminder of the power that emanates from those who have the courage to tell the truth about the valleys of the American experience when all anyone wants to talk about is the view from the mountaintop.”
So for now, we have to pray for those who continue to persecute us; we have to pray for them, that at this critical juncture a Peter will arise who can reach them with a message that will change their lives and turn their minds toward the God who created all of us – male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile – in the image of God. We have to pray for the officer who killed Eric Garner – still no justice for Eric and his family! – and the police union representative who dared to defend that cop for just “doing his job.” We have to pray for the young man who killed 22 people in El Paso. We have to pray for the president who told four colored Congresswomen to go “back to where they came from” and then tried to justify his bigotry on national television.
Once we are done praying for all of them, we must be prepared to turn from them and save ourselves. We’re fighting for our lives, and we have to make it. We owe it to those who went before us and died on our behalf. We owe it to all of those who faced meaningless deaths on the crosses of Jim Crow, lynching trees, ghetto prisons and at the hands of racist cops.
We owe it to them. We owe it to us. We owe it to our future. The Beginning is coming.