By Natalie R. Perkins | 8-27-2020

When I first heard of what happened to Jacob Blake, my first thought made me ill: "At least he's not dead."

“At least he's not dead" is an incredibly low bar for an encounter with police responding to a domestic dispute, but we have grown accustomed to these depths. We swim around in our murky swamp, bumping into each other and not checking to see if we have done any harm. We would not be able to see anyway through our rose-colored glasses. (Or are they bloodstained?)

A consistent story in the gospels is the literary trope of the empty tomb—the story of a Jesus who is killed by empire and is raised from the dead. As a black woman navigating these United States, the connections to that ancient story and our current oppressive system are piercing.

If the government does not value your life, then every situation can become deadly. If the populace deems other lives more important than yours ("Give us Barabbas," anyone?), then survival can be tenuous.

Whether one happens to be a practicing Christian or not, it behooves us, in a Christocentric society, to acknowledge the oppression empire inflicts on those who are powerless to protect themselves from it—both then and now.

I do not know Mr. Blake, nor will I compare him to Jesus, but I will say there is no excuse for shooting someone in the back multiple times. In the days of the gospel writers, everyone knew the government's intention when someone was crucified. It is the same here, in these repeated instances of police violence and death:

"We will make an example of you to keep our corrupt system in place."

Yet, we can take a cue from these gospels. We learn, within those pages (and our own lived experience) that the story only lives on because someone shares it. This model is important for those pursuing justice today. Every week, our police are acting as judge, jury, and executioner. It is up to us to tell the story.

Only by sharing the story of what happened to Jacob Blake, what happened to Breonna Taylor, what happened to Rayshard Brooks, what happened to Elijah McClain, and so many others, does the through line appear.

We have to tell their stories or we will continue to suffer through sacrificing black lives for the sake of empire.

Natalie Renee Perkins received her M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary, where she was awarded the Karen Ziegler Feminist Preaching Prize. She serves as the Director of Digital Ministry at Middle Collegiate Church and as a chaplain at NYU. As a writer, lecturer, preacher, chaplain and composer, she intertwines early Christian material with contemporary society through a social justice lens and is often hired to lead antiracism conversations. She is also a co-founder of the Tanho Center and is on the steering committee for the Praxis Forum. Natalie has performed professionally with cruise lines, national tours, symphony orchestras, and the USO. She recorded an album using the extracanonical text The Odes of Solomon as lyrics. You may purchase it here.
Ms. Perkins is a Praxis Forum Steering Committee Member @Westar Institute/Praxis Forum.
1 reply
  1. Thomas Atwood says:

    Thank you, Natalie, for reminding us what’s at stake when we confront the global empire we live in today and its relationship with the religious traditions of the West. The global pandemic has taught a painful lesson about the deep entanglement of our destinies, and your essay brings home the racial oppression that can no longer be swept under the rug in an age where everyone has a video camera in their pocket. Love will prevail!

    Reply

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