The phrase I can’t breathe has deeper meaning every day. A month or two ago, it meant that Covid-19 sufferers were struggling to breathe, being put on ventilators, and some of them dying. We watched in grief and apprehension. Last week, those words were repeatedly said by George Floyd as he died. (I could not bring myself to watch the video – so that’s hearsay.) I read about it in horror. And now we watch in disbelief as protests turn violent; prominent cities are under curfews and police are under pressure to keep us and businesses safe.
Covid-19 attacks our bodies, the death of George Floyd has ravaged our hearts, and the righteous outcry turned destructive and violent is threatening our communities. We feel like we can’t breathe.
This is an eye-opening moment for Americans.
Actually, it’s an opportunity for every one of us to take a good look at our lives, our souls and our communities. For those who are willing to do that, their lives will be transformed for the better.
Covid-19 raised the issue of materialism to many of us. What makes us happy? Many of us have plenty of stuff, but when our entertainment was taken away we had the chance to experience what really satisfies. We noticed many families taking walks and bike rides – to get out of the house? – and the conversations we’ve had with family and friends via zoom have been priceless.
If the value of relationships had been forgotten in the rat race for stuff, success, and status, maybe we will take a deep breath and re-prioritize people over things.
George Floyd’s repeated expression I can’t breathe no doubt resonated with many black Americans, for they have felt the pressure and pain of racism. The cruelty and impunity of the treatment that killed George Floyd breaks my heart.
I am a middle class white woman, and I’ve had no experience with the racism that black people routinely deal with. I’ve read a few books that have expanded my thinking about racism to include structural racism and implicit bias, and I’m learning about the difference between not being a racist and being anti-racist. I want to continue to learn and to change.
When our hearts are broken, it’s a good time to repent of our failures, our sins, and ask God to transform us. Events as agonizing as this one may adjust a few attitudes, but only God can reconstruct our hearts. We can all make earnest decisions to stand against racism, but our social media inspired determination will fade. Our hearts need to change so that love is our default response.
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45
Racism is a deep heart problem, and in my experience God is the only one who can change our hearts. He has done it. He will do it again. Examine your heart, ask the Lord for forgiveness and resuscitation. Take a deep breath and ask God to show us all how to resist racism.
It’s awful that righteous protests turned into riots that do nothing but reinforce negative stereotypes and hurt a large percentage of people who are already staggering under Covid-19 and heartbroken over George Floyd. I don’t know how they devolved or who incited protesters to violence, but it is not helping.
Communities should be together in this, but there are those who continue to attempt to divide us. Both political parties are playing to the extreme positions of their bases. Neither is showing necessary leadership. It’s infuriating.
Love, not division and hatred, is our unifying hope. Jesus taught us to love God and to love others, even our enemies, and when asked what the greatest commandment was, he replied:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
Humility, repentance, love and faith in Jesus Christ lead us into relationship with God and give us access to power in his name. Many think it’s foolish, that God is irrelevant, but if we have eyes to see, we will discern an opportunity to re-calibrate our lives and our culture. We all have a part to play in creating a better society, but we cannot do it without the power of God.
After Jesus rose from the grave, he appeared to his disciples and said:
“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:21-22 (Italics mine)
Jesus breathed into them and those few disciples went into the world with Jesus’s message of grace, truth, acceptance and love. We need those truths in our world today. We need a breath of the Holy Spirit.
Then we will breathe.