By now, many of you will have heard about and seen the video of the unconscionable killing of Ahmaud Arbery. He, a 25-year-old black male, was out jogging when he was chased down by two white males in a truck and herded like an animal before being senselessly shot and killed.
I was aghast when I heard he was killed February 23. Why had we not heard about this yet? It makes me nauseas to think that it took 74 days and a horrific video of beautiful Ahmaud’s muscular frame collapsing on the concrete to get the wheels of justice turning.
And I said “beautiful” on purpose. Wasn’t he beautiful? I must have stared at his picture 100 times in the last three days. The warm and welcoming smile, those eyes that shine like a man made in the image of God.
When I saw the video, I immediately started thinking about my friend, Dante, a world-class athlete who played football at Clemson University. Dante is a burgeoning theologian, a brilliant poet, and is the proudest dad of his precious, young son. Just last year he was harassed by an older white man who was talking smack to him from his porch. The man didn’t want Dante walking in “his” neighborhood, as if anyone has the right to claim a neighborhood to himself. Dante filmed the exchange and I’ve seen it. It was bone-chilling. Pure evil.
When I saw the video, I thought about Durward, my friend of over 20 years. Durward has one of the smoothest voices I’ve ever heard. Listening to him play piano and sing the old hymns of the church moves me to tears every time. How can so much spiritual heritage live in one voice? And yet it does. Yesterday Durward said, “I’m beginning to feel like an endangered species.” It broke my heart. And it broke God’s, too.
When I saw the video, I thought about Ken, my friend from church. Ken might be one of the most encouraging and vivacious men I’ve ever been around. He prays for me and demands that when I preach, I do it with everything in my being. He always tells me he’s got my back, and I know he does. We go and get lunch and talk sports and church and family and spur each other on toward holiness. Ken loves to go for a run early in the morning or late at night. It’s one of those things that brings him to life. But his wife often pleads with him not to go. Maybe after seeing the video of Ahmaud you could understand why?
I have never had someone taunt me from their porch and tell me I wasn’t welcome in “their” neighborhood. I have never felt endangered in America because of my skin color. I have never had my wife beg me to not go on a jog around the neighborhood.
Dante, I’m so very sorry. I grieve with you. I love you. I stand with you.
Durward, I’m so very sorry. I grieve with you. I love you. I stand with you.
Ken, I’m so very sorry. I grieve with you. I love you. I stand with you.
For all my sisters and brothers, I’m so very sorry. I’m not here trying to be a hero. I’m just here to say I’m sorry if you’ve experienced any or all of the above. Some of you will have experienced all of it and so much more. I grieve with you. I love you. I stand with you. And with all my heart, I’ll be a part of the army of people who come together to do whatever it takes.
I go back to beautiful Ahmaud. Because I think it all turns on our ability to see the beauty in the sheer existence of another person. Racism is the perverse offspring of a pair of eyes and a hardened heart that have come together in their refusal to acknowledge the beauty in another person. A person that’s made in the Image of God.
Tonight, as I’m getting ready for bed, my soul is in travail and I’m calling on Jesus. I’m calling on Jesus because he knows what it is to have his darkened flesh battered and beaten and brutalized. Isaiah the prophet, peering into the future, strained to say these words:
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”
That’s why I’m calling on Jesus. Because he knows.
So, Lord Jesus, help us. Forgive us. Heal us. Restore us. Re-train us in beauty. And lead us to that Day when every nation, tribe, tongue and people group gather joyfully and peaceably around your throne. Amen.