I have struggled with what to do about this image. Captured by a friend / fellow counter-protester in Charlottesville, VA, it speaks volumes but it also depicts me. On the one hand, I want the world to know that a minister from Pullen Memorial Baptist Church stood on the right side of history (as usual). Yet, on another hand, I do not want the attention to be drawn to me. This was not about me. It was about something far greater. Also, there seems to be some confusion with the image. Allow me to explain what’s going on.
This image was taken shortly after two cans of smoke bomb (some say tear gas) were thrown into the crowd of counter-protesters by white supremacists gathered at Emancipation Park. A dear friend and I were in the crowd but on the opposite side from where these cans landed. This picture was taken as I was walking away, scanning the crowd who had been behind me. The bandanna and sunglasses, primarily for safety, covered my face from the potential direct contact with chemical sprays being used by white supremacists. The other important use was to protect our identity at certain times. White supremacy groups have people that are given the task of taking pictures of us so that we can later be identified, found, harassed, and/or beaten.
The stole (the red cloth bearing artwork depicting Pentecost – but comes in many shapes, sizes, colors, and images) is worn by clergy around the world. In this context, it is a way for us to communicate to the crowd that we are here for peace and comfort and to be of help to people.
Choosing the Pentecost stole to wear this day was intentional; redrawing the day when the spirit descended on the people and the gospel of love was spoken to all people in their own language. It was a defining role for me. Not to scream or throw things, but to stand in peaceful opposition, to listen to people as they cried out and expressed their feelings, to protect the innocent victims of violence from graphic media coverage, to speak a universal language of the gospel of love.
This image, to me, is powerful and speaks to who we are as people of faith. The image speaks what it means to live fully into the life and message of Jesus; running headstrong into the darkest places in our society to be a peaceful, loving, inclusive resistance to the darkness. We also know that, as a result of that lifestyle, you will be crucified. Heather Heyer literally lost her life in front of me and many other were injured. All of the counter-protesters have been verbally crucified by our president and many others. The ones I know and have seen on social media have been verbally crucified by loved ones. Family. Friends. Neighbors. It is the cost. It is taking up your cross daily. It is losing your life to find it.
But what the resurrection narrative tells us is that the darkness is incapable of winning. That in a world created by love itself, Love Wins. Each and everyday, there is work being done in the world by good people that broadens our inclusiveness. When the day is done for you, love will resurrect itself in another soul and the work will continue to be done.
I could spend the next 3000 words giving an account of what I witnessed that day in Charlottesville. Associated with it is a lot of pain, heartache, loneliness, and trauma. What I would encourage anyone who was not there to do is to spend some time with someone who was there. I know 4 others and they would all love the opportunity to share with you the darkness and the beauty witnessed in that weekend.
Live in the hope that Love Wins but never stop fighting, for the work is never done. And may the message of Pentecost accompany you.