The Lord pours contempt on princes
and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
but God raises up the needy out of distress
and makes their families like flocks. …
Let those who are wise give heed to these things,
and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.
- Psalm 107:40-41, 43 (NRSV)
To his mentees, D’Angelo said, “Y’all can’t be playing no checkers on a chessboard.”
Not knowing the rules of the game, Bodie and Wallace were at simpler play. Moving and jumping, king, rook and pawn, equal players on the board. Or so they thought.
They had no idea how much the real game had weighted certain players differently. Some had moves they couldn’t conceive as they moved the pieces square by square, jump by jump…into oblivion. Or jail.
But the game was chess, not checkers. And they never even knew.
The hit television show The Wire taught me many things. Like: know the board you’re on, the rules of the game. Don’t just let the kings and queens be aware. “Pawns in the game,” like us? We need to know, too.
God’s rules are different, of course. Where the chessboard favors the monarch, the oligarch, our God “pours contempt on princes.” Where the board tramples on the poor, our God “lifts and multiplies” them.
If we look closely enough at the board, we see our God doing just this, even just in demographic shifts. When the pawns in the game far outnumber the princes, something will give.
Looking ahead, we may gaze on the by and by on the distant shore. But we should look a little closer, to the other side of the board with a monarch who needs overturning.
Turns out? Pawns in the game do have moves. So long as they know to have them. Or, as the psalmist said: “Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.”
God of love: teach us the rules so that we can know how, and when, to let mercy thrive. Amen.
Kaji Douša is the Senior Pastor of The Park Avenue Christian Church, a congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, in New York City.