What does a storm look like?
I woke up this morning to discover a few small puddles on the ground around my house. It rained last night. But I don’t remember hearing anything. There was no rushing wind. No lightning.
Storms are recognizable. When you’re in a storm, you know it.
But I was in my house, sleeping in my bed, and I heard nothing. If there was a storm, it didn’t wake me from sleeping.
There are, for certain, other types of storms besides the weather phenomenon we experience in the pacific northwest. There are storms that are made from elements much less live-giving than water. There are storms which infest and infect the land and the people with something that is not life-giving, but instead spreads a feeling dread, and fear, and anger.
These storms raged throughout the weekend, and they did indeed keet me from sleeping sound.
For the last 2 days, white supremacists, Nazis, and a host of armed militia descended like a cloud of locust onto Charlottesville, Virginia with the expressed purpose of furthering the message, rhetoric, and ideology of white supremacy. 1 person was killed after a 20 year old white supremacist drove into a crowd full of protesters, and dozens more were injured. Two police officers died when their helicopter went down after they had been monitoring the rally. A storm of violence, bigotry, and racism was put on display for the world to see.
A storm looks like a crowd of hundreds of angry white men, yelling and carrying torches. From the inside of St. Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church, which is where some of our spiritual family were gathered on Friday night, a storm sounds like unearthed Nazi slogans like “Blood and Soil,” and racial and antisemetic slurs which I will not repeat…. The storm of racial purity propaganda raged outside, and the sound of the hymns, and the preaching, and the prayer filled the space inside.
The storm that battered Charlottesville, Virginia has a name, and its name is white supremacy.
White supremacy is a storm with a logic; a design; a function. The logic of white supremacy says that white people belong — by design, and in the opinion of many of those gathered this weekend, by divine right — on the top of the racial, cultural, and social hierarchy. The logic of white supremacy is a logic of dominance; a logic of superiority. It is a logic that denies or distorts the imago dei — the religious principle we hold dear that says that we are made in the image of God — by saying that some are made more perfect, more worthy, more pure.
The logic of white supremacy is a completely artificial, unnatural construction. It is harmful. It is divisive. It is sin.
And the logic of white supremacy is not new. This logic has informed the way that our entire society is constructed. This logic built the criminal justice system, which disproportionately incarcerates Black and Brown people for the benefit of white people; the education system, which underfunds and understaffs schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods in favor of funding white schools; and the entire capitalist system, which has always treated People of Color, in America and around the globe, as cheap, or in many cases, free labor to put money and cheap goods into the pockets and living rooms of white people.
The logic of white supremacy is a part of the legacy of the church, too. Like it or not, the KKK is a Christian organization. Like it or not, many men in that march were carrying crosses. The logic which has informed white supremacy is related to the logic of Christian supremacy, and sometimes the two are impossible to distinguish.
White supremacy has influenced our formation as Americans, as racialized people, and as Christians. It is a storm that has been raging for generations, and we are sitting in the boat, soaking wet.
So what do we do?
What do we do when we’re sitting in a boat in the middle of the sea, and Jesus is nowhere in sight? The wind is raging, and the boat is filling, and we are scared. We are scared because the storm seems bigger and more powerful than us. We cannot control the wind, we think. We are stuck here, in this boat, and there’s no changing it.
But then what happens?
God says – Be Not Afraid…. I am with you.
That’s what happens.
That’s how the response to the storm begins: a recognition that God is with us. We are not alone in the boat. We are not tasked with facing this storm in absence of the one who created us.
But whatever comfort we find in God’s presence cannot stop us from what we must do next. In the Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus does not calm the storm until after Peter steps out of the boat, onto the surface of the water. Jesus acted in response to Peter’s willingness to have courage and move toward that storm which terrified him.
And I will not stand here and pretend that I am not afraid by what I see. Sometimes I am Peter, looking down at the water, slipping down into the abyss of my own fear and rage.
But where does the word of faith reside, Paul asks? On our mouth and in our hearts. And a word in the mouth is a spoken word. A word in the heart is a word that runs through your veins and inspires you to stand up from your seat, step over the rails, and walk onto the water toward the extended hand of God.
The storm of racism, of hate, of fear, of war is raging on the streets, on our television screens, in the halls of government, and on social media. And many of us are still sitting in the boat in the middle of the sea, and we cannot locate God in our midst. Some of us don’t even realize that we are soaking wet.
But God is calling us onto the surface of the water. God is ready to provide us with the courage to walk into the storm, lifted up by the power of the Spirit, in order to proclaim that the storm is not beyond the reach of God’s redeeming love.
Let me say that again: the storm is not beyond the reach of God’s redeeming love. The storm is not of God, but the storm can be subsided by God. WITH OUR PARTICIPATION.
We have to cultivate a faith in God’s ability to heal all things, to calm all storms, that is strong enough to embolden us get out of the boat and step into the storm. The Gospel tells us that we will not be alone. God will be with us, holding us up.
May we find the strength to move beyond our fear. May we take the extended hand of Jesus and step out into the storm, trusting that God will lift us up.