A Theological Reflection for These Times
Bishop Clarence Laney, Pastor of Monument of Faith Church in Durham, offered the following reflection to frame the conversation at the Durham CAN Clergy Caucus meeting on November 14, 2023.
Scripture Reference; Nehemiah 2:1-5
In the Hebrew scriptures is recorded one of my favorite biblical narratives, the story of Nehemiah. I love this book because much of what occurs in Nehemiah parallels our time.
In the narrative Nehemiah became aware of the desperate situation in Jerusalem while serving as cupbearer for Artaxerxes I. The book opens with Nehemiah’s prayer that God would act favorably toward Israel and restore its identity as the People of God. Nehemiah’s prayer and concern for the struggling Hebrew people of God living in Jerusalem moved him to put a risky plan into action. As the wine taster for the king, Nehemiah had privileged access to him. Nehemiah’s heart is heavy for the people living in Jerusalem, and he allows the king to observe his depression while serving him wine. He could not serve in peace in this place of privilege while his brothers and sisters were in harm's way. Such a show of negative emotion in the presence of the King could very well have cost Nehemiah his life. The king immediately noticed the sad demeanor and demanded to know the reason Nehemiah was downcast. Nehemiah breathed a quick prayer and then tactfully explained that the city, the place of my ancestors’ graves, lies waste. Touched by Nehemiah’s explanation, the king granted his request to return to his homeland to rebuild the city of his ancestors’ graves. Nehemiah was not part of the priestly guild. He was a layman committed to doing the work of the Lord wherever he found a need, and he used his influential appointment as the cupbearer to further God’s work.1
Many of us were shocked and saddened as we watched the life leave the body of George Floyd. 8 minutes and 46 seconds later Floyd was dead. His death sparked international protest as white, Asian, Latinx, and Blacks shouted Black Lives Matter. Many of us joined the protest, we preached about racism and white supremacy some of us for the first time. Yet, almost three years after the death of George Floyd have any of us used our privilege and taken our concerns to the powers that be. Have we become comfortable in our own silos? We say we are troubled by the war between Israel and Hamas but what are we doing about it? We say we are concerned about the crime, poverty, and the lack of affordable housing but what are we willing to do about it? Do we have any skin in the game?
Take a moment!!! Listen closely, what do you hear? The silence of good people. Unlike Nehemiah we have allowed our proximity to power to silence us. While those in privilege are making lots of noise celebrating the growth and development of our beloved city. While the cries of the poor are being muffled. My sisters and brothers, like Nehemiah our faces should be disheveled when we see these atrocities. We should weep when we see the condition of the poor. Let not criminalize poverty to ease our conscience. Rather, like Nehemiah let’s go to power, organize the people and build a fair and equitable Durham for all of her residents. Let’s make a commitment to this work. In the words of the late Congressman Rev. John Lewis; "Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble." He goes on to say “We have been too quiet for too long. There comes a time when you have to say something. You have to make a little noise. You have to move your feet. This is the time.”
1 Adapted from The Spiritual Formation Bible, Harper San Francisco, page 681-682.