This evening the Center for Reconciliation held an online candlelight vigil. As board chair I made the opening remarks:
On behalf of the staff and the board of the CfR, I welcome all of you who have joined us for this time of prayer and silent vigil, on this the Eve of Juneteenth, the anniversary of Emancipation and the “effective” end of slavery in the United States, and in the week when we mark the fifth anniversary of the slaughter of innocent people at a Bible Study at Mother AME in Charleston. We are gathered from across the state and around the country to make a witness that our nation still has not lived up to what it claims about itself. All people are not equal in the United States. Black lives matter and the majority in this country have not behaved as if they do. They have not been equal from this nation’s founding and are not equal in the 21st century. We gather to grieve this, we gather to call for change, we gather this evening to commit ourselves to the work of making this nation a more perfect union, fully lamenting how much needs to be done, and how deeply hurtful our history is and has been to the people pushed to the margins by people like me and the communities that formed me.
In my religious tradition, which depends so much on the unbroken witness of the Jewish teachers and prophets, there is the practice of lament. There are times in human experience when we simply despair. Today, in this moment, we despair of a lack of justice, a lack of will to make effective change, and of lives lost to the forces which have corrupted us and are destroying us. We lament, joining our tears with those who have come before us, and those who will in all likelihood come after us. We lament that children are turned against one another by a lie that some are more valuable than others in human eyes. We lament that people die and are dying today because of our desire to have power over others, because of greed and fear and unbridled pride. And yet, I believe though that God has the power and does act to collect our tears, to wash us and renew us through them, and by lament and contrition we can be transformed.
And maybe this, throwing ourselves at God’s feet, repenting of the evil we have done, and which has been done on our behalf, is the most effective response in this moment to the battles that are being waged on the streets of our cities and in our capitals across the world today.
Tonight, the Center for Reconciliation, a program of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island has invited a diverse group of leaders to address us all. We will hear from them and be inspired by them. We will keep silence for 8 min and 46 seconds, a time that is now seared into our collective conscience, the time that passed as George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. We will name the victims of racism and its diabolic consequences and keep those names and their memory before us. We will lament and beseech God, our Higher Power, to move mightily for deliverance of the oppressed, and to change the hearts of stone that are causing sin and death.