The memories of my seminary days when, in the Choir, we used to sing, in 4 voices, the Negro Spiritual: “ Were you there, when they crucified my Lord?”, have been haunting me. This beautiful song has been haunting me since the time I saw, on television, the image of George Floyd, the black man, pinned down to the road by the knee on his neck, of that cruel white police-man in Minneapolis, U.S.A. My heart wept to see and hear the man, telling the heartless police-man that he could not breathe. The police-man is said to have knelt on the neck of George Floyd for almost 9 minutes!! Is there any humanity left in the man, who continues to mercilessly kneel on George Floyd’s neck, thus snuffing out the life from the poor and hapless man?
Very expectedly the black population of the U.S.A., as well as many of the other citizens of the country, rose in protest against the ignominious happenings in the country, which often looks at itself as the defender of human rights, not only at home but also abroad. I remember my friend in Germany, an American lady married to a German, and now a German citizen, who used to tell me about the injustice meted out to the American (Red) Indians, at home, while the country takes up in defense of people discriminated against, in other countries. Walking the talk is always more difficult!
Less expectedly, but all the same, people all over Europe expressed their dismay at this horrific sight of a man being killed in violation of the right to life, held so dear and sacred by every country, at least theoretically. The U.S.A’s nearest neighbour Canada, has expressed its dismay at seeing what is happening, just across its border, in the U.S.A. In fact, the protests being held in so many cities and countries in Europe point to the same sense of dismay and disgust being experienced by people all over. I will not hesitate to say that the pride of the American people, and America itself, has been brought to its knees, by the kneeling white police-man.
Sometimes it causes me to tremble
Negro Spirituals are a genre of songs which are of the African–American people, and which describe, in a sombre tone, their sufferings, while at the same time expressing their faith in Jesus Christ. Our above - mentioned song goes: “Were you there, when they crucified my Lord... when they nailed him to the cross… when they pierced him in the side… when the sun refused to shine.” And the next line goes: “Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.” Yes, indeed, the events in the U.S.A. caused me to tremble. And they caused many others to tremble. As far as I am concerned, I trembled, all the more, because we see such events happening also within the borders of our own country. Just think of the lynchings of so many people, often accused falsely. We have had our “Nirbhayas”, not one but several of them. And now the media are showing us repulsive pictures of a father and son, brutally being beaten to death by the police. Some have even called them our own George Floyds. One wonders if we are living in a savage or civilized society.
Hopefully we have also not forgotten Ankita Pisudde, a 25 – year old woman lecturer, who was set on fire in Wardha, Maharashtra, and who later died in a hospital in Nagpur. We will also remember the horrific incidents which occurred at Jamia Millia Islamia University, where students, mostly girls, were thrashed simply for participating in a peaceful rally!! Similar incidents also happened in colleges and universities like Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, Gargi College… I could go on, but I will stop by only mentioning that, very often, the victims are girls.
Very recently a clip of a woman being beaten up publicly by a bunch of men went viral. It was shocking to say the least. I cannot imagine a sin so grave the woman may have committed to deserve such a punishment. I wish Jesus were present there like he was present at the trial of the woman caught in adultery, as reported in John 8:1 ff. These men brought the woman to him, and they wanted to stone her to death. They quoted the law of Moses, according to which, such women are to be stoned to death. Jesus saw the injustice of the law immediately. If it was adultery, where is the man with whom she committed adultery? Are only the women to be stoned? Jesus said: “Let the one among you, who is without sin, be the first one to cast a stone on her”. As he waited for their reaction and response, he was writing something, with his finger, on the ground on which he was standing, John tells us. The men, realizing that none had the courage and the right to throw a stone at the woman, because they knew that they were all sinners, all left one by one, leaving the woman alone with Jesus. When Jesus saw that they had all left, he turned towards the woman, and said: “Woman where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied: “No one Lord”. And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and do not sin again”. What a beautiful approach of the Divine Master Jesus. He corrects certainly, when needed, but with love. Unfortunately, often in our world and society, people punish and are punished mercilessly, even when no offence has been committed. What a travesty of charity, justice and truth.
Let me make mention here of a little detail, but a relevant one, we find in the above – mentioned text from the Gospel. St. John mentions, in verse 9, that the men all went away, one by one, “beginning with the eldest”. For me, this little detail, “beginning with the eldest”, could well refer to our “eldest”, meaning to say, our authorities and leaders. These should also resign and go, when they cannot manage to do the work they are called and chosen to do. Many of them, however, just stick there to their chairs (Kursis), as if they have struck roots! Everybody can see that their efficiency has come near to zero level, but there is so much sweetness in those chairs that they do not want to part with them. The power, the prestige, the profits are much too big to give up, even if the world sees that they have become dysfunctional with age, over the years. Unfortunately, this is also seen sometimes in the Church and in religious institutions. I pray the Lord may give them the wisdom to realize that they should only stay there, if and when they are needed, not even when they are wanted!!
In 1944, the renowned Swedish Sociologist and Economist, a Nobel Laureate, Gunnar Myrdal did a study of the racial problems in the U.S.A., and published it with the title “An American Dilemma”. A very well done research it was, but such researches and findings only bear the desired results when they are put into practice by us. Otherwise they remain in our libraries, collecting dust. Unfortunately that is what happens very often.
After the publication of “An American Dilemma”, in 1948, Mahatma Gandhi had to offer his life for a similar cause. In 1968, Martin Luther King, an activist for the cause of blacks and of civil rights, was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, leaving his dream unfulfilled. That dream is still unfulfilled, and we can only look up to the heavens, and pray that the Lord may teach us all to live as brothers and sisters, shunning all discriminations and differences, knowing that we are all children of one God: black, white, brown, yellow and all. At the same time let us pray and join Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and sing “How many deaths will it take for man to know that too many people have died… the answer is blowing in the wind.”
An American Dilemma – our Dilemma
And let us take a page from Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma, where he gives us an important and interesting distinction between “Political” and “Personal” opinions. He points out that, in the course of his research, he sent out a questionnaire with the following kind of questions:
1. Would you like the racial discrimination to end in the U.S.A.? The answer to the question was overwhelmingly in the affirmative: Yes (about 95%).
The other question was:
2. Would you like to have a family of blacks with you for dinner tonight? The answer dropped down to Yes (about 35%).
Myrdal says that the former is the political opinion, whereas the latter is the personal opinion. Walking the talk is always more difficult.
If we were to be asked whether we would want all discrimination, casteism, etc to end in our country, we would perhaps say: Yes. That would be our political opinion. But if we were to be asked if we would be prepared to host a dalit, harijan or a person of low caste at our place, for dinner, what would be our answer? We need to ask ourselves.
Our efforts must always be to narrow the gap between our “Political” opinion and our “Personal” opinion, so that our Political opinion ends up becoming our Personal opinion. It is only in this manner that we can eliminate inter – caste, inter – faith and other differences, and create a world and society, which will resemble the Kingdom of God, which Jesus came to establish. I am not talking about the Church, but the Kingdom of God, which is a concept which is much, much broader than the Church. This is what Jesus came to establish. And this will only happen if it causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble, when we see and read about our George Floyds being nailed to the ground, our Nirbhayas tormented mercilessly and killed, our Ankitas set on fire. For then, it will mean that the sun does not shine anymore, because Jesus is being crucified, nailed to the cross and his side is pierced.(Published on 13th July 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 29)