One clings to a flagpole.
The other wades in a cistern’s mire.
She, a black activist in South Carolina.
He, a Jewish prophet from Jerusalem.
Bree Newsome Bass climbs thirty feet from the ground.
Jeremiah wallows almost as many below it.
They’re an unlikely duo: Fragmented by millennia, they share neither race, ethnicity, language, custom, nor culture. Yet they are kindred spirits—bound by living and breathing grief.
To Grieve is to Anguish,
over nations who turn from God to idols of their own making. She mourns eight more stolen lives, this time at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Church. They are the newest victims of a society that still worships at white supremacy’s feet.
“In the aftermath of the killings in Charleston,” she remembers, “we had this horrific visual where the United States flag was lowered to half-staff in the capitol, but the Confederate flag was still at the top of the pole.”1 “It was absolutely intolerable for that flag to fly another day.”“2
He, too, mourns a people who chose gods of wood and stone over the living One; a people who turned on themselves:
“Like cages full of birds,” he writes, “their houses are full of deceit. . . .
Their evil deeds have no limit;
they do not seek justice.
They do not promote the case of the fatherless;
they do not defend the just cause of the poor.”
But, this is more than just a grief observed, because to
To Grieve is to Obey.
“You come against me with hatred, oppression, and violence,” she calls from the heights and unfastens the white-supremacist symbol from the flagpole. “I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today.”
“I very much believe that God called me to scale the flagpole that day,” Bree Newsome Bass reflects to journalist Lottie Joiner, “and I believe that God would bring me safely down.”3
“’Alas, Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak; I am too young,’” quivers Jeremiah at God’s call. “’You must go to everyone I send you and say whatever I command you,” the Lord counters. “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.’”
So, Jeremiah becomes God’s mouthpiece to a people with fingers in their ears. They reject his message, but the “Weeping Prophet” holds it close because,
To Grieve is to Cling
to God’s words like she grasps the pole she’s climbed.
After she gathers the Confederate flag, Bree Newsom Bass unfurls Psalm 27 as she descends:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?”
“I had no doubt about the decision that I had made at the time,” she tells Joiner, “but that didn’t mean that I was oblivious to how dangerous it was and so it really did require faith on my part . . . But faith is something that we practice, so even in that moment just praying and staying focused and calling out to God was very important.”3
“This is what the Lord says,” Jeremiah repeats through the reign of five kings—a broken record to a broken people on the road to ruin. They hate him for it, but Jeremiah remembers God’s words from the beginning:
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” “They will fight against you,” God warns, “but will not overcome you for I am with you and will rescue you.”
He wasn’t wrong, because,
To Grieve is to Fail—
and by all human measures, Jeremiah did.
His life in the Hebrew Scriptures reads like a gothic resume: “In-depth experience with poverty, rejection, beatings, imprisonment, arrest, and dungeon floors.”
Jeremiah’s latest warning to his wayward people now plummets him to a cistern’s floor.
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague, but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live. They will escape with their lives; they will live.’”
“This man should be put to death,” respond Judah’s officials. The king relents, and Jeremiah earns one more bullet on his tainted resume.
Three police officers arrest Bree Newsome Bass as she steps back onto statehouse soil. She’s escorted from the scene, handcuffed, as Psalm 23 spills from her lips:
“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil for though art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. . . ”
“But,” she continues . . .
To Grieve is to Hope
“. . . another image came from that day, an image that inspired posters, illustrations and paintings: a black woman from the South removing the flag that represents a society that oppressed her ancestors and those who looked like her for centuries.”4 In the shadows of a Confederate flag re-raised, hope glimmers: Twelve days later, the South Carolina legislature votes to permanently remove the flag from capitol grounds.
“This is why I weep,” mourns Jeremiah in Lamentations—a funeral song for his people taken captive—
“and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me,
No one to restore my spirit.”
And “Yet” Jeremiah pivots . . .
tucked between the pages of this epitaph,
like daffodils breaking spring’s frozen earth, he finds it:
“this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.”
Was it his deliverance from the cistern’s depths that taught him to hope?
“I called on your name, Lord,” Jeremiah remembers,
“from the depths of the pit. . .
You came near when I called you,
and you said, ‘Do not fear.’”
Jeremiah records that an Ethiopian official pulled him from the cistern. The “Weeping Prophet’s” resume brims with failures, but deliverance, too—and promises kept. It reveals a life of grief laced with hope.
Before the squad car and jail cell—
from the flagpole she shouts his name with hope in her lungs because,
To Grieve is to Follow Jesus.
Listen and you will hear it, like church bells pealing through the morning air: “In the name of Jesus this flag has to come down,” calls Bree Newsome Bass from her flag-pole pulpit. You won’t find this unabridged audio in many media accounts. (Click here for an exception. ↓)
He, too, “was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
He, too, lived a life mingled with grief and hope: A living, breathing, even dying grief.
The Son of Man, lifted up on a cross, “that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
The Savior, laid low, “in a tomb, cut in the rock.”
Jesus, who anguished over his people;
the Servant—who in the shadows of Gethsemane and death—obeyed;
the Word, who also clung to it from his early days at the temple
to his last breaths as he fulfilled it;
all for the joy set before him.
But what of us?
God knows, we will weep: from our first breaths that cascade into cries, to our last.
Maybe the question, then, is not “Will we grieve?” but “How?”
Will we, like Bree Newsome Bass, anguish and obey as we ascend;
or cling to the Word given, like the failure Jeremiah, as he sank into mire?
May we, Lord Jesus,
live out our grief with tears and hope
1 For KCRA’s Station 3’s article, “A voting rights activist explains why she tore down a Confederate flag, then what came next,” click here.
2 For Katie Pearce‘s piece: “Bree Newsome, who brought down Confederate flag in S.C., talks activism, action during Johns Hopkins visit” Johns Hopkins University’s Hub, click here.
3 For Lottie Joiner’s article, “Bree Newsome reflects on taking down South Carolina’s Confederate flag 2 years ago” Vox, click here
4 For Tariro Mzezewa’s piece, “The Woman Who Took Down a Confederate Flag on What Came Next” The New York Times, click here.