A Blog Post from Roberta J. Egli, Executive Director of Messy Church USA
Several weeks ago, as I was preparing material for our “Jesus Journeys to the Jordan” Global Messy Adventure video, I debated telling the story of the African American spiritual hymn, Wade in the Water. I kept thinking of the song as I recorded videos of the Willamette river close to my home and wanted to use the song in the video but sensed a need to share the story and confess to our global Messy Church brothers and sisters in the USA we have not faced our original foundational sin of racism. However, I ended up not using the video as it didn’t seem to ‘fit’ with the story we wanted to tell.
On Memorial Day, I realized that I could no longer be silent regarding our country’s complicity in the continuation of systemic racism. In one day, the news lit up with the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN and the story of a white woman who deliberately called police during a conflict with an African American bird watching man in Central Park NY. I realize that I can only speak from my experience as a white woman of privilege. I do believe that I must listen, study, confess and learn while also having the courage to speak.
These words from Jim Winkler, National Council of Churches President, convict me that I can no longer stay silent.
We are all responsible for doing the hard work to end racism and white supremacy, especially white people. The burden cannot always be on our African American brothers and sisters. These are not just ideologies or individual opinions. These are the systemic issues at the core of American society and it is deadly. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ring loudly: ‘Riots are the language of the unheard.’ Our nation needs healing but there can be no healing without justice.
So the following is what i initially wrote two weeks ago and the rough video that I recorded beside the river that was not used in our Messy Adventure from Messy Church USA video.
Wade in the water is one of more than six thousand African American spirituals that have been cataloged. Water is an important image in the African American Spiritual…water was a primary aspect of slave experience—the ‘middle passage’ marked the beginning of their captivity as they traveled across the ocean to a new land in slave ships. The Ohio River was the dividing line between slavery and freedom on the Underground Railroad.
There is a story, although not confirmed, that Harriet Tubman and other underground railroad conductors used songs like Wade in the Water. They were songs with their own codes that communicated hidden messages that guided slaves on their dangerous journey to freedom. It is thought that “Wade in the Water” was used to tell slaves to get into the water to avoid being seen and make it through. This is an example of a map song, where directions are coded into the lyrics.
God’s a gonna trouble the water is taken from the scripture in John 5 when the Spirit came down and troubled the water at the Bethesda pool (also known as the pool by the sheep gate). When the water had been stirred, whomever was able to get into the water first was healed of their disease. Many people were waiting by the pool. One man had waited for 38 years as he required help from others to enter the pool.
Howard Thurman- an African American theologian wrote,“For the slaves the ‘troubled waters’ meant the ups and downs of life. Within the context of the ‘troubled waters” of life there are healing waters, because God is in the midst of the turmoil. Do not shrink form moving confidently out into the choppy seas. Wade in the water, because God is troubling the water.”
Slavery is part of our history as United States of America—not one we are proud of but one that we must acknowledge before we can move forward for justice for all. Before we take a moment to remember our baptism, it is important to remember the things in our past and present that separate us from receiving God’s love.
Questions for Messy Church USA to ponder:
- How might Messy Church be a sign of hope in the midst of our despair?
- How might Messy Church be a place where we can build bridges?
- How might we talk in our Messy Churches about race, about diversity, about justice?
- Messy Church loves hands-on creativity. What might our confessions look, taste, feel, smell like? How can we put these confessions, worries, hopes, etc into something creative or tangible?
Resources for Conversations about Racism with children and all ages
- Faithful Families
- Embrace Race
- Talking with Children about Race
- Conversations about Race and Racism with Children
God of all ages, from the beginning of time, we have turned away from your vision of love as you desired beloved community and we broke our relationship with you and one another. We are a broken people…we are a broken nation. Forgive us for our refusal to see clearly our sin of racism. Forgive us…send your mercy. Guide us in taking steps to know peace and justice and to work together to create equity from our chaos. We pray in the name of Jesus the Christ, with the power of the Holy Spirit who is always creating something new, AMEN.
My friends, I am praying for you…I am praying for us. May the grace of God, the love of Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. AMEN.
Grace and peace, Roberta