On Sunday, our worship chair, Katie Reimer, led a Bible study to discern our theme for Lent. The group studied several of the scriptures for the coming months and verbalized which words seemed relevant to our current context. One sentence that hit many of us was from Psalm 116:15–“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of the saints.” I think this stood out to us because of all the violence we have been seeing in the news–from unarmed black men being killed by police officers to all the deaths at the hands of ISIS to Boko Haram in Nigeria. A rare solace in the face of so much death is the assurance that each individual life and each tragic death is precious to God–and that God meets us in the downward spiral of despair that each tragedy deepens. In a way, it is our ancient scripture’s equivalent to #blacklivesmatter.
This week, this line from the psalmist feels even more relevant after Bishop J and I received a request from our Social Justice chair, Elyse Ambrose Minson. She asked that, during our Black History Month Celebration this coming Sunday, we acknowledge the known murders already this year of three Black transgender women in the United States. Although most Black History Month celebrations, especially those occurring in churches, would not traditionally make mention of the death of transgender women, we have many reasons to do just such a thing.
It will be hard for Black History Month across our nation to be celebrated without some acknowledgement of the Black History being made right this moment in the #blacklivesmatter movement. But, as Elyse pointed out to us, it was actually Black lesbians who started the trending hashtag, and LGBTQ activists have been leaders of major demonstrations.
Furthermore, if we are going to acknowledge at all the part of Black history that we just can’t seem to shake–that Black lives have often been targets of violence precisely because of their Blackness–it is perfectly reasonable to include LGBTQ Black lives. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported that in 2013, almost 80% of anti-LGBTQ homicide victims were Black, and two thirds were transgender women of color. If cis-gender Black men are being killed at disproportionate rates, so are transgender Black women. And both are a part of the Black history that is being made today.
So, as we prepare to celebrate Black history this Sunday, and as we work to be a part of the emerging history of the (queer women of color initiated) #blacklivesmatter movement, let us remember not only Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Akai Gurley. Let us also remember Lamia Beard, who was found dead a few weeks ago in Virginia from a gunshot wound. Let us also remember Ty Underwood, shot while driving her car last week in Texas. Let us also remember Yazmin Vash Payne, stabbed to death in Los Angeles on Saturday. For “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of the saints.”
I end with a blessing from John O’Donohue’s book To Bless the Space Between Us:
May perpetual light shine upon
The faces of all who rest here.
May the lives they lived
Unfold further in spirit.
May the remembering earth
Mind every memory they brought.
May the rains from the heavens
Fall gently upon them.
May the wildflowers and grasses
Whisper their wishes into the light.
May we reverence the village of presence
In the stillness of this silent field.
Join us for our Black History Month Celebration this Sunday at 10:30am.
Photo from Lamia Beard’s Facebook profile.