Unraveling, Unveiling, Unfurling

a reflection on Joel 3:13-16 for Pride Sunday 2020

All through this month of June, all over the world, rainbow flags are unfurling over city streets and small town roads. All over the world this month, citizens are taking to the streets to unfurl the rainbow flag of promise, of dignity, and of liberation for every body — particularly the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer bodies who continue to fight long and hard for liberation and justice and joy.

What a beautiful sight this is: the sight of the rainbow flag, representing the diversity of our lives and the infinitely diverse ways we love. All through this month of Pride, the rainbow flag represents the difficult and often dangerous work of making this world safe for all kinds of love. As our rainbow flags unfurl this month, they remind us of the power of this fierce love, and of the work that love still has to do in the world.

And I wonder if we might remember this day that these flags we wave did not unfurl overnight. Before our beautiful rainbow flags could unfurl in celebration, there was a great unraveling that had to happen. An unraveling not unlike the one the prophet Joel speaks of this morning. A necessary and at times disorienting process by which, with God’s help, we are called to unravel systems of prejudice and oppression. A great unraveling that must take place before any real liberation can come about.

As Joel describes it, and as we know from our own experience, the unraveling of long-held social norms can be painful, confusing, and exhausting work. The job of the prophet at a time of unraveling is to speak the truth about the injustice that we humans have created and to tell the truth of the harm we are doing to one another even when that truth is hard to hear. 

This day, the prophet comes to remind us that before any flag of liberation is unfurled, we must intentionally unravel the institutionalized systems of oppression that are so familiar, so commonplace, that we often don’t even see them unless we ourselves are the ones who are being strangled by their bonds. Systems of oppression that we unconsciously enshrine in our language, in our laws, in our policing practices, our school curricula, and in our courts.

Beloved, we are living through a season that the great Hebrew prophets would recognize. A season in which the prophets among us are working to unveil the painful truth of our shared life. On video. On the streets. In the testimonies of our black siblings. 

This Pride Sunday, as we celebrate the victories of the LGBTQ liberation movement, we are called to remember that before anyone could unfurl a rainbow flag, there was a long, difficult process of unveiling and unraveling that had to happen. I am praying that we will remember those who risked their lives to unveil the systemic oppression of queer folks: the targeting of queer bodies and lives by unjust laws and, yes, by the very police departments that are sworn to protect all citizens. 

Let’s remember that our Pride celebrations happen here in the month of June to commemorate the June 1969 Stonewall Uprising. A great uprising and unraveling in which LGBT folks, fed up with constant police harassment and rampant discrimination, took to the streets. And we can be sure that to those who witnessed the full-blown riot that ensued on the streets of New York, it looked like the unraveling of the social fabric itself. 

That’s because it was. Friends, let’s remember that often, the laws and customs that are woven into our social fabric are even now strangling the life out of precious, breathing bodies. Let’s remember that before we can unfurl the flags of liberation and celebration, we must first unravel the unjust laws and customs that have been woven to oppress and silence so many voices and lives. In this month of Pride celebrations, let us not forget the cost of this and every liberation movement. Let us not forget that the prophetic work of naming and unveiling systemic injustice continues, beloved, wherever God’s people live and speak out and march.

As we unfurl our rainbow flags; as we lift our voices and our banners for the sanctity and protection of black lives; as we take to the streets on behalf of the earth and of earth’s most vulnerable — the ones who have no vote and no voice — I wonder: What work of unveiling is yours to do? What work of unraveling is yours to do? Which of the ongoing movements for justice and liberation is breaking your own heart open right now? Which life, human or more than human, is yours to protect? 

This day, may we unfurl our flags in thanksgiving for those who risked and lost their lives in the struggle for liberation.

May we unfurl our flags this day as a promise to those who are not yet free. 

May we unfurl our flags this day as a promise that there is no such thing as freedom as long as anyone, as long as any body, is in danger.

May we have the prophetic courage to unveil and to unravel the bonds of oppression. Next year at this time, may we unfurl the flags of liberation for all beings. The flags of justice. The flags of God’s own joy.

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