Back in June, as the protests against police brutality against communities of color in the United States were echoed in Paris by large demonstrations demanding accountability for the death in police custody of Adama Traoré, the Convocation and the cathedral went in together on a large banner that was lashed to the iron gate that sets off the building from the sidewalk. The banner, photos of which have been widely shared on Facebook and elsewhere, simply said, in all of the Convocation’s languages: “The Episcopal Church in Europe stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.”
There was no escaping this message for passersby, and indeed the banner began to gather some notice. Many members of the cathedral congregation took selfies in front of it. Others, not connected to the congregation, did the same. A number of our congregations shared the photo we’d posted of it on their own pages.
Three weeks or so ago, we arrived at the cathedral one morning for daily morning prayers to find that the banner had been cut horizontally, and then vertically, with what must have been a utility knife. No one knows just when this happened, or who did it.
What’s even less clear is why it was done. Was it someone who somehow opposes the idea of the Black Lives Matter movement? Someone who thinks police brutality isn’t that significant a problem? Someone who just hates the church? Or perhaps someone who was just thrilled by a destructive act, without any meaningful intent?
It’s impossible to know, of course. All it really proves is the truth of a maxim contained in the title of a book by the philosopher Martha Nussbaum—the “fragility of goodness.” From its earliest expressions, Western culture has somehow sensed that goodness and virtue are not themselves intrinsically strong or even capable of enduring undefended; they are vulnerable. God is almighty, but that does not mean virtue has an easy time of it in the world God has created.
The banner was repaired by the cathedral’s indominable staff, but eventually the wind and rain had their way, and the torn banner was finally taken down this week.
Somehow, the sight of that torn fabric struck me more deeply than simply a vandalized banner. It seemed a metaphor for so much of this annus horribilis. We are all torn. We have been torn away from each other, from our friends, from family members we cannot visit, from our communities of faith.
And our society is itself torn—torn by the grinding injustice experienced by communities of color that can no longer be veiled, or explained away by anything other than embedded structures of white supremacy; torn by a sense that the foundational assumptions of our social contract are dangerously weakened and failing, that the bonds that should connect us in a shared destiny have frayed to the breaking point.
“When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it” (John 19:23–24)
That odd little detail tucked into John’s account of the execution of Jesus seems such a strange observation in the midst of the drama as to perhaps be an editorial error. It is hardly that. Think about it for a moment; how many clothes do you own that have no seam in them at all?
This seemingly mundane possession of the dying man on the cross is embedded in the story as a clue to who he is, and who we are meant to be. There is no weak point in the garment of salvation, no place where fabric has been cut and lost. We are meant to be woven whole, a single, seamless community.
If we are torn, then our quiet prayer and our conscious effort must be directed to the work of reweaving, of תיקון עולם—tikkun olam, repairing the world. We must prepare ourselves now for the work that lies before us, of laying hold the broken, frayed threads of the fabric of our church community, our neighborhoods, and our nations, and set about the holy task of mending.
See you in church,
The Right Reverend Mark D. W. Edington
Bishop in Charge
Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe