O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— 2as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
If I were to take everything that I’ve read about Ferguson, Missouri, since last summer and stack it in a pile, I imagine the paper would fill a large size room. If I were to add what I haven’t read, we could fill a house. This doesn’t include the hours and hours of news coverage that have been dedicated on the electronic media to the events of just the past 36 hours, since the grand jury decision was announced late Monday night.
Let me preface what I am about to say by confessing that, like all of you, I wasn’t on the scene the day Michael Brown was killed. I did not see what happened. All I know are the tragic results. That is really all anyone knows – that a life was ended by a hail of bullets.
But lack of first-hand knowledge has done little to stop anyone from speaking out. Everyone has a right to speak freely. However, I hold fast to a saying attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” That valuable aphorism has helped me rein in my emotions at controversial times.
Yes, I am reluctant to wade into what has become a cesspool of public opinion surrounding this unpleasant incident. I’m not one who reacts in knee-jerk fashion to such a highly charged, explosive atmosphere as has been created by the killing of Michael Brown. Yet, for as much as I deliberate, as much as I consider all aspects of the issue, even though the cynic in me feels I can add nothing more to the din of the discourse, I can’t stay silent. This is an emotionally visceral moment.
I realize the dangerous ground on which I tread. As a person in a position of church leadership, I am bound by the office I hold to care for God’s people, lead by example of holy living, and give faithful witness. But I am also called to be prophetic. To paraphrase the words Jesus once said, “If I were to keep silent, even the stones would cry out.”
So if you wish to stop reading at this point, I understand. If you have already determined that you think you already know how I feel you need not continue. Thank you for reading this far. I’m writing the rest of this post for my sinful, human self.
It distresses me that Michael Brown is dead, just as any person’s death distresses me. I am distressed because this one death is symptomatic of a deeper, more onerous problem in this country and this society – that of making judgments based on the color of one’s skin. Call it what you will, racism, bigotry, prejudice; it is an illness, a cancer that has metastasized at the very core of our social fabric. I see little hope, no solution, no antidote to the poison that exists in, with, and through us.
It distresses me when I read the comments from those who will never understand, those who condemn the protestors without bothering to consider their frustration. “Why do THEY destroy property?” “Why can’t THEY react peacefully?” “If only THEY would obey the law, respect authority, and on, and on, and on….”
Well, I am THEY. I can tell you that racial profiling does happen. The potential for another Ferguson exists right here in Northeastern Ohio, as a New York Times article from last September points out.
I can tell you that there are people who perceive themselves as superior the moment they look at me. I can tell you that oftentimes, people make stupid comments thinking they mean well, but condescending nonetheless. I’m not just speaking about law enforcement, but the general public as well. I have experienced all of this. Fortunately for you, I am one of the THEY that prefers peaceful reconciliation and doesn’t resort to violence, but oh, sometimes I am so tempted.
I’ve mentioned before on this blog that in the photo on my driver’s license I wear my clerical collar. It is a conversation changer. The transformation in attitude once I display my I.D. is astounding, in some cases, almost apologetic.
It distresses me that, unfortunately, I sense that a week from now we will have forgotten Ferguson and will have moved on to the next crisis. Ferguson will be filed in the archives along with Ebola, immigration reform, and gun violence. Bring on Black Friday.
Thankfully, there are also those who, though they will admittedly never understand, are willing to stand alongside the victims of oppression. In every major city, there was a protest on Tuesday after the decision. I thank God for those folks who were and are willing to risk and demonstrate.
And, oh, yes! By the way, a new liturgical season is upon us. It’s Advent. How appropriate that the season of waiting comes at the very time when the people cry out for justice. How fitting that we wait for Christ’s coming at the very time that people are in despair. How meaningful that the God of grace and mercy waits with us who long for hope. I pray for peace and love in this Advent season. Pray for the people of Ferguson.
And I close this long, rambling rant with a prayer by one of my colleagues, Bishop William Gafkjen of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod, who has the gift of articulating his supplications far better than I am able to at this point.
Holy Spirit, use this moment in our life together to transform us. Teach us what it means that there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, Republican nor Democrat, police nor citizen, white nor black. Knit us together in a unity that will endure tear gas and broken glass, shattered hearts and belligerent righteousness, frail legal systems and self-protective fear. Make us peacemakers, form us as children of God, humble us and raise us up to something new, a new community, beloved and loving, walking the way of the cross, giving ourselves to your promise of new life, resurrected life, abundant life, on the other side of every death-dealing day. Along that way, make us aware of your constant companionship and empowering presence. Good Lord, deliver us. Set us free to be what you have made and called us to be. Use me, even me, today, tomorrow, and the day after the next, to make a difference, to be an ambassador of your reconciling love, to live and offer new life, a new way, pioneered by Jesus, crucified and risen for the life of the world. Make it so. Now. Today. With morning’s light. Amen