I do not prefer to write publicly about things that I do not understand. Especially over the internet. (Though I make attempts to write about the unfathomable grace of God, so there’s that).
The more emotionally and politically charged, the more I want to avoid commentary. When you write something for a more public reading, you are saying that your voice needs to be heard. Maybe that is pretentious. May the reader judge.
I’ll be honest. I have no idea how to make sense of the Ferguson situation other than we live in a world that has a compound fracture deep at its core. I believe Christian theology makes great sense of this in the doctrine of what we call “sin”, but I do not pretend to understand the complexity of the situation. I have no idea. I have never attended a protest or policed streets in the midst of one. I have never tried to captain a police force. Mayor a city or govern a state or president a country.
I am not African American so I have no earthly idea what that is like and the tensions that it creates to live as such in our society. I have never personally experienced anything in the US that would make me mistrust the intentions of the police (Haiti is a different story on that, by the way). I happen to know that there are lots of complicated reasons — racial, demographic, socioeconomic, geographic — that has shielded me from such an experience. Call it what you will.
I think the Ferguson situation reveals some realities about our culture any way you slice it. It reveals a lot about humanity. I say this not because I’m some sort of expert on any of it. I do, however, trust the voices of people whom I know, who understand the situation better than me and have experienced it different from me. If nothing else, they are troubled. And that troubles me.
I also want to be a person who can always empathize with those who are not like me, so I try to listen.
In all this, I’m just saying that I have no freaking idea.
But it makes me very sad.
Yesterday, a woman — who at least outwardly seemed like she lived at a different socioeconomic strata than me and her skin color was different — walked up to my place of work. She knocked on the door and asked for a ride to her job. I’ve grown up in a culture that has implicitly trained me to nurse subtle assumptions and judgments — not only in regard to skin color but socioeconomic too — in that moment. More caught than taught. I mean, I’ve grown up in Birmingham, AL. To claim otherwise is to kid myself.
But she had a name and a story. Heck, once in the 70s she was a guest at a military ball.
She had missed the connecting bus and would be arriving late to work without help. She needed a simple practical gesture of kindness. One that my workmates and me were able to give.
In the process, we made a new friend.
We aren’t heroes. Please. But yesterday, in light of the news from Missouri, it felt like we were able to participate in something bigger and higher. It seemed that in a small way we chipped away at something.
I cannot solve the world’s problems. But I can live thoughtfully, reflectively and, in general, pay attention. Lift my voice when need be. Support those who are working at a systemic level.
Maybe try a few small things too.
Help this neighbor who comes across my path. And Ezra — adopted son of my close friends whose skin color is different than my boy’s — can come over to play. And we can love him and see to it that we encourage him to be the man God would have him be. And I can listen to Calvin, from my doctoral cohort, and let him teach me something of what it means to serve Jesus in his neighborhood. And I can pray for JD, Liz and fam as they put the nose to the plow in a more direct way in Memphis.
And all along the way I can think about, talk about and honor the one whose cross broke down dividing walls of hostility and who has, by the way, been raised from the dead.
So I can hope too.
And that is not nothing.