After I heard the news of the killing of George Floyd by police yesterday, I felt a desire to do something to humanize him. While the video of his death circulated on social media of every kind, I wondered how his mother thought of him – and how God thought of him. Surely, it is not of him pinned to the ground, pleading for his life. I wanted to spend time praying for him, and for his family and friends. But, I knew it would be easier to pray if I had something to hold my attention, and so I painted him, as a saint.
I felt the most humanizing thing I could do for Mr. Floyd, in the aftermath of his inherently dehumanizing killing, was to paint him with as a saint. In the Lutheran expression of the Christian faith, we believe that all believers are both 100% sinners and 100% saints. It means that we stand firm in a recognition that, while all of us are sinners, we are also all the recipients of Christ’s unending, perfect, sanctifying love. By painting him as saint, I am not claiming that he did miracles or something, but recognizing that he was the child of God, through whom God worked and whose life was a gift to the world from God. I am recognizing that he was could, and did, show people God’s love through his words and actions, as all of us have the capacity to do.
By painting him as a saint, I am saying that his life mattered. It’s not a perfect portrait by any stretch of the imagination (and the image of it even less so – the lighting in my apartment is so yellow), but it allowed me to spend some time looking at his picture. To notice how gentle his smile was, how strong his jaw was, how his clothing and hair always seemed immaculate in photos, and how tired his eyes looked. Then, to notice the ways he shared his features with his family as they spoke out about his unjust death, especially his father’s nose.
His family and friends say he was a gentle giant, who moved to Minneapolis to work hard and make his life better. From his photos, he seemed to be stylish and fun loving. Everyone who knew him talked about how he was always willing to help out, at work and at home. He seemed to be stylish and funny. His sister said, “To know my brother was to love my brother.” One friend talked about how he was always praying, over meals and before he began anything.
George, God wanted so much more for you than this. You deserved better. I’m sorry. Rest in peace, saint of God.