Pentecost 2020 – Remembering George Floyd – Fire-Ashes-Breath
Pentecost 2020 – Remembering George Floyd – Let it Burn!
By Cláudio Carvalhaes
In the living memory of George Floyd and João Pedro Mattos Pinto
and all the black people across the world who are killed daily “simply” for being black. ¡PRESENTE!
George Floyd was mercilessly killed by the police in Minneapolis. João Pedro was a 14 year old boy who was playing with his cousins at his house in Rio de Janeiro when the police shot his house 70 times and killed him.
The streets and buildings of Minneapolis and other cities are burning. Like Baltimore, the burnings are signs of power, resistance and a deep awareness of black people and what it means to live in a country dominated by a white elite ever since the invasion of the Americas by the white culture that permeates every inch of this country. Only black mothers and fathers know the fears of not having their kids back home at the end of the day. This white culture is spread through every street of US and within the whole democratic system, including forms of legislation. It invades every single institution, from local political groups to local churches, gerrymandering and voter regulations, from lack of workers’ rights to wage disparity, from political party systems and legislative representatives, to the Supreme Court and the White House. Everything is enthused with forms of living, thinking and organizing that comes from white values and their forms of living, perceiving and feeling. This structure trickles down in every form of local power dynamics, school districts, poisoned waters, state austerity budgets, male domination, military mighty, jail systems, school access, and police forms of domination.
All of the historical processes that built this country served only to fuel a fire that is was already running underneath the social threads of this country and is and will always be ready to explode. There is no way that this country, ruled by predatory capitalism, won’t have its buildings burnt and its own fortune and ways of ruling put at risk. It is part of the game. White supremacy and fascism are foundational parts of capitalism and as long as we have capitalism as the system of organizing life together, there will be no way to debunk racism, white supremacy and fascism, or not have buildings burned.
Since crisis is built into the capitalistic system, crisis will always be necessary. The crisis of the neoliberal capitalist system tends to be economic, with the crashing of the market once in a while for more domination and stealing, but also by using natural disasters. Water spilling into New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward gave way to the economic advantages of vultures sucking on the blood of the poor. Along with a growing number of deaths caused by COVID19, especially of the poor, we see that “The World’s 25 Richest Billionaires Have Gained Nearly $255 Billion In Just Two Months.”
Our hopes have been crushed. We all feel the closing in of public spaces, the shortening of resources, the destruction of the earth, and ways of living. The crescent pauperization of the world will grow exponentially and “crisis” will continue, we just don’t know to what point or extent. The earth is giving us ample signs that we are killing ourselves and there will be nothing left for us if we don’t change. The burning of Minneapolis is also telling us that if we don’t change, something else will happen that will be worse than we imagine.
The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis set the black community on fire in a country that goes on with their lives pretending that everything is ok and this is the greatest country in the world. No, George Floyd’s death shows us that this country is a nightmare for so many of its own people.
The fires on the streets are signs of life from black people putting themselves into re-existence, the loud “language of the unheard” as MLK Jr puts it. As I see it all, I join them with my heart and soul. I will never condemn them for doing what they are doing, for they are trying to survive in this country. I will rather condemn the politicians, be it republicans or democrats, the market, the banks and financial corporations for what they do. They should be persecuted for what they have historically done to black folks and indigenous people and brown and yellow people with stealing of the land, walls and private jails and concentration camps. I will never condemn the black folks for their strength and bold courage for saying no, for saying no more! Theirs is the kingdom of God! They are my people! In fact, they are breathing the breath of God into us, the fire of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost! From the lives of black people! A gift from God! The whole gospel for Pentecost Day is Martin Luther king text:
I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
And Acts 2:2-3 that says:
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
Pentecost can be understood in three ways this year:
“for indeed our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:29
Fire! We need fire! Fire that will burn buildings, systems, oligarchies, “democratic” systems, pretensions of common life and fake mutual care. Fire that will burn religions, scholarships, spiritualities, forms of knowledge and financial exchange that contribute to the collective death of us all. Fire!
Our God is a consuming fire!
Consuming fire that puts down any human project made of injustice and appearance of fairness.
Consuming fire whose uncontrollable choreography will dance around our protections and pretenses, order and decencies.
Consuming fire consuming every private property so we can finally understand that nothing is private but belongs to all! The burning the privacy of excused treaties, secret changes in political offices taking away resources from the poor time and again and giving them to the rich.
Consuming fire that burns private ownerships of anything.
Consuming fire burning fake spiritualities of Christians who think that doing worship on Sundays will be enough to hold onto the name of Jesus.
Consuming fire burning every liturgy or sermon that does not say the name of George Floyd with a loud voice, churning stomach and trembling heart.
Consuming fire to any rationalization of the protests that does not take a clear side with the black people.
Consuming fire that compels our work around public gestures of change to local policies, police force, and demand legislators to change, listening to the voices of those abandoned!
Consuming fire to the nuanced and blunt entitlement of white folks, be they liberal, very liberal, conservative or of any other political ideology!
Consuming fire to any church who does not start an anti-racist workshop and teach its folks about the history of African Americans in US, black theologies, womanist theologies and black religions.
Consuming fire to any confession of sins that does not pause in the dearth of George Floyd. Consuming fire to any blessing that is not preceded by woes to those who are keeping racism in place.
May the fires of Baltimore, Minneapolis and other places spread across the world so our faith can be burnt by the presence of a burning Spirit who is unruly and will not accept anything less than a life fully committed to all of the abandoned, enslaved, oppressed, jailed, poor people in this country and elsewhere.
Fire everywhere! So we can rebuild from ashes.
The ashes of Minneapolis burnt buildings and other places are clear signs that this time, our time is over. Time cannot wait anymore. Nothing else is working. It didn’t matter that black people used their music, art, knees and protests, screaming black lives matters! Nothing could change the minds, souls and structures of a country who lives off of the oppression of black people. Ashes! Time is up! Time is over!
Ashes will tell us that a new time has arrived, a time that is uncountable, uncontrollable and cannot be narrated anymore since time will be counted by the nobodies of the world. They are the agents of this new time. The nobodies of this country are saying to all, we are nobody for you but in our communities we are somebody, and it is this somebodiness that will destroy the pretense of nobodiness that you threw us into. We are more! Look at your streets: the ashes of your buildings are the signatures of nobodies! We are the nobodies you can’t speak in your clubs, houses, churches because silence is what you have chosen. Now take a look here and see our names, nobodies!
We are the fire that turned your world into ashes so we can perhaps start in a different time with new narratives, new legislations, a new life together, mutual respect and forms of distribution of wealth. Your safety is not as safe as you thought. All of us, not only black people but also all of the blackened people in this country, including the poor of all colors, all who were made nobodies, we are back to terrorize your kindness and your niceness. We are coming and will be coming back again. Not that we wanted, there is nothing personal here. It is because we can’t breathe. We hope you understand.
Remember the fears you have lived with your whole life but tried to deny time and again so it wouldn’t be embarrassing? The fears deep inside that used to flare up when we get close to you? You thought that controlling it would keep you safe, didn’t you? I know you didn’t want to live this way. But you didn’t do much to change, right? So the nobodies… they are the very measure of life you thought never existed. We came back with a vengeance. We came back as the nightmares you have decided not to pay attention to. We are the ashes of your world.
Ashes upon ashes, the debris of a world that didn’t work when organized just for a few, even though you thought it was for all. As we are taught, let the injustice be without making too much of a fuss, and things will find their way to oblivion and cultural structures of normalcy. Ah, you thought we were defeated, but you should never underestimate the power of those who have survived centuries and are still standing. We have seen wars of all kinds and we have survived. We are still standing.
It is true, we lost several times, but we were never defeated. For our defeats are, in fact, the high fire that forges the steel of our victories. Every true victory is the result of a profound loss. It reverberates with the animal desire to never lose again. Therefore, only those who fell and patiently out for a second chance will win. It will come sooner than we expect. That’s what leads us to affirm that such losses are not defeats at all.
We will multiply, we will resurrect! Our ancestors will come back for us and they are telling us that the time is over. Our memories, our songs, our ways of being will sustain us. We will use everything we can and want.
We have prayed over the ashes of our sons and daughters for too long. Now you will know what it means to face our strength. Not for revenge for we have no business in revenge. But simply because of the law of circularity. We harvest what we plant. Roughness is the new harvest and our love will not be so easy. Hopefully, the Spirit of ashes will resurrect all of those who enter into this new time, a time of the Spirit, a time unknown, a time for deep changes, a time to lose individually but gain collectively, a time not to merely change our prayers but to change the world.
Breath / Spirit
This change can only happen if the breath of the Spirit is breathing our lives together. This breath is fundamental to our living. It is incredible that COVID19 and the extinguishing of George Floyd’s breath are the same. We were attacked in the most precious thing we have: our breath! We have put our knee on the neck of animals destroying their own spaces, we have invaded their habitats and used them for our own sake. Now we are living under the result of the overuse, abuse and dominion of the earth. The whole capitalistic white society has put their knee over the neck of the black and blackened people (indigenous, brown, yellow, poor), stealing their resources, uprooting them from their lands, and then abusing them, displacing them through red lining, gerrymandering, throwing them into the corners of our cities and giving them the opportunity to come back to work for whites in the cities.
There has been a genocide in Brazil and US of black people and indigenous people. The structures of racism are murdering black people everywhere! The lack of care for the most vulnerable by COVID19 are taking its tools within the indigenous, Latinxs and black communities. Everywhere people literally CANNOT breathe. Franz Fanon had seen the difficulties to breath in many cultures and saw this not in a group but a expansive “we” who couldn’t breath. In Black Skins White Masks, he says:
Quite simply this was because it became impossible for them to breathe, in more than one sense of the word. 
George Floyd couldn’t breathe, the black people can’t breathe, the indigenous people can’t breathe, the brown people at the borders can’t breathe, the earth can’t breathe, a whole population of humans and species and plants and forests can‘t breathe either. If anything, this Pentecost has to remind us of our collective breathing. Breathing life together into new worlds and other ways of living. For we either breathe together or no one will breathe at all.
The breathing of the spirit is the breathing of life. This Pentecost, we are challenged to see the fire in the world and give thanks for it. We are challenged to see the necessary ashes of a world that didn’t work. And we are challenged to see the possibility of breathing new life-giving breaths together. May the memory of George Floyd and João Pedro bring about new worlds for us to breathe together.
 Martin Luther King Jr. “The Other America.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=dOWDtDUKz-U&feature=emb_logo
 Vladimir Safatle, Quando As Ruas Queimam: Manifesto Pela Emergência, N-1 Edições
 This phrase is said to be from Franz Fanon but I could find the source: “When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.” For more on Black Pentecostal relations to breathing, the Spirit and life see the wonderful work of Ashon T. Crawley, Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility (New York: American Literatures Initiative, NYC Press, 2016).
 Franz Fanon, Black Skins White Masks (New York: Grove Press, 1967), p. 206, Kindle Edition.Franz Fanon, Black Skins White Masks (New York: Grove Press, 1967), p. 206, Kindle Edition.
Pictures taken from the internet.