This summer I’ve been reading the Biblical “Book of Jeremiah” as a spiritual discipline. Jeremiah was a fiery, politically connected prophet whose ministry revolved around the thankless task of warning the nation that it was about to be destroyed. Often referred to as the “weeping prophet,” Jeremiah spoke powerful words of truth that elicited persecution, imprisonment and scorn from both the powers that be and the ever-changing moods of we the people. His life was the kind that we honor in retrospect but find ourselves exceedingly uncomfortable with in the moment.
A couple weeks ago, Marissa Jenae Johnson, herself formed by a Christian faith rooted in prophets like Jeremiah and Jesus, along with fellow activist Mara Jacqueline Willaford, stormed on stage at a rally for Social Security, seized the mic, and refocused attention on the ongoing persecution of black lives everywhere. Her preaching offended most everyone. She called out white liberals as racist, reminding me of those fiery John the Baptist words, “you brood of vipers.” She spoke the rarely spoken truth that the land we Seattleites live on is Duwamish land, a people now officially written out of history as a non-tribe, a non-people.
But she was just getting started. She pointed out that the Seattle Police Department acts far more like an occupying army than a citizen-led entity that serves and protects the public. She spoke about the school system that tosses out black students far more than white and the continual forced exodus of black folk from Seattle due to the emergence of a market-driven gentrification project that is good for the propertied class but disastrous for traditional neighborhoods.
What we witnessed was the word of God spoken profoundly through an earthen vessel. There were immediate shouts of “arrest, arrest” from the liberal crowd. There was also the inevitable “deep concern” from the Pharisee sect, that is, from the boomer generation that seems to think that properness and control can change the hardened hearts of a militarized culture of continual consumption.
Every once in a while, the curtain obscuring the unvarnished, messy truth gets pulled back. Marissa was the storm of God yanking off that curtain while thundering prophecy to the gathered. In doing so, she won a tactical victory in that Bernie Sanders has now presented a racial justice package as part of his campaign. But more importantly, she also signaled to the church how to preach in a time of deception such as ours. Not that the church will listen. But in not listening, every time the church speaks about racism it will reveal itself as an empty shell, a proper and decent, reasonable but utterly irrelevant tomb of yesterday. The good news is that God can open tombs. Thank you Marissa.