Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
June 14, 2020
“I Can Breathe, Therefore”
Romans 5: 1-5 – New Revised Standard Version
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
I can breathe. Such a statement makes me think of times when people can’t.
For example, the way Covid 19 attacks the lungs is one of the scariest things about it. Some reports indicate that some of those who come off ventilators never regain their ability to fully breathe again. That’s one more reason to keep up the social distancing and wearing a mask in public. I have to admit that I don’t like how it feels to breathe through a mask. But, if I can save a life, therefore, I will.
Why else can’t people breathe? Air pollution corresponds to asthma that leaves people unable to fully take a breath. Ironically, how many people have said their asthma has not been as bad during our shelter at home?
And, of course, chokeholds and knees to the neck, when the officers applying the procedure decide to be judge, jury, and executioner all in one.
Today, you and I can breathe. Say, “I can breathe.” …… But I want to be more than grateful for breath. I invite you to add one more word to that statement. “I can breathe, therefore…”
At George Floyd’s funeral in Houston this week, his niece, Brooke Williams said, “I can breathe and as long as I’m breathing, justice will be served.”
I can breathe, therefore.
Protests around the country and around the world show no sign of stopping. They are beautiful displays of humanity yearning for a more perfect union, expressing hope in the promise of our nation, where all people, created equal in the eyes of our Creator, are truly free.
I don’t know if people fully appreciate that their expressions of anger are really expressions of hope. One wouldn’t demand change if they thought change was impossible. That would be truly depressing. And the consequences would be much worse.
That anger is the antidote. That anger is the antidote we have desperately needed. A cure for our collective slide into depression that nothing will save our country from the culture of cruelty cultivated by cowards, tolerated and even celebrated by too many “christians” more interested in power than piety. That anger is the antidote.
That rage is the remedy. That rage is the remedy for the communal cynicism we were developing over the depths of lawlessness by our president. Thank God for rage.
The medicine that will heal the mendacity of constant corruption and deceit is not hydroxychloroquine but hope and truth. Telling the truth of white supremacy is medicine that can heal our country.
The very first treatment for the toxicity of America’s original and ongoing sin is to take a deep breath. To recognize that we can breathe. Say, “I can breathe.” ……
We have an antidote for anger, a remedy for rage, medicine for mendacity, and a treatment for toxicity. Now, all those beautiful and hopeful protests can be turned into meaningful policies and practices that upend systems that allow or even encourage brutality.
Protest is one step in the process of social change. And keeping up the pressure. Protester is one of the roles necessary for transformation. But there’s more to it than protest, which is especially important to remember because many of us would like to be on the streets but cannot. Thankfully there are plenty of possibilities for all of us who can breathe. Say, “I can breathe.” ……
Deepa Iyer has written about the many roles necessary for social change, one of which is the role of disruptors who speak up when its uncomfortable and take action when its risky. Not all of us can do that in the midst of a pandemic. That’s not a bad thing because it reminds us of all the other things we can do to answer our own personal “I can breathe, therefore.”
We also need bridge builders who can simultaneously work across divisions with patience. Not all of us have the kind of persistence and fortitude required to change minds.
This week Bob Lederer told our Touchbase Tuesday group about a group of friends he has had for 50 years, some of whom have long espoused views of the world that are offensive. Bob has always kept his tongue tied in order to keep the peace. But something one of them said about the protests crossed a line. And Bob said something. He told his long-time group of friends that he had finally had enough and that he was taking a break. But, he left the door open for reconciliation. Bob was nervous before their first conversation after his break. But before Bob could say anything, his friend offered a massive apology for what he called his egregious behavior and said, “We are better than this.” He said that he and his wife had talked about it the whole weekend. It was only because Bob said something that risked separation that a bridge could be built. Sometimes peace comes, a bridge is built, because we are honest and speak our truth instead of saying nothing.
We need both disruptors and bridge builders who can work across divisions. You can breathe. What is your therefore?
We need visionaries. We need visionaries who can show us our north star when others can’t even see the sky. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, and Opal Tometi simply cried out “our lives matter” after the murders of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. But they also began to articulate a vision. And a movement was born that became Black Lives Matter, because of their vision.
But alongside, we must have people who know how to organize and mobilize resources needed for those visions of social transformation. People who have vision don’t always know how to make that vision practical.
Dr. King is celebrated for having a dream. But how many people did it take for him to proclaim that on steps of the Lincoln Memorial? For every Dr. King there was a Bayard Rustin and thousands more behind the scenes.
We also need artists and storytellers, poets and musicians, who sharpen that vision and imagine what else is possible. You can breathe. Is that your therefore?
We also need caregivers who provide nourishment and support. Who are all those people delivering water and ice to protesters around the country? Who was in the basement of countless church kitchens cooking meals – in Birmingham, in Selma? Who brought the bandages to tend the wounds of those crossing the Edmund Pettis bridge?
In addition to caregivers, we need healers who walk alongside those of us who live with the trauma of generation after generation of white supremacy, racism, capitalism, and patriarchy. Is being a caregiver or a healer your therefore?
And we need builders who can develop all of these ideas into structures and the scaffolding for organizations. And whose money, whether $10 or $10,000, turns protests into movements into policies.
Funny how the same thing is true for churches. But perhaps that’s not surprising. The church was born as a movement in response to the toxic collaboration of religion and state that conspired to execute Jesus. Jesus hung on a cross until he couldn’t breathe anymore. In response, out of his death, a movement of love was born. The church has seen its share of times when it had to be shocked back into alignment with the vision of the world Jesus proclaimed. The behavior of the church through centuries has sometimes required anger and rage at its injustice. Without all the roles necessary for social change, the church would stagnate and perhaps die. It needs the collective of all who can breathe working together.
No movement is complete without all of us who can breathe. Say, “I can breathe.” ……
I am hopeful. But it’s not just because we decide to have hope. It’s because of the suffering that produced endurance that produced character that produced hope. Paul told the Romans to boast in their hope. I’m not sure I like that. I know I don’t like that. But Paul was clear that their hope was not something they created for themselves but a gift that comes from their faith. Faith that comes from God’s love poured into us by the Spirit. The original gift of breath by God who invites us, motivates us, to play our role. May God help each of us to realize, “I can breathe, therefore.”
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My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Traveling around the world