Anamnesis and Liturgical Rage
David R. Weiss – April 15, 2021
“Do this to remember me.” That’s what Jesus said at the Last Supper on the night before his death. Anamnesis is the Greek word here: “in remembrance.”
It’s grueling and uncomfortable, tense and unpredictable, right now outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department. For four nights running, there’s been over-the-top anger at the killing of yet another Black man – Daunte Wright, age 20 – by a police officer.
At this point the details don’t matter anymore. This is anamnesis at play: a liturgy of rage.
I shake my (white) head in disbelief as I hear city and state officials and law enforcement say, “we’re working to provide safe opportunities for protest.” Which is really a way of saying, “those of us inside the system want to set up space and time so that those who are angry on behalf of those getting killed by the system can express your disappointment with a system that keeps killing you … but only on our terms, so as to make sure the system itself stays in control.”
Jamar Clark. Philando Castile, Thurman Blevins, Isak Aden, Daunte Wright. The list could go on and on and on.
And at this point the very POINT of protest is to let the system know it is no longer in control. And the details don’t matter anymore. Because this is anamnesis at play: a liturgy of rage.
I shout back at the local newscasters as they remind viewers that the protesters on their live coverage during the 10 o’clock news have been asked repeatedly to disperse. It is, after all, after curfew. They’re now protesting “in violation of the law,” outside the permitted times. And they’re throwing things. No mention that the tear gas being used by police is actually banned from use during war; you can use it on crowds – just not on soldiers. (Fun fact: any protester arrested while in possession of a gas mask will face extra charges – you break an additional law if you try to protect yourself from tear gas.) They also omit that besides tear gas police are firing other chemical irritants as well as (hopefully) less-lethal munitions at the protesters.
It’s as though, if the protesters want any good press (at least by the mainstream media), they need to play by the rules that require them to tamp down their “frustration” over 400 years of racism and protest in ways that keep white people at least tolerably comfortable.
But at this point the very POINT of protest is to tell us white folks that comfort is no longer an option. And the details don’t matter anymore. Because this is anamnesis at play: a liturgy of rage.
I am astounded at the resources – the police and guardsmen, the weapons, riot gear, munitions and vehicles – that can be deployed as part of Operation Safety Net. Thankfully, when this latest police killing of a Black man happened, all these resources were right at our fingertips on account of the ongoing trial of another police officer for killing a different black man last year. I guess what astounds me is that ALL THESE RESOURCES – which can hardly be cheap – can be gathered with such back-patting collaboration to keep stores safe and keep police stations and courthouses safe, while we cannot manage to keep black persons safe. And cannot manage to invest similar resources or engage in comparable back-patting collaboration to address the deep issues of racism in policing or the generational poverty in Black communities.
It’s almost like we can only imagine a “safety net” as it applies to buildings and inventory – and only as something that kicks in the moment the next Black body gets killed by the police.
But at this point the very POINT of protest is to tell us that Safety Nets are for people not property. Period. And the details don’t matter anymore. Because this is anamnesis at play: a liturgy of rage.
How long will it last? I wonder. And I worry, because if these protests last until we get it, that could be a very long time. Someone said (I googled endlessly and unsuccessfully to track down a source) something like, “Our great sin is that we could repent at any moment – and yet we do not.” I think it was in reference to the nuclear arms race, but it’s just as true of white supremacy: “Our great sin is that we could repent at any moment – and yet we do not.” We have had years and decades and generations and centuries to get this right, and yet we have found it easier to let just one more Black person die at the hands of the police before we truly repent – which is never just an apology; it’s a wholesale reversal of behavior.
And at this point the very POINT of protest is to tell us that nothing less than full blown repentance will suffice. The details don’t matter anymore. Because this is anamnesis at play: a liturgy of rage.
But I hear you ask, will all this righteous anger (which is also admittedly damn unruly) really make a difference? Aren’t there “better ways” to pursue change? Wait. I need to say a couple things before you go further.
First, after 400 years of unremitting (morphing, yes, but unremitting) racism, in the face of which no other effort has proven sufficient to bring about justice, don’t you think that maybe a little unmitigated anger is in order by now? Second, if you’d like to take the edge off these protests and are willing to promote some “positive change” yourself, how about ditching all talk about reform and starting out with a full-throated endorsement of abolition? It doesn’t mean the absence of community safety; it means renouncing absolutely any trust that the institution of policing can provide that community safety. If you’d like the protesters to “calm down,” then put abolition in the middle of the table, and I bet you’ll find some of the best minds and most generous spirits join you there.
Until then, the very POINT of protest is to tell us that “reform” has always, always, always been a racist mirage. And the details don’t matter anymore. Because this is anamnesis at play: a holy liturgy of rage. And it will happen again and again and again – in remembrance of every Black life that matters – until justice comes rolling down.
Until then, the protesters are following Jesus’ own instructions: “Do this to remember me.”
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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community SupportedTheology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.