Late last Sunday night, almost midnight, I found myself stumbling around my half-lit backyard, barefoot in pajamas, squinting up into the sky.
I’d been restless for hours, scanning mindless reality TV, trying to get my brain to turn off and stop the ugly thoughts from racing through my brain.
I live in a major city, but the neighborhood was mostly quiet that night, and nobody saw me when I walked from the backyard to the front: ratty gray threadbare sleep shorts, a white t-shirt whose neckline was encrusted with drool.
I had taken a melatonin gummy, and my body was achy and exhausted from the travails of the day and the years, and it was a miracle I didn’t walk right off my front steps and fall into the bushes, where rabbits and squirrels and probably hordes of mice were scampering around, eluding their midnight intruder.
The city lights made the sky bright, even on a clear night, and so while I saw a few stars I couldn’t find the one thing I was looking for that May evening.
I forced myself to walk further in front of my house, feet padding over the cracked and rough sidewalk and onto the smooth, asphalt-covered street. A police car rolled down the main thoroughfare, blazing through the stoplight.
I sighed in frustration.
I craned my neck upwards one more time, twisting backwards and almost losing my balance … “ah!”
A sharp intake of breath. My lungs filled with air. My mouth opened agape.
The Blood Moon.
It had been hiding in the corner of the sky, tucked in a sliver of sky between our slanted roof and the neighbor’s deep red maple tree, whose leaves had just begun to open again to the sky after our frigid spring.
I had missed the full lunar eclipse, but I marveled anyway at what I saw. A sliver of light, a crescent moon illuminated, while the rest hung, craggy and angry in the sky, a muddy red color I’d never seen before on the moon or anywhere in the sky above.
People with better cameras than me posted images on social media where the moon looked like a fiery orb, the red light caused when the earth moves between the moon and the sun, creating a total lunar eclipse, where the moon is completely submerged in the earth’s shadow, according to almanac.com. Like so much of our experience here in the world, what we appear to see (a bright reddish orange moon) is not exactly what exists in reality. The solar rays that bend around the moon to reach Earth are of all wavelengths, but Earth’s atmosphere scatters the shorter blue/green waves, leaving only the orange/red colors to reach our eyes.
I stood in awe, in the road, for a few seconds. To see the Blood Moon was to be reminded of how utterly small I am; a tiny speck in a universe grander than I could ever comprehend.
I wanted more. I walked quickly inside, locating the 1950s era binoculars we stored in our boys’ bedroom. I woke up my husband; he came outside and viewed the moon.
But it was midnight, and we had to work in the morning, and the kids would need breakfast and the Earth would keep on rotating and revolving. So relatively quickly, after a few more mindless minutes of reality TV, I pulled a sleep mask over my eyes and went to sleep.
I woke up the next morning to real reality. Backpacks to gather together for sleepy elementary-school-aged boys. A last-minute request for “home lunch.” A cavalcade of ants, marching through the left-open kitchen window above the sink, massing for battle all over our kitchen countertops.
Inside me was a sluggishness. I had looked to the heavens, but I was firmly rooted on earth. Feet strapped firmly to the ground as though they were fastened with leather buckles to a pair of sandals made from bricks. Each step felt heavy, ponderous.
As I said above, the Blood Moon isn’t really bloody at all. It’s what our eyes see when we look at it; the result of what happens to light when it comes down here to earth. Some of it dies, before it even has a chance to be mourned.
That moon, blood red in the sky, hung over America like a shroud. Our light has been dimmed for far too long.
I thought about Roberta A. Drury, age 32. Margus D. Morrison, age 52. Andrew MacNeil, age 53. Aaron Salter, age 55. Geraldine Talley, age 62. Celestine Chaney, age 65. Heyward Patterson, age 67. Katherine Massey, age 72. Pearl Young, age 77. Ruth Whitfield, age 86.
Say their names.
Pearl Young still worked as a substitute high school teacher at age 77. Ruth Whitfield was stopping by the grocery store after caring for her husband of 68 years, who lived in a long-term care facility. Andre Mackniel was going to get a birthday cake for his son.
Katherine Massey reminded me of my mom. She was an avid letter writer, a person who cared deeply about the civic life of her community, who wasn't afraid to speak out and say unpopular or controversial things, doing so with irrepressible love and spirit.
Celestine Chaney was a survivor of brain aneurysms and breast cancer, the youngest of four sisters. Margus D. Morrison was a school bus aide, the kind of too-often underpaid and thankless jobs filled by the very people who impact kids’ lives the very most.
Heyward Patterson was a dedicated church member, often driving people to the grocery store and helping them load groceries into his car. He served as a deacon and loved to sing.
Aaron Salter, a retired police officer turned store security guard, lost his life protecting others, even though when he fired at the gunman, the gunman’s bulletproof vest meant Salter died instead. Two guns, two men, one dead, one a killer of 10, who would have killed more if not for Salter’s courage.
Roberta Drury had just moved to Buffalo to care for her brother, who had been diagnosed with leukemia, and his children. Geraldine Talley was a baker, and according to the Washington Post, her friends called her “the sweetest.”
I hope you didn’t skim those last six paragraphs. If you did, go back and read them again. Say their names.
On Tuesday, the U.S. marked 1 million COVID deaths. Across the U.S., one person dies every 5 minutes from a drug overdose, according to the L.A. Times.
Life has become cheap in America. If you stopped and thought about all the kids who never got a chance; all the unfair cancer diagnoses and car accidents and gunshot deaths and heart attacks, it would knock you over. You wouldn’t be able to pay your insurance or your credit card bill because it wouldn’t matter to you anymore. You’d be sucking down life, deep into your lungs, as fast and as hard as you could because you knew it wasn’t going to last.
There’s big business in obscuring death. Add collagen powder to your coffee. Try CrossFit. Buy this $400 air purifier. Botox. Fillers. Hair plugs. Hair extensions. Filters. Moisturizers. Life insurance. Fences. Walls. Guns. Armor. Ignorance.
Maybe that’s why so many White people this week seemed utterly determined to look past the 10 Black lives murdered in a Buffalo grocery store last week. Some people placed an inordinate amount of attention trying to make sure we all heard about the other shootings. The other deaths. As if more death meant these lives could mean less, if only ours could mean more.
Black Lives Matter.
Did they matter in your church on Sunday morning? On your talk news radio show? Around your dinner table? In your kids’ school?
I am talking here to my fellow White Christians, who make up the largest religious and racial group, population-wise, in our country. Too often we have imagined if we shut and scrunch our eyes up tight enough, the Blood Moon will vanish into the night. The pain and death of racism won’t have to be real to us. We can drink in the rhetoric that makes us feel better about the jobs we didn’t get, the college we didn’t get accepted into, or the money we don’t have (in our minds) without acknowledging that that same rhetoric led an 18-year-old boy/man to jump into his vehicle and drive from rural New York over 200 miles to the Blackest ZIP code he could find and start killing people because of the color of their skin.
I protested with fellow clergy in Minneapolis after George Floyd was killed. Last year, former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck until he killed him, was convicted of murder. A few months ago, former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter, who said she mistook her gun for a Taser and killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop, was convicted of manslaughter.
It mattered. It matters. But none of it brings anyone’s child, parent, nephew, friend, mother, son, daughter, aunt, sister, brother, back to life. And just because lots of other people died last Saturday does not mean we can stay silent while Black Americans are being murdered because of the color of their skin.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians that “all of you are one in Christ Jesus,” but even then it was more of a prayer than a reality. That is the job of of pastors and prophets and theologians, after all, to paint a vision of the world that God desires for us, and call us into it.
More powerfully today, I hear God’s call to repentance again, for a faith that has cloaked itself in American-born white supremacy and Christian nationalism.
We are Cain, and we have called our brother to the field. We have killed him, and now we are running away, hiding our eyes behind our hands while the Blood Moon shines eerily above.
“Where is your brother Abel?”
“Where is your sister Pearl?
Where is your sister Ruth?
Where is your sister Katherine?
Where is your brother Heyward?
Where is your sister Celestine?
Where is your sister Geraldine?
Where is your brother Aaron?
Where is your brother Andre?
Where is your brother Margus?
Where is your sister Roberta?
“We do not know. Are we our brothers’ keeper? Are we our sisters’ keeper?”
I do not know what replacement theory is.
I don’t see color.
There were shootings in Milwaukee, too.
There was a shooting in California.
My friend is sick.
I am tired.
“What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”
Angela Denker, author of Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters who elected Donald Trump (Fortress: August 2019), is a Lutheran Pastor and veteran journalist who has written for Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, Christian Century, and Christianity Today. She has pastored congregations in Las Vegas, Chicago, Orange County (Calif.), the Twin Cities, and rural Minnesota.
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