Jacob Blake and My Struggle with God
On the morning of August 24, I was hot! I woke up as I usually do—to the morning’s light, with stares from my cat, awaiting his early meal. I turned on Morning Joe and opened up my iPhone’s newsfeed. This is what I saw:
Black man shot multiple times by Wisconsin police; video of incident sparks social media backlash, protests
Now, generally, I’m not one easily given to anger. When I get angry—that is, when I’m in the grip of the emotion—I tend to resolve it in a matter of hours, or a day, tops. My maternal grandmother (God rest her beautiful soul), who was very much a biblical woman, always used to say, “Do not let the sun set on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26, NAB), and I try my best—with God’s Grace—to live by this rule, as Grandma certainly did.
This time, I knew that I would not be successful.
I was very upset when I watched George Floyd’s murder. However, I was more shocked than angry. In actuality, I was mesmerized by the sheer monstrosity-of-a-human being that I saw in (now) ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Having had experiences in the past in which I’ve literally witnessed the faces of racists twist and morph into the devil’s, I couldn’t help but remain fixated on this latest instance of hell’s scoria boiling up through a man’s soul into the very language, and even “aura,” of his body.
Yet when I watched the video posted above—when I saw Kenosha, WI police officer Rusten Sheskey put seven bullets, at point blank range, into the back of unarmed, non-combative, utterly defenseless Jacob Blake—it was if a “switch” was flipped in my mind. At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes. While, as an African American, I’ve always known about (and sometimes experienced) white racist police abuse of power, as a middle-aged Gen-X’er, something in me still refuses to accept the fact that naked acts of unfettered police brutality now regularly take place in broad daylight, before several witnesses, on video.
Finally, when I satisfied myself that I wasn’t having one of those nightmares African Americans sometimes have (when our subconscious fears of genocide percolate into our dreams), I flew into a rage—my poor cat!—and I immediately texted the link to the video (again, I’m a Gen-X’er) to as many family members, friends, and former colleagues whose names the Furies would allow me to remember. I’m pretty certain that, with my subsequent (and, as is my wont, extremely lengthy) commentary, I terrified half of these folks—certainly, all my white friends, most of whom had “no words” for what they saw….
Then, I immediately got to work on writing an essay for Public Orthodoxy. It’s no secret that PO has few African American Orthodox contributors; after all, we remain a “rare breed” (albeit, a steadily growing population) within American Orthodoxy. In any case, I made up my mind that “the kid gloves were coming off”! I figured if this was to be the last thing I ever wrote for a general audience, I was going to go down like Icarus—in a blaze of glory! My first drafts were ruthless, largely reflecting the language of the aforementioned texts. Like Frederick Douglass who, in 1845, famously said, “Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference,” I was determined to condemn white American Christianity (of all denominations) as a worthless sham. In later drafts, I sharpened my aim, damning “white American Christian nationalism, racism, and supremacy,” using Psalm 13, John 8:44, Galatians 6:7, and Matthew 16:26-27; 25:41,45 as my guides. I was ready to do battle with the devil, until the devil (through one of his “agents”) brought me down. I figured that, at this point, I had nothing more to lose, since “they” are going to kill me anyway.
After asking a close friend (an Orthodox scholar) to glance over my work, I made a few more redactions, condensing and softening it further. Finally, after uttering the psycho-spiritual equivalent of “Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!” in my mind, I emailed the piece to Public Orthodoxy.
Sending off the essay was cathartic. It immediately assuaged my anger. I was satisfied; I got the rage out of my system—at least, for now. But then, something strange happened: while I said my piece, I lost my peace.
It was as if I heard a voice in my mind: “Stop it!” and “No!” Indeed, it wouldn’t go away. I tried to distract it with streaming music and TV (Stargate Universe typically works)—to no avail. Then, I started poring through my boxes of books, looking for only God knows what. That didn’t work, either. Finally, I sent PO an email, asking them not to publish the article. I told them that I noticed it had “flaws,” although, to be honest, I wasn’t aware what they were. I just knew that I couldn’t see it go “to press.”
At that point, the memory of a woman, a Greek Orthodox mystic who, since the mid-’80’s, has received locutions from the Trinity, the Theotokos, and her Guardian Angel, came to mind. Again, I went through my boxes, and I found her books and a binder of prayers associated with the worldwide spiritual apostolate God asked her to found. I went online, I found contact information for a Midwest regional coordinator of the aforesaid apostolate, and I left a message on his voicemail. As I continued searching for more materials, to my surprise, he called right back. I hadn’t intercepted that call in time, so I tried again, and this time, I reached him directly. Cutting to the quick, I asked to be placed on their mailing list, to be notified about any online (Zoom) and future in-person meetings. I confessed to this man, who recently turned 80 and is white, that the constant, unremitting, state-sanctioned violence against African Americans (I told him that I’m black) has me at my wit’s end, almost to the point of despair. Then, as our wonderful conversation started winding down, I requested his prayers.
Finally, I entreated him for another favor. I said, “Please ask God to answer this for me: Why do African and African American people have to suffer so much in this world?” He immediately shot up, “Oh, that’s easy! I can answer that!” “Please do!” I responded. This wonderful Christian gentleman replied, “It’s because Africans and African Americans are God’s best people. I’ve traveled all over the world, even with [the apostolate’s founder], and we’ve seen this. You’re the most religious—the most spiritual—and you were the first.” Thinking that, with this last point, he was referring to paleoanthropological theories of human origins, he continued, “Abraham, Moses, Israel … they came from you. And so, for all these reasons, Satan and everyone with him hate you. They’re all jealous of you! However, don’t worry; God’s in control, and he loves you. He’s chosen your people for great things. This is a time of chastisement; evil appears to reign supreme. But we’re coming to the last days. These times won’t continue forever. Yet until Christ returns, it will be bad. Stay faithful.”
I was almost breathless, but I was too happy to remain silent! I said, “That’s the best answer that I’ve ever heard!” (In fact, his was the kind of answer Grandma would’ve given me.) “I definitely think that I’ll have to join your group!” We laughed together. Finally, he said, “To tell you the truth, I’d be jealous of you, too, but I’m not, because [in Christ, blacks and whites] share everything. Nevertheless, you’re the best.”
And, with those words—God’s message to me through one of his faithful servants—I finally discovered the peace that my heart longed. I understood that Satan and his minions want people of African descent to think they are the least favored of humanity, even “hated by God” or “cursed.” And yet, it’s exactly the opposite. Satan and white nationalists, racists, and supremacists envy and hate us (and those who march with us) because God loves us so much, and he’s showered us with grace—including strength to carry Christ’s Cross (cf. Mark 15:21). Indeed, it has always been so; all “stories” to the contrary are carefully orchestrated lies (cf. John 8:44).
And with that, this man said, “God love you and bless you,” several times. I ask the LORD to bless him—he who has already been richly blessed with wisdom, joy, an open, humble heart, and many years. May all who read and accept this message with joy be likewise blessed, especially during the time of trial, which is soon to pass. AMEN.
Alfred D. Turnipseed is an African American Orthodox Christian whose primary avocation is religious education. A beloved brother, uncle, and father to one terrific cat, he lives in South Bend, Indiana.