By Susan K. Smith,
Sometimes, there are words contained in the Bible which, when read, act as spiritual protein or perhaps as a green, leafy vegetable, written, it seems, to strengthen our spiritual resolve and maybe even our faith when something happens in our lives that makes our hearts ache.
Yesterday was such a day as in Columbus, an arbitrator decided to reinstate a white police officer into the Columbus Police Department who had been fired in 2017 by the public safety director for kicking a young black man in the head as he lay on the ground in handcuffs.
This same officer had been in the news before this incident because of his involvement in the shooting death of an unarmed black man in 2016. One more time, a black life was dishonored by law enforcement, carrying out the long-standing tradition of law enforcement doing just that. White law enforcement officers have throughout history metaphorically stomped on and kicked black people in the head and worse, not worrying about having to be held accountable.
They have been deputized to do what they do, and I imagine many scoff at attempts to rein them in, but worse, symbolically or perhaps in real life smirk when grand juries or jury trials absolve them of any wrongdoing. They by their actions show that black lives do not matter and have never mattered.
The pervasiveness of evil is not new; its stubborn persistence in spite of there being a God is perhaps responsible for the words found in Psalm 37: Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious of the workers of iniquity, for they shall soon be cut down like the grass and wither as the green herb.”
When? When will the evil called white supremacy finally be cut down and wither?
We do not have the answer to the question. All we know is that it has been going on forever.
One’s heart can only ache for so long before the spirit urges one to take action, to step out of fear and anger and to risk everything in order to get something. In her book At the Dark End of the Street, author Danielle L. McGuire talks about the black women who were behind the Montgomery but boycott. Black men certainly suffered under American apartheid, but so did black women. As they traveled to clean and cook for white women, they suffered abuse from white bus drivers who had been deputized to keep them “in their place.” By the time Rosa Parks was arrested, black women, who were tired of their hearts aching, had already organized enough to call for a boycott.
Their aching hearts would not allow them to do anything less.
Black women of all classes, hues and education got tired of being humiliated and when Rosa Parks was arrested, gathered at Alabama State University and used the mimeograph machine to make 52,000 flyers in one night calling for a one-day bus boycott. The next day, they hit the streets passing them out everywhere. They stood on street corners; they went into barber shops and beauty parlors. Their aching hearts propelled them into action; they could not sit still and be quiet. Had it not been for the aching hearts of those black women, there would not have been a bus boycott – not one day and certainly not for 381 days. Their action was fed by their aching hearts, the same ache that propelled Leymah Gbowee to spur women in Liberia to get Charles Taylor removed from office.
As we fight against injustice we also deal with our aching hearts; words like those quoted above become simultaneously food and balm. But the beauty of those words and others found in the Bible is that they also strengthen the very heart that is aching, and after a while, the aching heart begs action. Aching hearts become agents in “cutting down the green grass” of injustice – be it in the form of racism or sexism or poverty or any other form of injustice. The aching heart cries from within us and moves us from the fetal position which typifies a lack of capacity to cope, to human beings willing to do whatever it costs to be able to stand and walk with dignity.
When the report came that this Columbus police officer was reinstated into the Columbus Police Department, the universe must have gasped. The foot soldiers for justice took in a long breath. The struggle continues and it is exasperating.
But if enough hearts are aching, even in this time where white supremacy is strutting amongst us with a renewed arrogance, some are being moved from complacency and fear to courage and action.
Aching hearts will only take so much. They are a gift to the fight for justice. It is a weird thing to thank God for, but we can thank God anyhow because of the fact that aching hearts make us stand up and risk everything when we can’t take the pain of aching anymore. Aching hearts compel us to let go of what we cannot take anymore and work for what we thought we would never have.
Thank God, then, for aching hearts. They are a gift too precious to the work we have been called to do.
Amen and amen.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith –Writer, author, musician, pastor, preacher and social justice advocate. She is a graduate of Yale Divinity School and author of “Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives,” which won the 2009 National Best Books Award. Follow Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith on Twitter:www.twitter.com/cassad