THE BLOG
08/20/2014 04:20 pm ET Updated Oct 20, 2014

Raising Arms

If there's one thing I know for sure, it's this: most Presbyterians, (at least those in North America) don't like to raise their hands.

At least not in worship.

We'll wave them at sporting events. We'll sway them at concerts. We'll raise them in classrooms. But in worship? Nah.

Though now Presbyterian, I was raised during the charismatic renewal movement of the 1970s and have seen my share of arms lifted in places of worship. Unlike many Presbyterians, the practice of "raising hands" in worship and as worship is something I've been surrounded by much of my life.

But despite my exposure, it's always felt awkward to raise my arms in worship. In the past, I've argued that the raising of hands, or any kind of demonstrative gesticulation, is a sketchy attempt to whip a congregation into an emotional frenzy so folks think they are experiencing God, when in fact they're experiencing adrenaline. But the truth is raising my arms feels awkward and uncomfortable because it makes me feel vulnerable. Which is exactly why we Presbyterians probably should do more of it.

The raising hands and the lifting of arms is an act of total surrender. It says, "I give up." It communicates, "I have nothing to hide." It means, "Take me as I am." Most often, it's an act of surrender to a power greater than oneself.

The other day, an image came across my Facebook feed showing a group of folks with arms spread wide, hands outstretched toward the heavens. At first glance, I expected the accompanying article to be a commentary on religion, likely featuring more damning statistics about the decline of the church.

But I was wrong.

Turns out, the image was a remarkably diverse group of protesters raising their arms in Ferguson, Missouri.

The arms in the photograph featured many shades of humanity, all seeking to communicate solidarity with the family and friends of unarmed teen Michael Brown, shot six times by police officers with hands raised in the universal sign of surrender.

In this simple, peaceful act of protest, the multitude of raised arms were reminding the powers and principalities of Ferguson, and the world, that if one of our brothers or sisters is vulnerable, we all are. Or, in the words of Solomon Burke, "None of us are free if one of us is chained."

So, here's what I'm thinking.

Maybe this Sunday we could, all across this nation, raise our arms in protest and worship. This could be an act of giving glory to God, as well as a faithful expression of grief and anger at the unmitigated slaying of black bodies by those who fear them. Whether Pentecostal or Presbyterian, Methodist or Mennonite, Catholic or Protestant, perhaps we all raise arms this Sunday, even if it makes us feel awkward and vulnerable.

Of course the symbolic act of raising arms isn't going to erase or heal America's painful history on race, nor will it magically resolve deeply embedded institutional racism or instantly restore God's vision for the Peaceable Kingdom.

But it is one way to remind us of who we are, and what power we actually surrender to: A Power far greater than the powers and principalities of this world; A God who is with us and for us, and calls us to be with and for each other in times of suffering.

So join me in raising arms, as together we bear witness to the God who came to be with us as Jesus Christ, our dark-skinned savior who was executed by the government of his day, arms outstretched in love for the world.