It was after a United Methodist Family Christmas celebration at the Iowa Conference Center. There was great food, music, and fun activities for the children who came. Though it happened 10 years ago, I remember my contribution to the gathering that resulted in an honest remark from six-year-old Megan.
I was the storyteller, and I decided that one story was not sufficient. I got carried away in my assignment and my opportunity to communicate the hope and joy of Jesus with the children.
Megan was awaiting her ride home with her grandma in the Episcopal office when I asked how she enjoyed the celebration and hearing the stories I told. She rubbed her forehead, as though he had a headache and responded with unfiltered honesty, “Too many words.”
Like so many people across the globe, I have been praying and weeping. Weeping and wondering, how long? How long in this valley, O Lord?
For weeks we have been praying for relief from this global Coronavirus pandemic, which is robbing families of loved ones and survivors and communities of the ritual of grief and celebration. Now we add the pandemic of racism that is systemic, historic, and toxic. The death of George Floyd is yet another name added to a long list of wrongful deaths.
How long in this valley, O Lord?
This is a horror movie we have seen before, and we cannot talk our way to a better way of living. We must live and struggle, to love our way into a better way of relating. We can learn more, and reading may help some. We can participate in honest conversations and share our stories, which may inch us forward. We can denounce violence in our social media posts and applaud the peaceful protests as part of our democratic freedoms.
However, the Church and people who follow Jesus must answer some questions so that our witness is credible. Can we acknowledge our own part in the history of oppression in this nation? Are we willing to repent of the sin of racism and refuse to quietly tolerate bigotry and bias in our own communities and families? (These are people we love, and after all, we are all sinners.) Are we willing to shed the fallacy that the Church should stay silent on public policy, when it has taken years to erase “sundown laws” in Indiana, institute justice reform across the nation, and protect the voting rights of citizens of every hue?
As I was reminded, once again, by a layperson several weeks ago, “We need not act as though we have no power or live without hope. We have Jesus.” I would add that we also have the power of Pentecost.
I invite you not to rush to make promises we cannot keep. Let us sit with our feelings, listen, and hear the cries of anguish. When I think I know the best way forward, I am more likely to be guilty of “too many words.”
As your bishop, I invite you to join me in what I call the first business of the Church, which is seeking the face of God in prayer. This Sunday, June 7 at 3:30 p.m. (ET), we are hosting a Zoom prayer gathering. If you can’t join us on the Zoom call, pray in your homes, pray in your car, pray in your communities. Pray for peace with justice and healing of the earth.
2 Chronicles 7:14 (CEB)
If my people who belong to me will humbly pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.
Psalm 33:5 (CEB)
He loves righteousness and justice; the Lord’s faithful love fills the whole earth.
Bishop Julius C. Trimble
Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church