This following sermonette was brought about by a story I stumbled across on the web about a mother in Chicago receiving the high school diploma of her slain son. Her son was killed on the sidewalk after walking up to a group of three young men. No arrests have been made. I read the story and was disturbed by the rosy picture of the slain son. The story reports he wanted to go to college and how happy and jovial he was as a person, but somehow I felt it was only a half image. I’m not trying to pathologize young black men, but if a brother walks up to three people on a street, apparently there’s some familiarity–meaning he probably knew his killer.
The code of silence of the community keeps this violence happening.
We stand by and say nothing. We peer out of our windows and say nothing. We see injustice and we don’t bat an eye. Why? Because we may be the next dead body found in our homes or the street? We very well may be.
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL
“The Death of Life”
For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
the days have already come when both have been forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise too must die!
So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me.
All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
It has become commonplace in the context of our community too see t-shirts airbrushed and stamped with the view of the sky and a sunburst in the background and pictures of a young black male in various casual and posed shots. At the bottom is their name, a nickname in quotes and all too familiar two words “sunrise” and “sunset” with two anno domini years placed beneath it. It has become an all too familiar occurrence to log onto Facebook and run across a status update that refers to the death of a young person; to come across a memorial photo with a name and the phrase “gone to soon” and the ubiquitous “rest in peace” tag.
Death remains a mystery to all of us in the room, but it’s a final mystery. The reality and finite qualities of death always grab our attention, pulling us from life, tapping us on the shoulder and reminding us of its existence. However, it has become too common a moment when death does not gently tap us on the shoulder reminding us, but knocks us out with a heavy blow laying us flat on our backs. It is here and it is real.
Dealing with the death our young people is common in the inner city black community. We have gotten accustomed to Death as a part of Life. Yes, while all people succumb to that ultimate statistic—ten out of ten people die—we ought not recognize Death as the norm to Life. The death of Life ought not be normal in our community. When recognize the death of Life as normal, then life is seen as abnormal.
When Life becomes abnormal, it’s not unusual for our young black men to have kids at age sixteen and seventeen because they expect death by age 25. If we have moved to point in our collective and communal consciousness that the lives of young black men beyond the age of 25 is abnormal, it should come to no shock that the young black women of our community are promoting manhood by age five. Telling a five year old to “Be a man” and to “Man up” and not show any emotions is considered normal, because by age 13, they will be considered middle age in a community that accepts the death of Life as just the way it is.
If we have moved to a place in our black communities where complacency has set in like dry rot in an old house, permeating the essence of our conscience, then we have already lost the battle. If the death of the lives of our young black men is Life itself, we have conceded our consciousness over to the enemy at the gates.
One would think that we would tire of seeing “sunrise” and “sunset” dates differing no more than 25 years for our beloved Pookie. One would think that we would tire of seeing Facebook memorial pages dedicated to our black brothers, dead before 25…but we don’t. One would think that we would grow weary of hearing preachers eulogize slain brothers repeating the bankrupt and hollow phrase “heaven must have needed an angel”…but we don’t. The people who make airbrushed t-shirts with the computer generated images shouldn’t be making any money in our communities—there should be no need for such forms of memorializing.
It is a problem when Death defines the context of a community. No longer do we measure time by kindergarten promotions, baby dedications, weddings, eighth grade and high school graduations, senior proms, but we measure them by distances between shootings, deaths and funerals. When optimism moves to pessimism and pessimism moves to cynicism and cynicism moves to nihilism, we have experienced the death of Life. When a community experiences the death of Life, God becomes an afterthought.
The title of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Masoretic text is “Qoheleth” and has been translated as “The Speaker” or even “The Preacher.” Some even understand it as “The Voice.” From whatever point of view one understands it, I think the sentiments and emotions that are voiced in these two verses speak to where many of us in the black community see ourselves. This concept of nihilism, this belief in nothing beyond you yourself, is not a new concept; it is as old as the world is young.
However, the redemption of this nihilism is what is at issue. What a sad state of affairs to be living waiting on Death. A false bravado that “I ain’t afraid of nothing” including Death is a false hope in the known certainty of the unknown character of Death. Tempting Death with your lived experience does not a man make.
For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered. Might as well make your mark on the world you say; all of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind you may reason. Well, I’m not here to preach Jesus and have you give your hand to the preacher and give your heart to God. I’m not here to tell you that if you get S-A-V-E-D you’ll be S-A-F-E from hell. My job is to not offer you Christ and then suddenly you’ll change your ways. My assignment is to offer you the chance of Life.
I want to offer a chance at a life that moves from nihilism and enters into a new wonder and consciousness of you and of God. Now if that consciousness comes through Jesus, then so be it. But if it doesn’t, I won’t lose any sleep over it. But I be damned—the name of Jesus— if I am okay with seeing any more violence begetting more violence that results in one more black man being killed.
We are not allowed to be okay with seeing teddy bear and candle memorials on street corners with rain faded posters and Mylar balloons listing in the
afternoon sun. We do not have the privilege to be okay with seeing single black mothers accept high school diplomas on behalf of their murdered child cradling a posthumous award as the last accomplishment of the fruit of their womb. We do not have the authority to accept t-shirts and FB page memorials of our slain youth as normal ways of Life. We are not given divine permission to be okay with news stories and funeral sermons that act as if the deceased and their relatives and all friends present are removed from corporate responsibility for the death of the one laid out in the casket.
When will we as a community move from grief to action? We’ve become inured to the pain of death and unable to recognize and accept the joys of Life. In too many of our communities, our pessimism about our children making it is really shrouded nihilism. If we already don’t believe that our children are going to make it past 25, what’s the point of preparing them for a life past that age. If a post-25 year black male life is a foreign concept, one that is filled with vast blankness, it’s no wonder that we are okay with the death of Life as we see it.
This myopic inability to see Life outside of the context of death is supposed to be saved for those to succumb to natural causes. At the morgue the coroner and medical examiner have hundreds of reasons to choose for cause of death. One of the simplest is “natural causes.” But too often in our community, we see “death by gunshot wound” as a natural cause. Recognizing death through murder as a natural cause, and even going out like a man, we have ceded control of our own lives resulting in death having the final say over our Life.
But I stand here today and decree and declare in the name of the One who sent me that Death will not have the final say over Life as long as there is breath in my body. As you eat, live, breath, move and have your being about you; every moment and every second of every day you have another chance to live. Every moment, you have one more chance to say to hell with Death and say yes to Life. You are empowered to do things different; you are empowered to stay in school and be somebody. As a community we are empowered to say to hell with the statistics, to hell with nay-sayers and the haters, to hell with the system hell-bent on keeping us left behind, to hell with the people who choose Death over Life.
You shall live and NOT die!
If Paul can say “O death, where is thy sting; O grave where is your victory” I can say that this is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it—I CHOOSE LIFE. To hell with the killings, to hell with the murders, to hell with nihilism, to hell with pessimism and to hell Death. And no I’m not using “hell” as some colloquial cussin’ but hell as a eschatological and imaginative destination and hell as an existential reality. The things that cause Death in our community, we need to confront them, stand in its face say Get the hell out of our Life, you are no longer welcome here. I dare each and every one of you to make up in your mind to speak the Death of Death and proclaim the joys of Life.
If Death no longer has its sting then we can put a new song in our heart, receive the joy of the Lord—this joy that I have, the world didn’t give it and the Lord can’t take it away. If the grave no longer has it’s victory, then I can say “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is my strength.” If Death no longer has the final say, then I can say with an assured voice weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning light.