Reflections on the Die-in: Simultaneously Too Much and Not Enough

Reflections on the Die-in: Simultaneously Too Much and Not Enough

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

As one of the multi-faith, multi-racial group of approximately 200 clergy and lay persons who participated in POWER’s “die-in” following Sunday’s Eagles game, I experienced a range of conflicting emotions.

I was heartened at the size and diversity of the group, and the passion of the speakers. I was also keenly aware of the size of the police presence (including civil affairs and other units) and especially of the police helicopters overhead, which seemed intentionally to swoop down to drown out the words of those on the platform.

I was grateful for the privilege of doing what little I could do to be an ally to my black and brown sisters and brothers who are at risk. At the same time, I was very uneasy that I might overstep my role of ally. After all, I have not borne the brunt of endemic racism and police violence day after day as so many of those present have. At Emanuel UCC (located in the 95%+ white neighborhood of Bridesburg), from the pulpit I’ve addressed issues of racism and police violence from a faith perspective, but with results that are limited and mixed at best. Should I lie down as part of the die-in, or stay more on the margins?

On one hand, none but the very wealthy are truly safe from the rapidly escalating police violence of our day; on the other hand, at this point I’m not among its primary targets. I was keenly aware that, honorable as my intentions were, part of my white privilege is the ability to go home at the end of the event to a place of relative safety – and I didn’t feel at all good about that. To “die in” for 4 ½ minutes with those at exponentially greater risk of actually dying felt presumptuous, simultaneously too much and not nearly enough. I finally resolved simply to follow the lead of the organizers of the event and do as they asked, and leave the outcome in God’s hands.

I helped carry a sign saying “BLACK LIVES MATTER” to the location of the die-in in the intersection of Broad & Pattison, and then lay down in the intersection along with everyone else. I was grateful for the generosity of the organizers in encouraging everyone to participate. I was fairly close to the center of the group and my eyes were partly covered by my hat, so I did not see passers-by, nor did I hear their taunts.

As I was lying down, I remembered phrases from literature on civil disobedience that spoke of “getting in the way of oppression” or “gumming up the gears of injustice.” I also remembered Bonhoeffer’s quote to the effect that “we’re not simply to bandage the victims of injustice, but to jam the spokes of the wheel itself.” For 4 ½ minutes, our group gummed up, if not the gears of injustice, at least the gears of indifference. We forced issues of endemic racism and police brutality onto the radar of a bunch of football fans, if only for a few minutes.

I’m sure most dismissed the issue as unimportant and our group as a bunch of kooks with nothing better to do – and, ironically, I did indeed feel there was nothing better that I could do that night.

The organizers’ reminded us, at the end of the 4 ½ minutes, that “Michael Brown did not get up. Eric Garner did not get up.” Those words reminded me that our efforts cannot just stop with one die-in, that we need to persist in using a variety of non-violent means to resist racism and police brutality, and advocate for the safety and dignity of black and brown lives, and of all lives.

The Rev. Dave Reppert
Pastor, Bridesburg UCC
(but a man called to ministry from his membership at Old First!)