Before & After Ferguson

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Persons who are protesting the shooting of unarmed teenager, Mr. Michael Brown, Jr., are saying, “I can’t believe we’re here again, that we’re doing this again.”  Some are angry and even disappointed that they are seeing the same old seemingly race- based, race- driven stories and they are responding the same way, using the same words that they did the last time something like this happened.  They almost mumble, “I thought we had come farther along than this.  I thought that we were past this.”

Why does this scene keep replaying itself?  Why the same characters: police officer or one who wants to be one and unarmed African American male teenager?  Why aren’t things changing?  We witnessed.  We reported.  We protested.  We were jailed.  We asked for a charge and a conviction.  We did all of the things that we normally do and still no change.  Could it be that we might want to change our response to such tragedies before they even happen?

C. S. Lewis believed, “If conversion makes no improvements in a man’s outward actions, then I think his (and her) conversion was largely imaginary.”  As Christians, we are not being transformed in order to see people and situations the same way or respond as we always have.  If we are, in fact, new creatures, then we should have new thoughts on race and new perspectives on its power and presence in America, namely ridding ourselves of it and not allowing it to determine who we form relationships with (cf. Second Corinthians 5.17).

One obvious piece of evidence that points to our allegiance to race is the absence of the word: all.  We are all God’s children and all in Christ and yet, Christians are still employing the unclear and divisive language of “us” and “them.”  We may pack our boxes neatly and indiscriminately but the results are the same.  Still, there are no sides in God’s house but there are in race’s “house of bondage” as described by James Baldwin.

The fact is, people whose God is the Word should not be afraid of talking about any word, especially race.  We should always be talking about race as it is a very present injustice, one of the cruelest of crimes against all of humanity, that is to assert that our value is external, physical and depreciating and not intrinsic, given by God and unable to be lost or taken away.

We should be talking about race until we reach a mutual understanding, grounded not in our wounds but Christ’s stripes (cf. Isaiah 53.5).  But, too often, we talk to support our comfortable prejudices and be affirmed of our hopeless conclusions concerning potential relationships with persons of other cultures.  Our language has not been converted, our necks are stiffened by prejudice and our hearts hardened by stereotypes.  We dig our heals into our experience and what we believe to be the right way to see things, singing, “We shall not be moved.” Again and again and again.  Then, wonder how did we get here?

We should have been talking about race before the death of Mr. Brown in Ferguson and we should not end the conversation abruptly when the trial is over, less we return to the blame game and playing of “the race card.”  And while I am certain that we will talk about race in our safe, affirming and agreeable circles, it is my hope that we would say something new, that we might consider loving those we have been taught to see as “the enemy,” that we forgive persons for what they have done and/or what we thought they might do to us.

I find it saddening and strange that God calls us friends but that we, His children, are not able to say that of each other, that we have grown rather comfortable as a disconnected, disjointed Body (John 15.15).  Before and after times like these, we should seek reconciliation and not re-injury.  We should talk until it hurts us– not others.  We should be transparent, reveal our wounds but then allow them to be healed.  And we have to acknowledge and address the suffering of others.  Race victimizes us all; there are no heroes here.

We cannot afford to simply care for those in our circles or those belonging to our culture.  We must not withhold our tears, our mourning, our sadness because he and she did not “look like” me.  Instead, we must assert that violence against any body is violence against every body.  When any human being dies, something of ourselves also passes with them.

And we must know this before and after anything else like Ferguson happens as it may prevent it one day from happening… again.

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