The school year may have ended but we can still study Shakespeare, right?
Among the many common expressions borrowed from The Bard, you’ve likely heard “heavy is the head that wears the crown!” This is actually a slight deviation from Shakespeare’s original text in Henry IV, Part 2 but the sentiment is unchanged. King Henry finds himself in a moment of doubt about his newly acquired kingship, won through the usurpation of the previous monarch, Richard II…but enough about the succession of British monarchies played out on the Elizabethan stage by the greatest dramatist in history!
Richard wants to be a good king but as trouble mounts, he doubts his ability to rule judiciously. His crown, not so subtly, represents the weight of all the responsibly looming over his head. I think of this quote often when I feel the building pressures of the world around me. Unlike Richard, my crown isn’t one of governorship. The responsibility I have been given, that we as Christians have all been given, is to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). Pithy commands for sure.
Most days those directions feel manageable. Look at me, Richard IV! I’m wearing my crown with ease! I made a bold statement denouncing the injustice on Facebook! My monthly tithe has been deducted from my bank account for the work of the church! I put more recycling out on the curb than trash!
More recently, however, I feel the full weight of the crown and it has not been so easy to live out God’s command. Maybe demand is more appropriate? With the recent unrest at the death of Minneapolis’ George Floyd and subsequent protests of citizens across the United States, I am forced to reconcile with my own responsibility towards racial justice and injustice. I never asked to be born with lighter pigmentation any more than my brothers and sisters of color asked to be born with more melanin. Yet here I sit in the comfort of my living room, a white male in suburban Atlanta, afforded opportunities denied to others of different races and gender. How often have I been afforded opportunities because of my genetic makeup or been complicit in implicit stereotypes? Perhaps more importantly, what have I done to even the playing field for those born into circumstances that put them at a disadvantage in our society? How have I fought for justice, not just posted censure for injustice on social media? How have I lived the kindness of The Cross beyond the offering plate? How frequently I have acknowledged my own shortcomings and undue privilege? Indeed, heavy is the head that wears the crown. I would prefer a Christianity that is easy to live out through monetary donations to the Christianity that asks me to consider how I might have come to have the financial opportunities to make said donations. Wouldn’t you? But that isn’t the faith of which we ascribe. Heavy is the head…
The good news, my friends, is that we serve a king who wore a different kind of crown, who knows injustice firsthand, and who helps us carry our own metaphorical crowns. Although I am yet unsure of the role I play in the great diversity that is America and the myriad discriminatory episodes that take place each day, God calls me, calls all of his followers, to act judiciously and to work to reconcile racial discord. Today, I weep for the brokenness, the pain, and the loss of another innocent black life and the anger that follows. Tomorrow, I straighten up the heavy crown and find ways to forward the message of Christ in the midst of chaos. Henry IV had it easy.