One of the challenges of writing a blog that is intended to be both timely (not so hard) and relatively timeless (difficult to impossible) is that when things happen in the present that just might have historical importance, it is hard to gauge what I might say that could endure for posterity.
Right now, a community called Ferguson, in Missouri, is in bad shape in the wake of racial unrest and rioting after a police shooting of a man named Michael Brown. The Grand Jury convened to decide whether grounds for an indictment of the officer involved has returned a verdict against indictment. This result was expected by most, but has resulted in a galvanization of conflict and protest in metropolitan areas across the nation. It has also triggered conflict in many parishes, homes and between individuals as we all seek to come to terms with how we as individual members of society seek to deal with a moment involving individuals becoming representative of the wider tensions we face with regard to how racism, power, politics and emotion are expressed in our midst.
It is a live-wire experience, in that these events have polarized issues that have political, social, theological, personal and communal impact on how we relate to each other. That means complicated, and often conflicting emotions as we seek to navigate the issues, even as we start to name them and work through just what those issues are.
Do I recognize that institutional racism is one of the most powerful challenges we face in our society today? Yes. Do I believe that this one instant is an excuse to ladle blame on particular sectors of our communities? Absolutely not. Have I seen people I care about wind up in conflict because words and actions intended to convey cries for justice wind up causing feelings of condemnation toward others whose motives and actions do not justify condemnation? Yes.
I have (and have had) parishioners in every level of law enforcement, and an uncle who was a state trooper. I know first hand what they go through as they seek to offer themselves up in order to preserve the rule of law and how they consistently go above and beyond the call of duty to protect and serve. I also have, and have had, people in my pastoral care who must face on a daily basis the fear and anxiety that is constant, simply for being members of a minority population. The problem with the current crisis is that the police are being painted with the responsibility for this current outcome. The reality is that the responsibility lies with ALL of us.
I know authorities who are working hard to protect the right of others to organize and protest, even in the midst of high risk struggle. On the other side, I know people who are trying through non-violent resistance and protest to demonstrate that the way our society deals with race, class and station in life is not only broken but is also resulting in the premature destruction of human beings. The problem with the current crisis is that those intent on causing destruction or in lasering blame on law enforcement in general are obscuring them from view.
In the end? We all wind up polarized, politicized and struggling because this brokenness reveals how tenuous our hold on peace and the common good really can be when it is compromised by our sad human tendency to see stereotypes instead of people....to project on people our sentiments and perspectives when they might differ dramatically from anything we could possibly fathom.
None of this is of Christ, who calls upon us to recognize the very face of the Creator revealed in the visage of our neighbors. And, who are our neighbors? Everyone. Everyone is our neighbor, regardless of class, color, creed or station in life. Everyone is not only a beloved child of God, but because I, too, am a beloved child of God then they are my brother, my sister. Period.
That means that their pain is pain for me as well. When a person faces rejection because of racism, then that is on all of us. When one person falls short of loving the other as Christ loves us, then that is on all of us. That means that not one of us can "fix" it, but that a lasting solution means that we all face a steep learning curve of just how much racism exists in the fabric of the society we live in and too often take for granted.
The fact is, too many people of color wind up victims of a system that is and has been stacked against them for too long. The fact also stands that it is not up to the police or other enforcement bodies to assume all responsibility for that oppression, or to shoulder the blame. We, ALL of us, are responsible and are called to be agents of justice in the name of a God who calls us to unity in community. I know and care deeply for people on all sides of this debate. I also know that when debates like these arise in our society that the wounds and woundings strike deeper than we ever bargained on.
If we are to walk authentically as children of God and members of the Body of Christ, then we have to allow that the first and most important action we take is to see the human being in front of us...and to work to dispense stereotypes...of color, of class, of uniform....of whatever. See the human being in front of you and then work to make sure you are there for them as mutual reconciliation and justice are forged.
I learned this from my formation as a Christian and as a priest....and I also was just reminded of this by someone whose whole life as a police officer has been devoted to making sure people, regardless of race, class or station is offered humane respect and honor due a brother or sister in Christ. What we can claim from this tragic series of conflicts is an opportunity to strive to be a community wherein people of color need not fear, where people need not fear people of color...and where people entrusted with protecting life and property are able to do so from a deserved position of trust instead of the projection of fear.