Jesus and Riots: What Happened Yesterday and Where Do We Go from Here

Some thoughts from Wednesday's events

My thumbnail had broken in an odd shape sometime Wednesday. As I stayed up two nights in a row, first watching for the vote returns from GA and then waiting for the Electoral College results to finally be certified, I found myself tracing the odd shape with my finger, like it was an attached worry stone of some kind. I was worried and tense, of course, as I’m sure many of us were, but what wrenched my gut was the flags and signs bearing the name of Jesus. 

When I was in highschool, a bunch of us went through the WWJD? trend. We sported the bracelets without irony, and were known to ask each other in earnest as we navigated the various situations of our lives, “well, what do you think Jesus would do in this situation?” 

I find this all a bit ironic just now as this phase coincided with belonging to a non-denominational megachurch of the evangelical/charismatic flavor, a church that was almost 100% white, and steeped in homophobia. A church bent on “saving” (colonizing) the “heathens” of other countries, you know, the ones inhabited by black and brown folks--many of whom already happened to be Christian. 

This is just one of many examples of how the white evangelicalism I was raised with perpetuates white supremacy and white Christian nationalism, ideologies we saw the fruit of yesterday in multiple ways. 

There was no “failure of security” in so many words. There were assumptions based on biases, both examined and unexamined. I do think some of the folks asked about why the security at the capitol was so much lighter than it was this summer during the Black Lives Matter protests were genuinely confused as to why they personally hadn’t done more. That’s unexamined implicit bias. Then there’s the police who opened the barriers and strolled into the Capitol with the insurrectionists, at least one of whom was videoed taking selfies with members of the mob. One of the officers when asked why they weren’t doing more, responded, “we’ve just got to let them do their thing.” 

I’m sure you’ve seen the memes of the police in full military gear standing multiple rows thick on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in June because of the perceived threat our government sees when the crowd is majority black or brown versus the puny numbers behind the barricades yesterday when the crowd was majority white. 

Over the summer, I had friends tear-gassed and arrested for protesting and holding vigils. There was a curfew in Murfreesboro posted with less than 5 minutes of warning, and the police screamed at a group leaving a simple vigil as they crossed an intersection. They screamed at them and then immediately launched teargas into the street with no further warnings. The gas drifted down the street affecting children playing outside and a mother pushing a child in a stroller.

Then they randomly grabbed people and arrested them, stepping on one man’s foot with a horse, wrenching a young woman’s arms high behind her back like some medieval torturers. I wasn’t there in person, but I’d been following online and stayed up that night as part of an impromptu jail support team, helping collect donations for bail, and identifying the young man who’d been stepped on so we could bail him out. By morning, our ad hoc team had successfully freed all the wrongfully arrested people. 

Later that summer, a group of activists occupied the plaza outside our state capitol. The legislators weren’t in session at least for most of it, and I watched time after time as my friends and colleagues were arrested simply for trying to exist in the space and have their voices heard. They weren’t armed, and they weren’t trying to take over the capitol and they weren’t damaging anything. I sat vigil with them as backup jail support if needed, watching news and activist feeds as they were dragged apart, and carried out of the space as if they were dangerous criminals of some sort. 

The contrasts are stark. The mob yesterday initiated the tear gas by spraying chemical irritants at the police first. I never saw a single rubber bullet fired, and we know from reports that people were maimed and even killed over the summer because the police indiscriminately fired rubber bullets purposefully at people’s faces. No one was safe. Not moms standing in a line with their arms linked in solidarity with the protests nor journalists who were attempting to do their jobs and cover the protests. 

Until we all decide to address the toxicity of white supremacy that is in the DNA of our nation and winding its strands around the heart of every white person who does not commit to examining and deconstructing the fact that they were likely raised with this, none of us will be free. None of us will be free and authoritarianism will continue to rear its ugly head with promises of greatness (white greatness) and safety (from black and brown people and refugees). 

I don’t know the Jesus on those flags. The brown, colonized, one-time refugee Jesus I see in Scripture would have been harassed, beaten, and pepper sprayed like this woman was as she walked home yesterday and by chance encountered people leaving a MAGA rally. They blocked her, punched her, pulled off her wig, pinned her arms as her mask came down and then pepper sprayed her at point blank range after apparently demanding to know who she’d voted for. 

Yesterday was the feast of the Epiphany in the church calendar. It is the day the wise men came to visit the young child Jesus. Their visit also preceded Herod’s order that all male children under two years of age be murdered because he was afraid this child born to be king would usurp him, causing the wise men to return home a different way for their own safety, and Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt to protect Jesus’ life. 

I see Jesus in the faces of the children in cages, fleeing the horrors and persecutions of governments in countries that the United States overthrew or destabilized years ago, creating instability for our own purposes at the time, and refusing to help the innocents still affected by our actions

And while we’re discussing Christian nationalism, I can’t leave without mentioning that all the references made by legislators of both parties last night after they reconvened to the Capitol as “sacred” and a “temple” and so forth aren’t okay either. Our government is important, but we must be aware of this untethered religious language exalting it to something it is not. The solution will never be to create some kind of holy government. It will never exist because of the broken people participating. What we can do is attempt to make the government legislate better so that our laws can help all of us work for justice and equity. But the government has never and will never be the ultimate solution for that: that work comes from us in community, working together to birth the world we dream of into reality. 

This is already much longer than usual, so I’m going to leave off. We’ve got this, fam. If we stick together, and stick to the principles of justice and equity and thriving for all people, we can and will make a difference. 

Sit comfortably in a chair, with your feet on the floor. Close your eyes and breathe slowly in through your nose, hold the breath for a moment, then breathe out through the mouth until your lungs are empty. Notice any thoughts that come into your mind. Remember, all you need to do is acknowledge and then let go of the thoughts that come to mind. Continue breathing in the same pattern for several minutes, just observing the thoughts coming and going. Then, when you are ready, open your eyes.

This exercise can be powerful when paired with morning pages or other journaling afterwards.

The First Song of Isaiah Ecce, Deus

Isaiah 12:2-6

Surely, it is God who saves me; * I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, * and he will be my Savior. Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing * from the springs of salvation. And on that day you shall say, * Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name; Make his deeds known among the peoples; * see that they remember that his Name is exalted. Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, * and this is known in all the world. Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, * for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: * as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we will be saved, in quietness and in confidence will be our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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