By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson
Victorian poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) wrote a poem titled “Who has Seen the Wind?”* It goes like this:
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by
During this week when we consider the wind and flame that came on the day of Pentecost, it is clear that a mighty wind can do great things, even though it is invisible. The Spirit of God is indeed the most powerful force in all of the universe and beyond, making a strong case that such invisible things are everlasting and are the source of creation.
II Corinthians 4:18 says “The things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Hebrews 11:3 notes, “The universe was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” When we see the beauty of creation and marvel at the power of Jesus’ resurrection and eternal life, we can truly affirm with the poet that though we cannot see it, “the wind is passing by.”
Yet we cannot ignore the other invisible spirits at work in this world. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Just as there is the Holy Spirit, there are invisible powers of evil that cause great sadness and destruction. There’s that kind of wind as well.
As I ponder the recent revelation of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a young, black jogger in Atlanta, and the even more recent murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, the evil spirit of racism is clearly alive and prevalent in this country. In recent years it seems to be increasing at an alarming rate, as we hear about these crimes. There is invisible evil in the hearts and souls of people that gets acted out in violent ways.
Film-maker and United Church of Christ pastor, Rev. Otis Moss III was featured in a recent issue of Religion News Service (May 20, 2019) speaking about this invisible enemy:
“As we are all sheltering in place to recognize the invisible enemy of COVID-19, there is also an invisible enemy that affects our behavior, being racism, privilege, the inability for the heart to be compassionate to people who are different but not deficient.”
Jesus spoke about this when he said, “Out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 11:19)
We are all “infected” with sin as we collaborate with the spiritual forces of evil. It starts in the heart, and then it is lived out in behaviors that wreak havoc in the world. We so quickly rush to excuse ourselves for our sins and find ways to blame someone else, or try to minimize its influence on our lives. Temptation and the resulting sin is real and is like “a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8).
All sin needs to be opposed with the overcoming power of the Holy Spirit. In memory of Ahmaud Arbery, whose death took months to uncover, and the recent death of George Floyd, I would like to shine a light on the sin of racism.
Racism, this invisible enemy, is something we need to address for the health and wholeness of all of humanity. It is right here in our hearts, our neighborhoods, and our annual conference. It must be addressed by people who have white privilege. Think about these questions:
Do you consider yourself better than people of color?
When do you separate yourself from people who are different from you?
Does your local church reflect the Acts 2 diversity of creation?
Do you support political views that favor the rich and the majority culture?
Do you make friends only with white people?
Do you support only businesses that are owned by people who look like you?
Do you sit silently when they are making inappropriate racial remarks?
These are important questions for white people to consider and then do something about. It is not enough to just think about it if things are ever going to change.
Dismantling racism is a long journey and not something that is “once and done.” We need to be committed to doing battle with this invisible enemy. As we do, we build a church and a world where everyone is beloved and cherished, and no one of any race or ethnicity is seen as “less than” or deserving of harm, oppression or death because of the color of their skin.
(*In public domain)