Tag Archives: Ferguson and forgiveness

Ferguson: Hugs will heal us

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“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child will lead them.”

~ Isaiah 11.6

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah is writing about the peaceful kingdom wherein historical and sworn enemies share the same habitat, the same sleeping arrangement.  They lie down together and they are led to this position by a little child.  Perhaps, it is to the children that we should look for leadership when it comes to guiding us, wolves and lambs, amidst the tensions surrounding the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri.

The leadership of one little child named Devonte Hart, an appropriate last name for a boy who clearly has a lot of it, has warmed mine.  He’s twelve years old and he decided to hold a sign offering hugs during a protest in Portland, Oregon in support of Ferguson this past week.  And someone took him up on it, a police officer: Sgt. Bret Barnum.

I need a hug right now.

“You people”: How our belief in race makes us self- righteous

330_Llama_churchI get the feeling that oppressed persons have been given the social identity of innocent, that we view oppressed persons as incapable of sinning due to their social condition, that we treat the oppressed as we do the dead and speak well of them out of respect though we know that this is not the whole truth.  Well, let me tell you a story.  We once had a neighbor who lived across the street from us.  He was a young man and was confined a wheelchair.

His caregivers would position him on the porch in the morning and he would call out to his neighbors as they came from their dwellings to assist him in getting down the steps.  “Hey, sir!  You in the brown suit!”

One day, I convinced my husband to walk over and help him.  I felt pity for him.  We helped him get down the steps and an interesting thing happened.  We were both holding his hand but he rubbed mine as to communicate interest.

Now, I was not without a wedding ring or a husband.  This young man had seen us leave our house on countless occasions.  He had the opportunity to see us in the various stages of our marriage to include becoming parents for the first time.

Still, this disabled man who could not walk had crossed the line, sinned against God, my husband and my southern sensibilities.  It was then that I realized that his disability did not prevent him from sinning against me or anyone else.  His disability did not make him perfect as I had foolishly presumed.

Why did I tell you that story?  Because it seems, at least to me, that persons who define themselves as oppressed point the finger at their oppressors as if they are not guilty of anything.  And since they are without sin, they can cast as many stones as they like.  They don’t have to offer grace or mercy because they don’t need it.  “We are oppressed; therefore, we can judge you until Jesus comes back.”

We have made oppressed people perpetual victims whereby they can never be guilty of doing anything wrong.  It is an oppression privilege and another expression of supremacy.  But such a position does not allow for self- examination, mutual accountability or responsibility.  We are so focused on what ‘they’ did wrong that we will not entertain the possibility of our helping to right the relationship.  Because it is not about relationship, is it?  It’s about the punishment and boy, do they deserve it.

Race enables us to exalt ourselves as the wronged or oppressed people.  We are good and even better than them because we did not wrong or oppress them.  We can do no wrong if they have wronged us.  But, this is absurd.

This week while Ferguson burned, I heard persons justify the wrongdoing of looters.  They could break the law because they were oppressed. They had had enough and it was time to send a message.  And it was not wrong because they were (socially colored) “black people.”  I heard this reduction of guilt and innocence from believers as well as unbelievers, laypersons and clergy.

Well, I’ve never been the crowd-pleasing type so there’s no sense in signing up to join one now.  I guess I’ll sit with the sinners.  But, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans3.23).  This means that all are eligible for forgiveness, for a relationship with God, for fellowship with believers, to sit next to you on Sunday.

There are no ‘you people’ in God’s creation except those who exalt themselves as righteous.  Race does not makes us right; only a relationship with Jesus the Christ can do that.

Ferguson: Drawing Conclusions

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Race draws conclusions about people and experiences right from the beginning.  The social coloring of skin determines behavior and whether it will be right or wrong.  It does not matter our age, our temperament or even our socioeconomic status.  Race can never be wrong about you.  Its conclusions are as settled as the imaginary color line.

It predicts conversations and can even tell us what we mean to say before we say it.  Race has us all figured out.  Unlike God, race has revealed all that there is to know about us.  It wastes no time telling us who is guilty and who is innocent.  Because race makes decisions based on appearance, based on the fluctuating value of interest in particular external realities: thin versus full lips, petite versus full figures but most often the social coloring of skin: black versus white.

In Ferguson and all around the city, people are drawing conclusions.  We have the case all figured out.  It’s a open and shut case for persons on either side.  If Officer Darren Wilson is charged with murder in the death of Mr. Brown, then it was to be expected.  And if not, then you knew it would happen.  Race is right every time and no matter what.

In some respects, race makes us feel as if we are omniscient, that we know all that there is to know about a person… based on media reports and social media feeds.  As soon as we hear of who is involved, we believe that we know what happened.  We don’t need anymore information.  Say no more!  We can draw a conclusion about the person’s character, intention and the outcome of their meeting.

But, it is foolish to draw conclusions when we don’t know the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46.10).  We live as if our will is what allows the world to exist.  Thankfully, it is not our words or our counsel, not yours or mine or even a combination of two, that keeps the world going– because we don’t know it all about any one thing or person, not even ourselves.

It is foolish to draw conclusions when God is still speaking.  How presumptuous are we to speak to the end of someone’s life when we do not know the end of our own.  Our judgments, our evaluations when spoken don’t leave the room.  They only have the power to control what we think about someone.  We do not own the words that control the destiny of another human being.

It is foolish to draw conclusions when it’s never over, not even when we die.  As believers, race makes us believe that we are excused from speaking words that are grace-full.  In times like these, we are deceived into thinking that we have a license to return to our old stereotypes and prejudices.  Race traps us in time past and present.  We get stuck in the moment and lose the momentum of a people being transformed, forgetting that we live not just for the moment but for eternity.

So, let us conclude that forgiveness, grace and mercy are always needed.  At the end of every matter, let us conclude that it is always time to reconcile our differences and to reconcile with one another.

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.