By Michael-Ray Mathews
One of my favorite on-screen conversations is the one between comedian Dave Chappelle and the late Dr. Maya Angelou on Sundance’s Iconoclasts series. It is a powerful cross-generational exchange about race, history, identity and the arts. The love and wisdom shared between them is palpable and moving.
In one segment of their conversation, Chappelle references the violence and multiple assassinations that shaped the closing years of the Civil Rights Era. He asked Dr. Angelou, “What does that do to a generation?…This is me: I imagine I would still be angry.” “If you’re not angry,” she replied, “you are either a stone or you’re to sick to be angry.” She then offered wisdom about the role of anger in the pursuit of social change and healing:
“Use that anger, yes. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.”
The word anger has its roots in the Old Norse term for grief. To be angry, to grieve is to be alive, to awake. The hatred and violence pervading our social and political ethos can be numbing. But this moment calls not for escape and anesthetization, but for an awakening and recognition of the deep feelings of fear, despair and anger in our communities.
The weeks and months of protests in Ferguson, following the killing of Michael Brown, were a season of profound awakening for many faith leaders in the PICO Network. As our society confronted the growing number of incidents of Black women and men whose lives were wiped out by law enforcement, many clergy and faith leaders were confronting the deep wound of alienation from a whole generation of young Black people in our respective communities. We realized together that the violence and despair that Chappelle referenced is a still a lived reality in our communities today.
As clergy around the country reached out to find a public response, they were met with the grief and anger of a generation that had been largely abandoned and misunderstood by the church community. The opportunity before faith leaders would require more than a press conference. It would demand that clergy demonstrate real love. It required that clergy feel deeply, grieve deeply and love deeply.
This election season is an opportunity for people of faith and moral courage to feel, grieve and love deeply. Many families are feeling the pain of hate-filled rhetoric, an immoral economy that excludes, and policies that criminalize Black and Brown bodies and communities. Voting is one way to express our deep love for our people and our communities. Our vote is our vow, our wish, and our prayer for our people. A vote for the dignity of our communities is a public expression of revolutionary love.
This week we reflect on how we can use our anger and grief, our love and our vote in the pursuit of justice and healing. Perhaps we may awaken again to the grief and the love that can energize transformation in our relationships, our communities, our world and ourselves.
Michael-Ray Mathews is the pastor, psalmist and organizer of a multi-faith community of faith leaders with PICO National Network, as well as host of the Prophetic Resistance podcast, and a senior fellow at Auburn Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @mrmathews and @WeResistPodcast.