Standing in the Shadow of Death
Standing in the Shadow of Death

I’m writing this blog because I am worried about us. These are troubling times. Quite frankly, I have struggled to even find adequate words to say given the massive loss of life we’ve witnessed just over the past month: a mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando, Florida; in Texas, a mother who shot and killed her own daughters before she herself was killed by police; what seemed to be routine encounters with police that proved deadly for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and several Latinos the media did not cover broadly, and more than a dozen police officers shot by a sniper in Dallas, Texas; killing five. And this is just what we know about. It’s a lot. It is actually too much. I feel NUMB. And it is no easy task to be inspirational in moments like these. What words of comfort are even appropriate at a time like this? You don’t want to be guilty of trivializing someone’s pain with a pithy ‘Christianese’ saying. What can you say when people are hurting, afraid, and angry? Kathleen Cleaver once argued that peaceful civil disobedience only works if the offender has a conscience. As a believing woman of color, I am often offended that Black America continues to be asked to take the moral high road. Over and over again, we see members of the news media ask the loved ones of murdered Black victims whether or not they forgive the offender. No one asked Sandy Hook parents whether or not they forgave Adam Lanza. No one in Oklahoma was asked if they forgave Timothy McVeigh. Even though forgiveness is a Christian tenet, a foundation of the faith, and something that the Divine One requires us to extend, it is frustrating beyond measure that it seems to only be the expectation when victims are Black. I have my own theories about that. I think it is insurrection fear.

When black people die under outrageous circumstances too numerous to name here, the question of forgiveness is raised not because there is concern for survivor trauma and well-being; rather, it is asked in an attempt to set the dominant culture’s mind at ease that there won’t be retaliation.

Fear of Black retaliation goes all the way back to American slavery. When slaves began to outnumber slaveholders, a spirit of fear took root across southern plantations. The increase in fear manifested itself in inhumane brutality for even the smallest infraction, whether perceived or real. Sound familiar? And yes, there were uprisings. No one is denying that fear of uprising was a legitimate fear. But when slaves rebelled, they paid for it dearly and were made quick examples of. But the fear that the person you oppress will turn around and oppress you is a fear that has never gone away.

One thing is certain: America has a fear problem; especially when it comes to people of color. I believe irrational fears about immigrants also reflect this fear of ‘being outnumbered’ by black and brown folks. The contempt for the other (in all of its hued expression) was made illegal through legislation, but what America is experiencing right now reveals that not much was done to remove this fear from the heart. It’s like that scene in the 1982 movie Poltergeist, when Steve Freeling (as played by Craig T. Nelson) realized his home was built on top of a Native American graveyard, and the developers “took the stones but left the bodies.”


And because this fear was never dealt with, it remains…hovering around all of us like a pea soup thick fog. It is a problem that we must all contend with. It is a problem that impacts every single person. It is not just a Black problem. White supremacy negatively impacts White people too, primarily the notion that Whiteness is the base by which all others are measured.

As I personally reflect over the sheer number of lives lost, hurting people, stress levels, fear, I also ask myself what the Christian response should be. I wish I had a ready answer that would quell our fears; calm our doubts, remove our anxieties, and dispel our anger. Of course, if faith was easy it would come in a bottle and we could pick it up in bulk at Costco. All we can do is get a firm grip on God’s promises. We have God’s promise to be present. As the psalmist says, “even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for God is with me…” This tells us that fear is a part of life; there will be time when we are afraid. But God will be with us through these times. We also have God’s promise that we move THROUGH valleys. We don’t take up permanent residence in the valley, we move through them. One thing that I can say has helped me is being more intentional about plugging into the Source. Turning off the news, sitting in the quiet, turning down the noise in my head and listening. Providing God with an opportunity to speak to me. At the very least, a meditative posture will lower your blood pressure a few points. At this point, I’ll take good news where I can get it.