by Mike Kinman
Our scripture tells us that the pain of the people is sacred. It is seen by God. It is heard by God. It is known – intimately – by God.
And God responds.
“Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings.” – Exodus 3:7
In late September, JR Thomas, a black man struggling with mental illness, died after being tased repeatedly and bound by the Pasadena police. His death, in front of his pregnant wife, caused his largely black neighborhood and people throughout Northwest Pasadena and the wider region to cry out in pain and anger.
JR Thomas’ death was not only tragic in itself, it triggered the memories and pain of 2012 when police shot and killed Kendrec McDade, an unarmed 19-year old black man. It connected with similar deaths of black people at the hands of police across the nation – Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald and a list of other #SayHisNames and #SayHerNames too numerous to mention.
JR Thomas’ death connected with the feeling of disposability that people of color have in this country … with deep systemic racism and dysfunction that affects every system in this country but is particularly felt by people of color in their interactions with our systems of policing.
There is deep pain in America. There is deep pain in Northwest Pasadena and throughout this community. And much of it is tied to our systems of policing. And that pain is sacred. It must be expressed. It must be felt. If healing is ever to happen, the pain and the anger cannot be pushed aside. It must be acknowledged, felt and dealt with.
In Advent, we prepare for God’s ultimate response to the cries of her children … becoming one of us. Not just seeing and hearing it but knowing it as intimately as possible … by becoming one with those who are crying out.
God became human in Jesus because God knows the pain of the people is sacred. The pain of the people must be seen … and heard … and felt.
As followers of Jesus, where the pain of the people is … so we must be also. And where there are people in power, we must bring the pain of the people there, too.
Nearly every Thursday evening at 8:00 since I came to Pasadena, I have joined a growing group of people at the Garfield entrance to the Pasadena Police Department for what has become known as “A Subversive Liturgy.”
Begun by a small group of students at Fuller Seminary, including a brilliant young activist named Andre Henry and All Saints Church’s own Lauren Grubaugh, we set up a small memorial to JR Thomas with candles and flowers, anoint the entrance to the police department and one another with blessed fragrant oil to mark this public space and all human bodies as sacred, and have a service of prayer, song, lament, and preaching of the Word.
The purpose of this “subversive liturgy” is both to create a safe space where the sacred pain of the community can be expressed, where feeling, grieving and healing can happen … and also to bring that pain to the doorstep of those who have sworn to protect our community. To subvert the powers that killed JR Thomas and Kendrec McDade with the ultimate power of love.
The liturgy has grown from five or 10 people to nearly 30 or 40 – including, I am glad to say, a growing number of All Saints parishioners. It is a beautiful, organic example of a community in grief claiming the power of its pain and anger and inviting those in power to share it, hear it and respond to it.
Every time I have been to this liturgy, I have been deeply moved. If you want to get a taste of last week’s liturgy, you can click on this link to the archived video I took as I live streamed it
I invite you to come and join us on Thursday night at 8 – and every Thursday night during Advent – for this liturgy of prayer and lament. I can think of no better way to prepare for the coming of Christ than to do as God did … hear, see and respond to the cries of God’s people. To meet Jesus where he is standing … in the midst of the mourning people at the Pasadena PD.
For more information on this week’s liturgy, see the Facebook event here
If you cannot make this event live (and I hope you will try), I will be streaming it live on Facebook here.
Mike Kinman is the Rector of All Saints Church, Pasadena