Where, O Victory, Is Your Joy?

Like many of you, following the three guilty verdicts of former officer Derek Chauvin, my instinct was to rejoice and to breathe a sigh of relief. Surely this was “justice”, yes? But, almost at the same time, like so many more of you, came the equally palpable feelings of deep grief and anger. To paraphrase one clergy colleague, juries can hand out verdicts, but they cannot raise the dead. If the grief points to a reality, it is the many dead whose lives were taken from us much too soon, whose futures were cut short by a system that seems to disregard the dignity and worth of black and brown people. As I stood at George Floyd Memorial Square the evening of the Chauvin verdicts, leader after leader called on us to temper relief with persistence, to give joy but a moment and then to press on in our collective quest for racial justice.

What we had received on April 20th was momentary accountability. Justice remained a goal as yet to be realized. Into this truth, I received an email from Keith Davis, our member and a visible leader at St. John’s. Keith, as you know, is a regular verger, lector, volunteer in several ministries, passionate advocate for Lent Madness, committed Chicago sports fan in the midst of Vikings and Cheeseheads, and a black man practicing his faith in a predominantly white congregation and denomination. I have long appreciated Keith’s willingness to go the extra mile in conversations of race and justice, something we white folk often expect our black and brown brothers and sisters to do on our behalf, to help us understand and get it, when we need to do the work ourselves. But, Keith shows up to these conversations, especially here at St. John’s, not out of a sense of obligation but out of a deep, patient, love of the people who also call this faith community home. So, when I received this email, I was equally grateful that he was willing for it to be shared, as his own reflection on and processing of the grief and tension of the past week following the verdicts in the Derek Chauvin trial but also his own hopes for where we as a community, and a society, will go next in our quest for Racial Justice.

Thank you, Keith, for sharing these powerful and beautiful words.

The Rev’d Jered Weber-Johnson, Rector, St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church

We cannot move forward into the light by retreating further into darkness.  Let us end each day one step closer to our best selves.

– Keith Davis

Like many of you, April 20, 2021 at 4pm is indelibly etched on my heart and mind.  I imagine it will forever be one of those, “Where were you” moments like the Kennedy/King assassinations, the O.J. Simpson verdict, and 9-11.  I sat anxiously before my television awaiting word of Derek Chauvin’s fate.  Text/phone messages and notifications on every information platform alerted me of the impending announcement.  I sat tensely on the edge of the sofa, the spot where mom and grandma told me never to sit because doing so ruined the cushions.  My stomach cringed, pulse quickened, body rocked to and fro as Judge Cahill read the verdicts:  GUILTY, GUILTY, GUILTY!!!

What should have been a time of celebration, praise, and thanks was instead a collision of emotions and thoughts I dare not admit to or name.  My version of “Where, O Death, is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15: 55 NRSV) quickly became WHERE, O VICTORY, IS YOUR JOY?  How do I celebrate victory knowing Daunte Wright’s family is grieving?  How do I celebrate knowing that the “next time” is just around the corner?  How do I feel confident in a system that, despite a major criminal victory, still regards me and those like me with disdain and “less than?”  Do I believe the police are less dangerous or more dangerous because of the trial’s outcome?  Why give the justice system so much credit THIS TIME for doing something it should be doing ALL THE TIME?

A friend told me she had confidence that Mr. Chauvin would be found guilty of all three charges.  I envied her confidence.  In the time it’s taken me to compose my thoughts into something somewhat coherent, a teen has been killed by police in Columbus, OH, another police involved incident in Elizabeth City, NC is being examined….and the beat just keeps going on.

I write this note to those concerned about where we are as a society, where we are as a nation, as well as your concern about me.  Like many, I have struggled processing what the hell we’ve just experienced/continue experiencing and what happens next.  Additionally, I’ve intensely felt disillusionment, mistrust, humility of God’s Grace, fear of the known and unknown, love of a caring community, exhaustion, exhilaration, in short, a jumble of competing emotions.  I can’t believe and yet am not surprised I’m trodding the same civil rights road of my parents and grandparents.  A little further down the road certainly, but the same road, ruts and all.

I pray with vigor the Floyd family finds solace in the verdict. May the families of those whose loved ones have been victims of criminal police behavior share in that solace.

If the arc of the moral universe truly bends towards justice, we must continue being its benders.  We, you and I, must continue to shape a more just society for those who follow us.  We must do what we can, when we can, however we can, while we can.  Our duty, someone said, is to be good ancestors, to leave a legacy of hope and goodness for others to emulate.  Will we?

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